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Start-up Advice

Is Your Start-Up Fundable?

Money can make the difference between success and failure. Can your start-up’s IP attract the right investors?




A study done by Shikar Ghosh, a Harvard researcher, indicated that 75% of start-up businesses fail. Why is the failure rate so high and what sets the remaining successful 25% apart?

In the majority of cases, it simply boils down to money — having adequate financing available. Any business requires the necessary finances to initiate, maintain, develop and subsequently expand their business.

What your investor could be looking for

When a business is seeking outside financing from a third party, such as an investor, the third party is likely to look at the expected rates of return of the business, its existing commercialisation activities, its assets vs liabilities, the existing and target users, market potential and its current and expected turnover rate and profit margins.

Related: 10 Ways To Beat The Odds And Get That Funding For Your Start-Up

However, the average start-up has not been trading for a sufficient amount of time to have the level of financial data needed for an investor to value the company adequately in this manner. How can a realistic value then be placed on a start-up?

The role of intellectual property

Unlike valuing companies with revenues, assets and longer track records, there are no agreed upon standards for start-ups. As it is unlikely that a start-up would possess any tangible assets, it is paramount to focus on the intangible assets such as ideas and the intellectual property protecting the ideas such as patents, trademarks, copyright and registered design rights.

Although it may be challenging for a start-up to spend money in order to obtain such intellectual property rights, it should be kept in mind that intellectual property rights are recognised as property and assets. Intellectual property rights may also be ‘the shiny object’ that attracts potential investors.

What intellectual property is telling your potential investors

Intellectual property is also indicative of a sustainable competitive advantage, a well-managed company, good growth prospects and a niche market. As such, it provides a means of setting the start-up apart from other players in the industry.

A significant amount of money is spent on getting the start-up off the ground in terms of advertising, research and development, development of prototypes and the like.

These ‘negative’ but realistic expenses may be equalised or outweighed by intellectual property rights, as once an intellectual property right is applied for, it becomes an enforceable right that is not easily taken away and may also attract a stable and predictable financial income if licensed, by providing royalties to the owner.

Intellectual property may assist a company if troubled by risk or bankruptcy as it may be assigned, and thereby transferred from one owner to another owner, or licensed — for income.

Related: 6 Resources For Start-Ups Looking For Alternative Funding

The commercial potential of intellectual property

Start-ups in a quest for capital have two options: Equity financing or debt financing. Equity financing may be advantageous if the start-up’s revenue is limited. In terms of debt financing a start-up may be required to pledge their intellectual property, which could be the only and/or the most valuable asset they have.

The intellectual property may then serve as security, however, it is arguable and also dependent on the start-up what the financial value would be. Such security is more beneficial as it is not debt per se but rather a predictable income.

Intellectual property as an asset

The value of intellectual property as an asset is dependent on economic, market, technical and legal factors. A start-up that creates intellectual property with commercial potential already has a foot in the door, as this creates confidence in both the founder of the start-up and potential investors.

Being realistic, it is entirely dependent on the type of start-up as intellectual property is not always an option or possibility. Should intellectual property not be a viable option, it is recommended that start-ups emphasise their future promise and also rely on evidence demonstrating growth, drive, engagement, talent, execution and worthiness. The key is to create excitement amongst investors.

Related: How Giraffe Played The VC Game (And Won Funding)

As an end note to the founders of start-ups, keep Colin Powell’s quote in mind: “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure,” and to investors, keep Peter Drucker’s quote in mind: “Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.”

Elaine Bergenthuin is Managing Director at De Beer Attorneys, which specialises in all aspects of Intellectual Property Law.

Start-up Advice

Put On Your Wellies: It’s Time To Wade Into Risk

Entrepreneurs aren’t all leaping into the unknown like lemmings off a cliff, but they do need to consider it…

Chris Ogden




You’ve had a great idea. You’ve looked into its development. You’ve recognised that it has potential beyond just what Auntie Mabel and Mike From The Grocer think. And you’ve clearly nailed a pain point that can make money. Now it is time to take the risk of running with it.

Every big idea comes with risk. You can’t step out into the world of entrepreneurial thinking and business development without it. Your idea may fail. It will also be time consuming, demanding, hungry for money, and hard work. It is unrealistic to expect that your project will leap out into the world and be an unmitigated success.

It is also unrealistic to assume that it isn’t worth taking this risk.

There are steps that you can follow to ensure that your risk is managed so you aren’t blindly leaping off that cliff…

Step 01: Do your research

No, canvassing your neighbours, friends and family is not doing research. You need to know that your idea will appeal to a broad market and that it will have significant legs. This may sound like daft advice, but you would be surprised how many people think an idea will take off just because Susan in Accounting said so.

Step 02: Understand the costs

Projects are hungry for money and investment. Realistically work out your budgets and how much it will cost to take your project off the ground and then stick to it.

A calculated risk is a far better bet than one that shoots from the hip and hopes for the best. You can also use this as an opportunity to draw a clear line under where you will stop investing and end the project. If it keeps eating money and isn’t getting anywhere with results you need to be able to walk away.

Step 03: Know when to walk away

As mentioned before, this can be defined by a line you’ve drawn in the proverbial sand (and budget) but no matter where you draw this line, you have to stick to it. Often, when time, money and energy have been poured into a project it can be incredibly hard to walk away.

You think ‘but I have put so much into this, just one more’ and then it gets to a point where the ‘just one more’ has taken you so far down the line that walking away feels impossible. Leave. Learn the lessons. Apply them to your next project.

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Start-up Advice

Mind The Gap

The entrepreneur’s guide to finding the gaps and building the right solutions.

Chris Ogden




Innovation may very well be the key to business success but finding the gap into which your innovative thinking can fit is often a lot harder than people realise. Some may be struck by inspiration in the shower, others by that moment of blinding insight in a meeting, however, for most people finding that big idea isn’t that simple. They want to be an entrepreneur and start their own high-growth business, but they need some ideas on how to find that big idea.

Here are five…

1. Network

It sounds trite but networking is actually an excellent way of picking up on patterns and trends in conversation and business problems. The trick is to note them down and pay attention. Soon, you will find patterns emerging and ideas forming.

2. Look for pain

Just as networking can reveal trends in the market, so can spending time reading. The latter will also help you find common business pain points. These are the touchpoints that frustrate people, annoy business owners, affect productivity, or impact employee engagement.

Be the Panado that fixes these pains.

3. Luck


This is probably the most annoying of the ideas, but it is unfortunately (or fortunately) very true. Luck does play a role in helping you capture that big idea. However, luck isn’t just standing around and random people offering you opportunities. Luck is found at networking events, it is found in research and it is found in conversations with other entrepreneurs.

4. Luck needs courage

You may have found the big idea through your network, a pain point or pure blind luck, but if you don’t have the courage to take it and run with it, you will lose it to someone else.

Being bold in business is highly underrated because most people assume that everyone is bold and prepared to take big leaps into the unknown. However, not all brilliant entrepreneurs were ready to throw their family funds to the wind and leap into an idea – they were courageous enough to figure out a way of harnessing their ideas realistically.

5. Pay attention

This is probably one of the most vital ways of finding a gap in the market. Often, people are so busy that they don’t really pay attention to that niggling issue that always bothers them on a commute, or in a mall, or at a meeting. This niggling issue could very well be the next big business opportunity. Pay attention to it and find out if that issue can be solved with your innovative thinking.

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Start-up Advice

5 Things To Know About Your “Toddler” Business

As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind.

Catherine Black




Ah, toddlers. Those irresistible bundles of joy bring a huge amount of energy, curiosity and fun to any family – but there’s also frustration and worry that comes with their unpredictability, as they grow and start to become more independent. If you own a business and it’s successfully past its “infancy” of the first year or so, it’s likely it will also go through a toddler stage of its lifecycle.

Pete Hammond, founder of luxury safari company SafariScapes, agrees with this. “Our business is now three and a half years old, and we’ve found that we’re not yet big enough to justify employing a large team of people to handle the day-to-day admin tasks, yet we still need to grow the business as well,” he says. “As a result, our main challenge is finding the time to step back and see the bigger picture. Kind of like when you are raising a busy toddler and you spend most of your time running after them!”

As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind:

1. This too shall pass

Everything in life is temporary – and that goes for both the good and the bad. It’s as helpful to remember this when you’re facing the might of a toddler temper tantrum, as it is when you’re facing throws of uncertainty in your business. If your new(ish) venture is going through a rough patch in its first few years, it can be easy to think about giving up – but don’t. As long as you have an overall big idea that you believe can add value to your customers, keep pushing through the rough parts until you come out the other side.

2. Appreciate what this phase brings

The toddler years mean that the initial newborn joy is officially behind you. But these small humans also bring their own kinds of joy, as you watch them learn new skills, say funny things, and give affection back to you. While your two-year-old business may not hold the same exhilaration for you as it did during those first few months, there are now different things to appreciate about it: Maybe you’re expanding your product range, or employing new people who can take the workload off you.

3. Establish boundaries

Toddlers thrive on boundary and routine – and your toddler business will too. As it grows into a new phase, try and establish limits in terms of the type of clients you want to work with and the type of work you’ll do. It’s also a good idea to make a decision about the hours you’ll work and when you’ll switch off, which will help you establish a good work-life balance.

4. Take a break

Every parent with a toddler needs a break every now and then, even if that means a walk around the block (on your own!), a dinner out with friends, or even a few days away. The same is true for a demanding small business: every so often, remember to take time out to rest properly, where you switch off your laptop and completely unplug. You’ll return much more inspired and resilient to deal with the everyday uncertainty that it brings.

5. Give it space to make mistakes

While the unpredictability of a young business can be stressful and tiring, it’s also a time for trying new things without the risk of huge consequences if they don’t quite work. After all, it’s much simpler to change your USP if you’re a small business employing a few people, rather than a big company where 50 people are relying on you for their salary, or where you’ve received a huge amount of investment capital. While you may fail in some of the things you try with your business (in fact, this is almost guaranteed), see it as a toddler that’s resilient enough to pick itself up, dust its knees and keep moving forward.

During this phase of business growth it’s also essential to have the right type of medical aid cover. There are medical schemes such as Fedhealth which has a number of medical aid options and value-added benefits to ensure that your health and wellness is taken care of too. After all, the healthier you and your staff are, the more productive your business will be – during the toddler (business) stage and beyond.

While this phase can be frustrating, it’s a sign that your business is growing and adapting, rather than remaining in its infancy, and that can only be a good thing! So embrace the difficulties, learn from them, and watch as your business strides forward confidently into the next exciting phase.

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