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WeWork Labs set for SA: we take a look inside

Global shared workspace provider WeWork will launch its first South African Labs location next month. ON FREUND gives us the inside story



Global shared workspace provider and community platform WeWork recently announced it will open its second South African location, in Cape Town, before the end of 2019. Now, it is set to launch WeWorks Labs in Africa, with Johannesburg set to be the first location, opening next month.

We asked ON FREUND, EMEA head of WeWork Labs, to tell us more about the operation and WeWork’s plans.

What are your plans for WeWork Labs in South Africa?

Before I talk about WeWork Labs, I’d like to give a quick overview of WeWork itself. WeWork is a global community platform which offers companies of all sizes the space, community and services they need to create their life’s work. WeWork is currently present in 105 cities across 27 countries. WeWork Labs will open its doors in our first location in Johannesburg, 173 Oxford Road, in August this year. WeWork Labs provides support for early-stage startups and entrepreneurs around the world. Not only will members in Johannesburg receive a tailor-made support programme, curated by a local WeWork Labs manager, but they will also be part of WeWork’s global network of over 466,000 members, along with the Labs community spread across 50 locations in 32 cities and 15 countries.

The Labs manager will work closely with the Labs members to develop personalised workshops and events, and build connections with investors, mentors and the local startup scene, according to the members’ individual needs. Participating start-ups are offered courses, events and one-on-one sessions to get advice on everything from accounting and marketing to hiring and convincing future investors.In Johannesburg, WeWork Labs will be home to 80 members. 

How does this differ from its approach in other countries?

When it comes to WeWork Labs, there is a really special dynamic between local and global. The programme itself is universal in terms of exclusive member benefits and discounts, and access to the global network of WeWork members. Our WeWork Labs Satellite Programme provides members with opportunities to access programming in any of our global locations, so Labs members can tap into any space whenever they’re travelling, be it Tel Aviv or Shanghai.  It also offers a mentor network comprising more than 1,300 professionals worldwide. Whilst the Labs concept is the same throughout the world, the initiative prides itself on offering a bespoke, localised offering. By sourcing a WeWork Labs manager with expert experience and of course bringing together a community of individual entrepreneurs and early-stage start-ups based in Johannesburg, we hope to create customised programming to meet our members’ personal and professional development needs in South Africa.

How will WeWork Labs collaborate or share with the WeWork offices in Johannesburg?

WeWork Labs members will be located in WeWork, 173 Oxford Road based in Johannesburg. Similarly to WeWork members, Lab members are able to interact with other Labs members across the world, as well as engage with the rest of the WeWork global community including entrepreneurs, start-ups and enterprise companies. Enterprise companies make up 40 percent of WeWork’s global community –examples include HSBC, Citi and Deloitte– and is a big attraction for smaller startups and Labs members as they’re able to not only share a workspace with these larger companies, but also have the opportunity to interact, collaborate and share ideas with these businesses. For example, in London, we found that a third of our members said other WeWork members had given them ideas on how to improve their businesses. We recently announced that in South Africa, Naspers will be taking space with us at 173 Oxford Road. I’m looking forward to seeing the interaction between these large enterprise companies and our Labs members, and the rest of the community.

Your slogan talks about helping to create the future. To what extent does this suggests a strong research & development orientation?

At WeWork, our aim is to empower inventive humans and organisations to impact the present and influence the future. As a business, we are focused on driving efficiency and adapting in areas of the company in order to meet the ever-evolving needs of our members, whether it be entrepreneurs, start-ups, SMEs or enterprise companies. On the ground level, our community teams are in constant contact with our members and hear from them any feedback they may have about the space or our services.

From a tech side, we focus on efficiency, elasticity and engagement. Technology is integrated into everything we do; we use anonymous data and analytics from our global fleet of buildings to better understand larger-scale urbanism and real estate trends, as well as evaluate new locations and services to help our members save, grow and thrive. We recently found that globally, a company of four can save $24,000 (or 35%) on average annually over traditional commercial real estate options. We see real value in taking non-structured data from the physical world and input our findings for machine learning development as well as predictive analytics, for example reallocating conference rooms based on meeting responses. Our collection of member data is anonymous and provides invaluable insight into the member experience as a whole, as well as their working habits to predict and create the future of work. 

Will you have similar partnerships in SA as WeWork Labs has with Alibaba Cloud in China? Please elaborate on potential partnerships here.

We’re thinking about all sorts of ways to service our community globally, and part of this is looking at potential partnerships that will provide our members with useful offerings. Right now, we’re connecting with local start ups and potential partners in the area, but I have no news to share on this at present. 

What are your plans to expand to other tech hubs in South Africa, like Stellenbosch?

Right now, we’re focusing on launching our first WeWork Labs programme and building our community in South Africa. We’re excited to expand our footprint across the country, having recently announced a new WeWork location in Cape Town, bringing our total number of locations in South Africa to three.


Seedstars seeks tech to reverse land degradation in Africa

A new partnership is offering prizes to young entrepreneurs for coming up with innovations that tackle the loss of arable land in Africa.



The DOEN Foundation has joined forces with Seedstars, an emerging market startup community, to launch the DOEN Land Restoration Prize, which showcases solutions to environmental, social and financial challenges that focus on land restoration activities in Africa. Stichting DOEN is a Dutch fund that supports green, socially-inclusive and creative initiatives that contribute to a better and cleaner world.

While land degradation and deforestation date back millennia, industrialization and a rising population have dramatically accelerated the process. Today we are seeing unprecedented land degradation, and the loss of arable land at 30 to 35 times the historical rate.

Currently, nearly two-thirds of Africa’s land is degraded, which hinders sustainable economic development and resilience to climate change. As a result, Africa has the largest restoration opportunity of any continent: more than 700 million hectares (1.7 billion acres) of degraded forest landscapes that can be restored. The potential benefits include improved food and water security, biodiversity protection, climate change resilience, and economic growth. Recognizing this opportunity, the African Union set an ambitious target to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land by 2030.

Land restoration is an urgent response to the poor management of land. Forest and landscape restoration is the process of reversing the degradation of soils, agricultural areas, forests, and watersheds thereby regaining their ecological functionality. According to the World Resources Institute, for every $1 invested in land restoration it can yield $7-$30 in benefits, and now is the time to prove it.

The winner of the challenge will be awarded 9 months access to the Seedstars Investment Readiness Program, the hybrid program challenging traditional acceleration models by creating a unique mix to improve startup performance and get them ready to secure investment. They will also access a 10K USD grant.

“Our current economic system does not meet the growing need to improve our society ecologically and socially,” says Saskia Werther, Program Manager at the DOEN Foundation. “The problems arising from this can be tackled only if a different economic system is considered. DOEN sees opportunities to contribute to this necessary change. After all, the world is changing rapidly and the outlines of a new economy are becoming increasingly clear. This new economy is circular and regenerative. Landscape restoration is a vital part of this regenerative economy and social entrepreneurs play an important role to establish innovative business models to counter land degradation and deforestation. Through this challenge, DOEN wants to highlight the work of early-stage restoration enterprises and inspire other frontrunners to follow suit.”

Applications are open now and will be accepted until October 15th. Startups can apply here:

To enter the competition, startups should meet the following criteria:

  • Existing startups/young companies with less than 4 years of existence
  • Startups that can adapt their current solution to the land restoration space
  • The startup must have a demonstrable product or service (Minimum Viable Product, MVP)
  • The startup needs to be scalable or have the potential to reach scalability in low resource areas.
  • The startup can show clear environmental impact (either by reducing a negative impact or creating a positive one)
  • The startup can show a clear social impact
  • Technology startups, tech-enabled startups and/or businesses that can show a clear innovation component (e.g. in their business model)

Also, a specific emphasis is laid, but not limited to: Finance the restoration of degraded land for production and/or conservation purposes; big data and technology to reverse land degradation; resource efficiency optimization technologies, ecosystems impacts reduction and lower carbon emissions; water-saving soil technologies; technologies focused on improving livelihoods and communities ; planning, management and education tools for land restoration; agriculture (with a focus on precision conservation) and agroforestry; clean Energy solutions that aid in the combat of land degradation; and responsible ecotourism that aids in the support of land restoration.

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The dark side of apps



Mobile device security threats are on the rise and it’s not hard to see why. In 2019 the number of worldwide mobile phone users is forecast to reach 4.68 billion of which 2.7 billion are smartphone users. So, if you are looking for a target, it certainly makes sense to go where the numbers are. Think about it, unsecured Wi-Fi connections, network spoofing, phishing attacks, ransomware, spyware and improper session handling – mobile devices make for the perfect easy target. In fact, according to Kaspersky, mobile apps are often the cause of unintentional data leakage.

“Apps pose a real problem for mobile users, who give them sweeping permissions, but don’t always check security,” says Riaan Badenhorst, General Manager for Kaspersky in Africa. “These are typically free apps found in official app stores that perform as advertised, but also send personal – and potentially corporate – data to a remote server, where it is mined by advertisers or even cybercriminals. Data leakage can also happen through hostile enterprise-signed mobile apps. Here, mobile malware uses distribution code native to popular mobile operating systems like iOS and Android to spread valuable data across corporate networks without raising red flags.”

In fact, according to recent reports, 6 Android apps that were downloaded a staggering 90 million times from the Google Play Store were found to have been loaded with the PreAMo malware, while another recent threat saw 50 malware-filled apps on the Google Play Store infect over 30 million Android devices. Surveillance malware was also loaded onto fake versions of Android apps such as Evernote, Google Play and Skype.

Considering that as of 2019, Android users were able to choose between 2.46 million apps, while Apple users have almost 1.96 million app options to select from, and that the average person has 60-90 apps installed on their phone, using around 30 of them each month and launching 9 per day – it’s easy to see how viral apps take several social media channels by storm.

“In this age where users jump onto a bandwagon because it’s fun or trendy, the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) can overshadow basic security habits – like being vigilant on granting app permissions,” says Bethwel Opil, Enterprise Sales Manager at Kaspersky in Africa. “In fact, accordingly to a previous Kaspersky study, the majority (63%) of consumers do not read license agreements and 43% just tick all privacy permissions when they are installing new apps on their phone. And this is exactly where the danger lies – as there is certainly ‘no harm’ in joining online challenges or installing new apps.”

However, it is dangerous when users just grant these apps limitless permissions into their contacts, photos, private messages, and more. “Doing so allows the app makers possible, and even legal, access to what should remain confidential data. When this sensitive data is hacked or misused, a viral app can turn a source into a loophole which hackers can exploit to spread malicious viruses or ransomware,” adds Badenhorst. 

As such, online users should always have their thinking caps on and be more careful when it comes to the internet and their app habits including:

  • Only download apps from trusted sources. Read the reviews and ratings of the apps as well
  • Select apps you wish to install on your devices wisely
  • Read the license agreement carefully
  • Pay attention to the list of permissions your apps are requesting. Only give apps permissions they absolutely insist on, and forgo any programme that asks for more than necessary
  • Avoid simply clicking “next” during an app installation
  • For an additional security layer, be sure to have a security solution installed on your device

“While the app market shows no signs of slowing down, it is changing,” says Opil. “Consumers download the apps they love on their devices which in turn gives them access to content that is relevant and useful. The future of apps will be in real-world attribution, influenced by local content and this type of tailored in-app experience will lead consumers to share their data more willing in a trusted, premium app environment in exchange for more personalised experiences. But until then, proceed with caution.”

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