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Space Age Technologies: Mathias Tölken, Chris Welham and Mark Geschke

An IT company carves a niche for itself by specialising in the SME sector and committing itself to ongoing innovation.

Juliet Pitman

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In a competitive market, knowing your niche and sticking to what you do best is a proven strategy for success. Just ask the guys at Space Age Technologies. With IT consultancies a dime a dozen, company founders Chris Welham, Mark Geschke and Mathias Tölken have carved a niche for themselves servicing the needs of small to medium businesses.

“Everything about us, everything we offer is finely tuned to the small and medium business’s needs, goals and budgets,” explains Welham. In doing so, they’ve proved that specialisation can deliver a unique competitive advantage and offer critical differentiation to a brand. Based in Cape Town, since 2004 Space Age Technologies has been listed as a Microsoft Award finalist or winner and in 2007 won the Networking Infrastructure Partner of the Year Award – not bad going considering they were up against 600 000 other Microsoft partners around the world. Geschke was recently named among the MSP Mentor Top 250 Most Influential People and, perhaps most importantly of all, Space Age Technologies has maintained a customer retention rate of 94% over the past three years.

Seeing the gap

“When Space Age Technologies started out, the SME segment of the market was very under-serviced from an IT point of view. Small to medium companies really had to get by on their own. We saw a gap,” says co-founder Welham. Like many gaps in the market, the one they identified existed partly because it wasn’t an easy or obvious market to service.

“It’s true that the SME market comes with its challenges. For one thing, SMEs have much smaller budgets and run leaner operations, so that places a limitation on what you can charge them. “In addition, SME owners are typically brilliant in their own fields but they often lack a comprehensive understanding of technology, and don’t recognise the real value it can deliver to their business,” says Welham.

But for those who are willing to find solutions to such challenges, the market is there for the taking and Space Age Technologies was up to the task. To get around the budgetary constraints, Welham, Tölken and Geschke initially drew very small salaries – until they hit upon an innovative solution that addressed the challenge in the long-term. Welham explains, “Today its known as managed services and loads of companies do it, but at the time it was a new and untried concept. We realised that if we charged a fixed amount to provide all the necessary service and support for our clients, we’d be able to generate ongoing income and they would be able to budget better for their IT needs. It was a win-win situation.”

Ongoing innovation

But in order for the managed services model to be effective, the company had to make a significant investment in systems that would allow it to monitor and manage multiple machines and servers. “In 2001 we developed a software system called SATAware that allowed us to automatically monitor our clients’ servers,” says Welham. Over time the company has refined and evolved this software, which generates weekly automated reports for all Space Age Technologies’ clients.

The company founders know that, while they may have captured the SME market early on, first mover advantage can only differentiate them in the market for a certain period of time before their competitors catch up. “This is why ongoing innovation is part of our DNA. In the IT industry, you need to innovate just to keep up, let alone to retain a leadership position,” says Welham.

Developing value-adding solutions

A comprehensive understanding of their niche market’s needs has played a pivotal role in allowing the company to develop new, value-adding and relevant solutions. One example is an offering known as Virtual CIO. “SMEs typically can’t afford to employ a chief
information officer but IT strategy, planning and budgeting is as important to their businesses as it is to that of large corporates.

“The Virtual CIO service is bundled together with the managed services option and allows clients to make sure that their business strategy and goals are supported by their IT infrastructure. It includes strategy, budgeting, risk identification and assessment, and capacity and growth planning,” explains Welham. Clients, understandably, love the idea and it provides the company with a valuable insight into their clients’ business needs, which allows them to identify additional business opportunities.

At the moment, Space Age is busy refining an IT Intermediate Objectives (IO) Map specifically for the needs of small to medium businesses. “It uses the Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF) and Theory of Constraints (TOC) principles, but has been built entirely by ourselves and has been developed to provide a clear picture of all the IT services SMEs require. It’s a work in progress and for the moment, we’ve made it available on our blog for public comment so that we can refine and improve it,” says Welham. Such visionary practices will be instrumental in helping Space Age Technologies achieve its three-year goal, as Welham outlines, “We want to be the top-of-mind integrator of IT services to SMEs in all markets we choose to compete in. Our next step is to establish a firm presence in Johannesburg.” N

Space Age Technologies
Players: Mathias Tölken, Chris Welham and Mark Geschke
Est: 1994
Contact: +27 21 88 77 292
www.spaceage.co.za

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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27 Of The Richest People In South Africa

Here are 27 of South Africa’s richest people, but how did they achieve this level of wealth? Find out here.

Nicole Crampton

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Learn the secrets of SA’s most successful business people, here is the list of the 27 richest people in South Africa:

In a world with growing entrepreneurship success stories, victory is often measured in terms of money. The feat of achieving a place on this list is, however, years of hard work, determination and persistence. “One has to set high standards… I can never be happy with mediocre performance,” advises Patrice Motsepe.

From the individuals that made the 27 of the richest people in South Africa list, actual entrepreneurs and self-made business people dominate the list; while those who inherited their fortunes have gone on to do even bigger and better things with their wealth. Over the years, some have slipped off the list, while others continue to climb higher and higher each year.

  1. Elisabeth Bradley
  2. Sharon Wapnick
  3. Bridgette Radebe
  4. Irene Charnley
  5. Wendy Ackerman
  6. Paul Harris
  7. Wendy Appelbaum
  8. Mark Shuttleworth
  9. Desmond Sacco
  10. Giovanni Ravazzotti
  11. Markus Jooste
  12. Gus Attridge
  13. Gerrit Thomas Ferreira
  14. Cyril Ramaphosa
  15. Adrian Gore
  16. Raymond Ackerman
  17. Michiel Le Roux
  18. Lauritz Dippenaar
  19. Jannie Mouton
  20. Stephen Saad
  21. Patrice Motsepe
  22. Allan Gray
  23. Koos Bekker
  24. Ivan Glasenberg
  25. Christoffel Wiese
  26. Johann Rupert
  27. Nicky Oppenheimer
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Watch List: 50 Top SA Black Entrepreneurs To Watch

South Africa needs more entrepreneurs to build businesses that can make a positive impact on the economy. These up-and-coming black entrepreneurs are showing how it can be done.

Nicole Crampton

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Early-stage South African entrepreneurial activity is at an all-time high of 11%, according to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, and entrepreneurial intentions have also increased to 11.7%. With both activity and intentions growing significantly year-on-year, there are more businesses opening up around South Africa than ever before.

The increase in entrepreneurship has seen the rise of more black entrepreneurs across numerous sectors. From beauty brands to legal services and even tech start-ups, these are 50 top black entrepreneurs to watch:

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Watch List: 50 Top SA Small Businesses To Watch

Keep your finger on the pulse of the start-up space by using our comprehensive list of SA small business to watch.

Nicole Crampton

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Entrepreneurship in South Africa is at an all-time high. According to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), total early-stage entrepreneurial activity has increased by 4.1% to 11% in 2017/2018. This means numerous new, exciting and promising small businesses are launching and growing.

To ensure you know who the innovative trailblazers are in the start-up and small business space, here are 50 of South Africa’s top establishing companies to watch, in no particular order:

  1. Livestock Wealth
  2. The Lazy Makoti
  3. Aerobuddies
  4. Mimi Women
  5. i-Pay
  6. AfriTorch Digital
  7. Akili Labs
  8. Native Décor
  9. Aerobotics
  10. Quality Solutions
  11. EM Guidance
  12. Kahvé Road
  13. HSE Matters
  14. VA Virtual Assistant
  15. Famram Solutions and Famram Foundation
  16. BioTech Africa
  17. Brand LAIKI
  18. Plus Fab
  19. LifeQ
  20. Organico
  21. 10dot
  22. Lenoma Legal
  23. Nkukhu-Box
  24. Benji + Moon
  25. Beonics
  26. Brett Naicker Wines
  27. Khalala
  28. Legal Legends
  29. The Power Woman Project
  30. Aviro Health
  31. AnaStellar Brands
  32. Data Innovator
  33. Fo-Sho
  34. Oolala Collection Club
  35. Recomed
  36. VoiceMap
  37. ClockWork
  38. Empty Trips
  39. Vula Mobile
  40. SwiitchBeauty
  41. Pineapple
  42. The Katy Valentine Collection
  43. OfferZen
  44. KHULA
  45. Incitech
  46. Pimp my Book
  47. ART Technologies and ART Call Management
  48. Prosperiprop
  49. WAXIT
  50. The Sun Exchange
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