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Spark ATM Systems: Marc Sternberg

Even in well traded environments there is opportunity for innovation.



Marc Sternberg

Spark ATM Systems had its genesis in a late-night need to draw cash. This led to an independent network of some 1 000 cash machines just a couple of years later. That’s despite the fact that operating ATMs in such an apparently mature market seems like a crazy idea.

Company founder and managing director Marc Sternberg, who had returned to South Africa from several years working in Sydney, explains that when he needed some money at a hotel, he assumed that there would be a cash machine readily available. “In Australia, there are ATMs everywhere. In bars, hotels, grocery stores – but I was laughed at when I asked, ‘Well, where is it’.” As he walked down the street to the nearest petrol station, he realised that opportunity was staring him in the face. “The penny dropped. Why should there not be an ATM in every place where there are 500 or more people?” As far as the traditional operators of ATM networks – the banks – are concerned, the reason for that is pretty simple. It’s a cost thing; an ATM has to pay for its presence and they are very expensive devices. Or are they?

New Business Model

Sternberg explains: “The model used by the banks is expensive. They have leased line or satellite connectivity and the hardware itself costs a bundle. Then there is the cost of cash replenishment. When you have Fidelity or Coin running around, you need very high volumes to make that site pay for itself.” His answer was to source far lower cost equipment and connectivity, which turned out to be readily available. But the real master stroke came in the cash replenishment model.

“Instead of a dedicated service, our sites operate in ‘cash rich’ environments. Pool halls, butcheries, pharmacies and pubs – anywhere there is a till which is taking a lot of cash. We partner with the proprietor, who earns a fee from each withdrawal. Now, instead of depositing his cash at the bank, which itself attracts a handsome fee, the proprietor puts his takings into the ATM and receives an electronic payment back into his bank account. When customers draw it out, they earn even more.”

The reception from banks has not been adverse, either, Sternberg says. “We play in a very different space, serving predominantly the lower value transactions of a couple of hundred Rand and niche areas where banks can’t justify an ATM of their own,” he explains, adding that his Spark ATMs cost approximately one tenth to purchase and operate compared to those of the banks.

Financing the Company

Like many entrepreneurs who have complete faith in their business ideas, Sternberg explains that he and partner, Russell Berman, funded and grew the business from their personal savings, reinvestment of profits and a rental-purchase structure for equipment finance. “Giving away equity means giving away control. We want to stay nimble and able to respond to the market needs very quickly,” he says.

Although he’s a CA, Sternberg has experience in the retail sector. Hence, the company is built on principles such as customer service and rapid response. “ATMs are all we do. The ATM is an asset for our retailers who host them, so we make sure that the machine is up and running, not only to serve the customer drawing cash, but also to serve the store owner where it is located.”

Expanding the Network

The opportunity for growth is considerable, Sternberg believes, while risk is minimal. “We’ve had very little vandalism and no incidences of ATM bombings, as our machines are located in high foot-traffic areas, very often under the nose of a store owner or operator. The machines add value to the businesses where they are located and to people who need cash.” Spark’s research indicates that in South Africa, there are presently some 200 to 250 ATMs per million people, while in Canada, Australia and Mexico, that number is closer to 1 000 machines per million. “We think there is headroom for that many machines in this country. And we intend to make sure that most of them will be Spark ATMs.”

Spark  ATM Systems
Player: Marc Sternberg
Est 2006
086 111 4751


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.






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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Company Posts

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




Vital Stats

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.


“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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