1GIANTleap’s startup program finale event, hosted by Edge Growth, took place last week, with seven impressive tech entrepreneurs pitching their business ideas to a crowd of respected players in the tech, startup and investment space. The judging panels decision was final: Cape Town based iSpani, a brand activation agency focused on township communities, were the winners of a trip to Silicon Valley in San Francisco, USA, to meet tech unicorns, multi-nationals and investors.
The judging panel was made up of entrepreneurs, specialists and investors in the tech space , Llew Claasen (Partner at Newtown Partners), Stephen Newton (President at Illuminate-Africa), Matthew Barclay (MD at Meltwater Africa), Clive Butkow (CEO at Kalon Venture Partners) and Professor Barry Dwolatzky (Founder at Tshimologong).
Twenty-three-year-old final year UCT Accounting student Patrick Machekera from iSpani echoed his elated business partners, 22-year-old Prince Nwadeyi of Queenstown (BCom Economics and Marketing student at UCT) and Ntandoyenkosi Shezi, 22, (BSc Finance, from Port Shepstone KZN), when he said: “I feel so happy, but our success is not certain yet, this is where the hard work begins!”Machekera and team have huge ambitions fuelled by the prize they won.
Reaching the unreached
Machekera describes iSpani as “A decentralized marketing and sales platform that connects brands seeking to enter unreached, informal and undeserved markets with an on-demand sales force that represents and assists them to expand their reach within the respective community in which the brand activator lives.”
“Our business focuses on removing the extractive relationship that exists between consumers and brands by facilitating partnerships that do more than just creating employment but rather enrich communities, which then creates brand loyalty as a result.” Says Shezi.
iSpani joined the 1GIANTleap program, says Nwadeyi, because “We wanted to make a change in society, but we couldn’t alone. We were desperate, we needed structural assistance. We needed guidance in our business processes and help in managing finance and our business culture. We want to thank Moniek van Erven and Vinu Nair of 1GIANTLeap for their tireless investment in us.”
“1GIANTleap aims to create the job of the future for Africa; those that are still relevant in say 10 or 20 years as they haven’t been made redundant by automation. We believe that technology is the answer to this.”
The current “South Africa’s Next Tech Hero” program was launched on June 8 in Johannesburg by 1GIANTleap’s Moniek van Erven and 1GIANTleap’s technology partner VSpace’s Vinu Nair. Entrepreneurs from both Johannesburg and Cape Town were invited to pitch “a tech idea that will disrupt the African continent”. After a rigorous selection process, both on-and offline, the seven entrepreneurs – the Tech Heroes, were cherry-picked for their promising business acumen, resilient entrepreneurial spirit and savvy technical insight.
Van Erven says iSpani won because “They are firstly a great team with complimentary skills. Moreover, they are clever and have the advantage of youth which enables them to absorb knowledge quickly. They obviously have a profitable business model but they are not guided by money; they are driven to create a positive social impact, which gives them an authenticity that people connect with. We are incredibly proud of them.”
Said Meltwater’s Barclay “I could feel iSpani’s passion and they were well prepared. They are also addressing a massive opportunity. I wasn’t only impressed that they have already made R150 000, I was impressed that they have already had repeat business. Congratulations guys, exciting times ahead!”
Newtown stated “There is not a lot of data on the African market, yet there are more than a billion African consumers. I can’t imagine who wouldn’t want to use iSpani to get a pulse of what is happening on the ground. I also like the fact that you have a social upliftment aim of providing employment, it’s a great model and answers a specific need.”
Heroes in the running
The other six Tech Heroes were: Alex Gabriels and Jade Venter from Spritzed: “The Airbnb for office space”, Aubrey Nyaguse from Skills Gorilla: “A talent matchmaking platform”, Anthony Bruce from Flippen Clever: “A textbook rental service for students”, Tannon Balanco from Bazinga Services: “On demand transportation services”, Thomas Hart from Rover: “A personalized travel platform” and Ntando Shabalala from Graft House: “Tinder for job seekers”.
Professor Dwolatzky emphasised that “There are so many good ideas here tonight with huge potential. They must carry on taking their ideas forward.
The purpose of the program was for the startups to take their wild idea to a validated business model, with their prototype created and their first customers onboarded. The focus is on the lean and agile: how to onboard your customers, which can usually take over a year, in the space of just 12 weeks while not spending any money.
1GIANTleap offered a combination of weekly bootcamps by mentors who are highly successful entrepreneurs and investors, field trips to partner organisations such as Facebook Africa and IBM Research, weekly one-on-one mentorship by both business and tech experts as well as product development.
Says Nair “The entrepreneurs have gained invaluable connections and new business opportunities, both during the 12-week program and during tonight’s pitching event. We have incubated 24 startups to date and we are excited to roll out this program on a large scale, within South Africa as well as in other African countries”.
All talented tech entrepreneurs are invited to register for 1GIANTleap’s next program – starting in October- at www.1giantleapstartups.com.