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Bandwidth Barn: Odette Potter

Cape Town-based business accelerator gives entrepreneurs the space to grow

Monique Verduyn

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Odette Potter of The Bandwidth Barn

Odette Potter’s dream is to help others achieve theirs. The enthusiastic manager of the Bandwidth Barn, a business accelerator which provides support and infrastructure to small and medium sized ICT businesses in the Western Cape, joined the organisation in 2002.

She brought with her an in-depth knowledge of financial management. “Working with entrepreneurs and watching them grow has been the most fulfilling experience. It is amazing to be surrounded by people who have the courage to start their own businesses,” says Potter.

The Barn tackles the E-Myth – the fatal assumption that people who understand the technical work of a business must also inherently know how to run a business that does that kind of work. Sooner or later they realise that just as they invested time and energy in learning their trade or profession, they also need to acquire business development skills and learn how to effectively manage and grow a business.

“One of the main objectives of the Bandwidth Barn is to help entrepreneurs overcome these challenges,” Potter says. “We provide the best possible environment to enable opportunities for success and because we face the same challenges and stresses as any other business, we are able to understand the worries faced by our tenants.”

The Barn, a subsidiary of the non-profit organisation Cape Information Technology Initiative, started in 2000. Today, it is recognised as the most successful business accelerator of its kind in South Africa. The organisation supports companies by reducing the cost of overhead services through its shared office environment.

It also offers business development programmes to equip tenants with all the skills required to move from start-up to profit-generating stable companies.When the Barn opened its doors, a 64k Diginet line cost in the region of R6 000 to R7 000 per month. The costs were prohibitive and meant that start-ups had little or no access to technology, a factor which inhibits growth in today’s Internet economy. The Barn was launched in response to the need for affordable bandwidth and started out with 17 tenants sharing a 192k line.

“We received a grant of R1 million once only,” says Potter. “Because of that we have had to be creative. As a non-profit organisation, we have had a break-even philosophy from day one. What it costs us to run the Barn is what we cost out.”From its humble beginnings, the Barn’s turnover in 2006 was R71 million and its tenants included companies like Obsidian, IT Web Informatica and online success story Bizcommunity.

In 2002, global IT company Verizon became its chief corporate sponsor. Its achievements are most likely attributable to the fact that The Barn is unique in South Africa. In addition to 24/7 connectivity, it also gives entrepreneurs quality office space and professional reception services and presentation facilities.

All of these vital services are reasonably priced as a result of economies of scale. Potter notes that a fixed address also gives the Barn’s tenants the added advantage of stability, which means their own clients can feel secure about contracting with them. The Barn’s mentorship programme pairs new business owners with experienced business coaches who have done it all before.

“If one of our tenants is keen on taking their business global, we team them up with someone who has had the experience of doing that successfully,” saysPotter. But one of the Barn’s most important offerings is its entrepreneurially supportive culture.

Entrepreneurs can get lonely and afraid, something that the Barn addresses by providing a networking environment that gives tenants access to a vibrant community of fellow entrepreneurs. “It’s a place for like-minded people at different stages of their business,” says Potter.

“It provides a natural space for information sharing and support.”To become part of the Barn, a business must be in the ICT sector, be able to pay the bills and submit a business plan that includes current projects. The Barn has interventions aimed at different stages of a business, from enabling start-up and establishing stability to facilitating growth. Potter measures success by monitoring sustainability. “64% of our companies are still in business after five years. Given that 80% of businesses fail in their first year and many more drop off in their third, our successes are remarkable.” Contact: +27 21 409 7000; www.bwb.org.za

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton

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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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Colin Timmis Says ‘Position Yourself For Success By Starting With The Numbers’

People pay first who they feel pressure from, so people will pay you when they feel pressure from you.

CEOwise

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Entrepreneur Colin Timmis founded South Africa’s first cloud accounting practice in 2011, Real Time Accounting. Then, a few years after being appointed as South Africa’s first Xero partner Colin became Xero Country Manager South Africa. Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services.

Related: Pat Pillai On How He’s Helped Over 5000 Entrepreneurs Using 3 Key Steps

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Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform

The Merge vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

Merge Connect

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It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.

“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.

Merge is a social platform that connects entrepreneurs and investors. It aims to simplify, refine and accelerate the process of finding investment for entrepreneurs, and the process of finding investment opportunities for investors. From idea to developed, the platform allows entrepreneurs to present a brief outline of their venture to a network of all investor types. While doing this, entrepreneurs are able to browse through, and connect with investor profiles that suit their requirements.

Related: 8 Codes Of Success That Helped Priven Reddy of Kagiso Interactive Media Achieve A Networth Of Over R4 Billion

From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.

The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.

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“We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we believed in our vision and that we were really trying to make a difference, and if we could get others to see that, they would be onboard.” said Zander.

Related: Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

Chris Peters is one of these individuals that bought into their vision, and became Merge’s first investor. As a successful entrepreneur and part time investor , Chris saw how much value the platform could bring to all entrepreneurs and investors alike. His marketing and strategic background gave him insight into how Merge could play a vital role in a lucrative space, Brand involvement.

“Entrepreneurship and SME development are two key factors that drive economic growth in developing countries like South Africa. That is why brands are currently getting involved, and looking to support entrepreneurs through various means. We have built a platform that allows these brands to successfully market, and execute on the programmes they have created to assist entrepreneurs.” said Chris

Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.

Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

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