Three years ago, Stellenbosch University's Innovus had a vision to establish a cross-sector and interdisciplinary membership organization to support local innovation and entrepreneurship in the Stellenbosch region. In November 2019, Stellenbosch Network (SN) was launched with support and funding from Stellenbosch University, Department of Science and Innovation’s Regional Innovation Support Programme, Remgro, Stellenbosch Municipality, Wesgro, Ranyaka, Winetech & Capitec. Three years later, SN has 230 member companies: from small to medium businesses and bigger corporates.
Probably the bigger believer in this initiative is Hanli Brink, who took the reins of this network, navigated it through COVID, and made it what it is today: a fantastic platform for young and old to share ideas, mentor, co-create and form lasting partnerships to benefit the Stellenbosch community in its entirety – a place that has emerged as one of the fastest-growing regions in South Africa, thanks to a thriving innovation ecosystem.
"This job landed on my desk," says Hanli. "I received an email from Innovus, and reading the job description, I realised this is the job for me." From there on, it was history. Hanli's passion, drive, contagious energy, and love for people steered the network in the right direction from day one. Seeing young entrepreneurs grow and succeed is what makes her enormously happy.
"I believe in the power of a network – also to make a difference in people's lives. The combination of this is what SN Is all about: we introduce people to each other, forge partnerships, create livelihoods, and the results speak for themselves."
Hanli says that SN's Ideation challenges – coined #Ideasforchange – stand out amongst the various highlights. Every year this challenge receives incredible entries from young entrepreneurs with innovative solutions. The latest challenge invites entries to propose innovative solutions to enable Stellenbosch's township Kayamandi to become South Africa's first smart township. The entries close on the 22 January 2023 and promise to be one of the highlights in 2023.
Apart from the challenges, SN's mentorship programme has, over the years, helped several small-scale entrepreneurs on the road to success with their businesses. SN also held various events featuring self-made entrepreneurs, mentors, and inspirational leaders over the past three years that brought together people from all walks of life – from industry, government, society, and academia. A technology training event with Mido Foundation on Google for Business also saw SN training 20 black business owners in Stellenbosch.
With Stellenbosch University being integral to developing the local knowledge region economy, SN is part and parcel of the organisation's strategy to advance learning and forming partnerships. Together they create the breeding ground for entrepreneurs, whether they are still doing postgraduate studies or have completed their Ph.D. programmes.
For Hanli, one of the most impactful changes that SN brought about was the breaking down of silos. "It was so rewarding to see how people could step out of comfort zones and cross those divides to co-create and co-design something new to the greater benefit of our vibrant Stellenbosch community."
"Thank you, Stellenbosch, for believing and being part of Stellenbosch Network," says Hanli. "It was fantastic to see how we can make a difference together. I look forward to an exciting 2023."
Innovus, Stellenbosch University
15 De Beer Street
PO Box 3135
t +27 (0) 21 808 3826