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Founder of Merchant Capital’s Lessons From a Global Entrepreneurship Programme

What Dov Girnum, Founder and CEO of Merchant Capital, learned about business while embarking on a global entrepreneurship programme.

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As any entrepreneur will admit, every start-up reaches a stage where a major shift is needed to get to the next phase of organisational growth and success.

We call these ‘inflection points’ – a stage in a business’ journey where it has proved its business case, secured funding, established partnerships and appointed a strong management team, and now wants to significantly scale using the current infrastructure.

Related: Test and Validate Your Business From Both a Product and Brand Perspective

The inflection point needs to capitalise not only on the track record and success of the organisation so far, but also on prevailing market conditions and broader macro trends to achieve economies of scale, product diversification and globalisation of the organisation.

Our business is at that point. We’ve built a strong product offering and have a solid customer base. We’ve done much of the hard work in establishing a profitable, stable business. We have a great team. We have reached our inflection point, and now need to move quickly in order to reach the next high-growth stage.

This is, partly, what led me to participate in the selection process of Endeavor, a global programme to support high-impact entrepreneurs. Through my participation thus far, I have met some truly inspiring business leaders who looked at my business through a microscope and asked tough questions about all facets of the company.

The experience was invaluable, not least because I learned four critical lessons about what it takes to build and lead a truly successful business:

Lesson 1: Innovate broadly

It’s easy to equate innovation with technology, but ‘innovation’ actually applies to every facet of your business.

  • How do you provide your staff with the latitude to innovate within their specific roles?
  • How lean and agile are your internal processes?
  • How do you recruit talent?

All of these are critical aspects to the organisation’s success. Competition is fierce, so the ability to apply innovative thinking to every business problem gives you a massive advantage.

Lesson 2: Be humble

There were many highly talented and successful entrepreneurs participating in the local Endeavor programme. But the common character trait of those who failed to make the cut to the next stage? An inability to take criticism, which negates their ability to improve.

When you’re an employee, the ability or inability to learn affects only you. As the leader of a business, however, the effects of ego can be devastating. This taught me to be humble, to learn, and to strive to improve.

Lesson 3: Understand your weaknesses

This lesson ties back to Lesson 2. It’s about being open to discovering your weaknesses, and then taking steps to improve them. For me, this lesson is mainly to do with removing myself from the operational side of the business so that I can focus on the larger vision.

More specifically, knowing that my day-to-day involvement in operational matters may be hindering rather than helping the business makes it easier for me to step away.

Related: The Digital Disruptor: How the Insurance Sector is Leveraging Mobile Tech

Lesson 4: Trust your team

Entrepreneurs tend to involve themselves in all facets of the business during the start-up phase. When you start out, you may not have all of the skills and people you need to take care of various tasks, so you end up doing a lot of it yourself.

What’s more, because your financial future literally depends on it, you tend to operate at a very high level. But as the business grows and more people join the team, it becomes essential to delegate effectively and to trust that your staff will uphold your standards.

Great leaders know that people perform at their best when they’re trusted with important tasks. Inspire your staff to do great work, leave them to get it done, and the rewards will be immense.

Entrepreneur Magazine is South Africa's top read business publication with the highest readership per month according to AMPS. The title has won seven major publishing excellence awards since it's launch in 2006. Entrepreneur Magazine is the "how-to" handbook for growing companies. Find us on Google+ here.

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What NPOs Wish Corporates Knew Before Mandela Day

Joanne van der Walt, Global Director: Sage Foundation Promotions provides a roundup of the best advice to corporates from NPOs.

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“It was 2pm on Mandela Day at the after-care centre. The children were getting ready to go home when suddenly, 80 volunteers from a large local bank arrived, unannounced. We didn’t know who they were, but they wanted to use their 67 minutes with to volunteer with us. We appreciated the effort, but we had to turn them away, partly because the children were overwhelmed by the many unfamiliar faces, but mostly because we had no time to prepare the volunteers or the children.”

I’ve heard variations of this story from most of the NPOs we work with at Sage Foundation. The common thread is that, while highly appreciated, NPOs feel that Mandela Day activities could have a much bigger impact if they were better planned.

Planning to fail

In a recent poll of over 200 NPOs, we asked them what their biggest challenge was when it came to working with corporates on Mandela Day: 73% cited a lack of planning and failure to include them in the decision-making for the day.

Related: 5 Inspiring Quotes From Madiba

Their second-biggest challenge, cited by 24% of NPOs, was that too many volunteers show up. So, not only do NPOs not know what to expect, but it can feel like an onslaught, despite the good intentions.

When asked what they enjoyed most about Mandela Day, 50% of NPOs said exposure and 34% said engagement with the volunteers.

Yet, because of the planning oversight, Mandela Day tends to be a rushed affair, leaving little time to build relationships or raise awareness about the NPOs’ work, which is what CSR is all about.

mandela-day-2018

Advice from NPOs

So, we asked NPOs how we can do Mandela Day better and what they wished corporates knew about their needs – 36% of NPOs felt that a little education could go a long way.

Here’s a roundup of their best advice:

‘Include us in the planning’. Meet with your chosen NPO well in advance (weeks, even months before) to discuss their needs and plan the day. Mandela Day can be disruptive, and NPOs, especially those caring for children and the sick and elderly, need time to plan and allocate their own resources.

‘Help us get exposure’. Exposure is massive for NPOs and is often the biggest benefit of Mandela Day because it can attract new donors and support. Yet, often, it’s the corporates that get all the publicity. When charity initiatives are rushed or planned at the last minute, there’s no time to create awareness on social media, which often gets more corporates interested in what they do.

‘Treat us how you would a client or business partner’. Don’t cancel Mandela Day activities at the last minute, show up unannounced or not pitch at all. You’re their guest and they feel a lot of pressure to make Mandela Day a good experience for you, too. This is especially hard for smaller NPOs, so please respect their time and space. And please clean up before you leave.

‘Engage with us’. 58% of NPOs say the company of the volunteers is their favourite part about Mandela Day. Take photos but remember to put the phones away and interact with them. This way, you’ll get a better understanding of what they do and what they need.

This ‘Helper’s High’ goes both ways. One Harvard study found that people who volunteer are 42% happier than those who don’t. Another study found that volunteers were less likely to develop high blood pressure than non-volunteer, reporting greater increases in psychological wellbeing and physical activity.

‘Slow down’. Corporates squeeze a lot into Mandela Day and, while NPOs love every minute, it often feels rushed and overwhelming. NPOs love demonstrating what they do and the difference they make but there’s often no time on the day to demonstrate this. Also, 67 minutes or even one day once a year is not enough to learn about their needs and make a significant impact but it’s a good starting point, as long as you remember to do it.

‘Come back soon’. 45% of NPOs said they never hear from the corporates again after Mandela Day. To get the most out of their CSR initiatives and to make measurable, long-term impact, corporates should form partnerships with their chosen NPOs and provide support throughout the year.

South African organisations spent over R9 billion on corporate social investment in the 2016/17 financial year – a massive increase from the R1.5 billion spent 20 years ago.

For those that haven’t had a chance to properly plan their activities for Mandela Day this year, NPOs reminded us that financial support is often better than a frenzied one-day event that leaves a big mess and has no real impact. One NPO had to hire a contractor after Mandela Day to repaint a wall that well-meaning volunteers had left in a worse state than before.

Before doing anything, consider Mandela Day from the NPO’s perspective: ask for permission, give them what they need, and respect their time and space.

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10 African Innovators Selected For Global Accelerator Startupbootcamp Afritech

Startupbootcamp AfriTech empowers the top innovative African tech startups, linking them to the fastest-moving corporates on the continent.

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Startupbootcamp (SBC) AfriTech today announced the Top 10 African Innovators selected to participate in the globally renowned, multi-corporate backed accelerator programme for 2018.

Post an intensive 3-month global scouting tour, across 15 countries, and inclusive of 19 FastTrack events and 220 face-to-face startup engagements, the SBC AfriTech team received 1,004 applications from 73 countries in total, attracting double the applications from its inaugural launch in 2017.

The applications were shortlisted to the top 22 startup teams that were flown down to pitch their businesses over 2-days to some of the most progressive leaders in the innovation space in Africa, including corporate sponsors, mentors and investors.

The SBC AfriTech programme (previously SBC Africa) ended on a record high in 2017 with 32 corporate agreements in pilots and proof-of-concepts signed by close of the accelerator.

“Our inaugural year was big, it was bold,” comments Zachariah George, co-founder and Chief Investment Officer of SBC AfriTech, “Our phenomenal success of last year has made us the only truly global accelerator for tech ventures in partnership with dynamic corporates on the African continent – we are accelerating the next wave of innovation in Africa.”

Related: A Comprehensive List Of Angel Investors That Fund South African Start-Ups

The top 10 African Innovators selected are:

  1. Akiba Digital, South Africa: A financial savings platform and personal savings coach that leverages A.I., machine learning and gamification to democratize wealth in Africa.
  2. Bankly Technologies, Nigeria: A goal-based savings product that digitizes cash and enables in-country, peer-to-peer transfer services through the use of vouchers available nationwide.
  3. Brandbook Analytics, South Africa: A mobile application providing users free gift-card coupons for completed purchases with the ability to harvest vast amounts of consumer data and improved forecasting and analytics.
  4. CredPal, Nigeria: An innovative solution using deep data that provides individuals with instant access to credit at the point of checkout for various online and offline merchants.
  5. Digitech Group, Ivory Coast: Provides incumbent insurance companies an omni-channel and cloud-based digital platform to sell insurance products through mobile and web.
  6. Inclusive Financial Technologies, Ghana: Inclusive FT’s API helps digital financial services reach the most remote customers across Africa by enabling them to onboard, verify and monitor them via digital channels.
  7. Kudimoney Bank, Nigeria: A no-charge, full-service, online-only bank making banking services more affordable and more accessible by offering an interest-earning spending account with zero charges, a savings account with above-average interest rates and access to low interest instant loans.
  8. Lüla, South Africa: A mobility-as-a-service platform that connects stakeholders to improve mobility by providing transport that is convenient, accessible and safe and enabling operators, cities and passengers to have easy access and understanding of transport.
  9. MPost, Kenya: A patented solution providing legally recognised physical addresses for the 95% of the African population that do not have a postal address.
  10. Prospa, South Africa: A micro-savings solution for low-income earning South Africans, allowing users to purchase savings vouchers at traders that entitle the user to a set amount of savings which are deposited into a mobi-savings account.

The 10 selected tech startups have a month to ready themselves for the 3-month accelerator that will kick off on August 13th in Cape Town and culminate with the Demo Day on November 8th when they will pitch to the world.

Related: 27 Of The Richest People In South Africa

To the Top 10, Philip Kiracofe says: “You are here because your solution is market-ready and the sponsors want to work with you starting from today. The next 3 months are going to be absolutely exhilarating. We are going to be here side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder, pushing you, cajoling you, encouraging you, nurturing you, mentoring you and helping you achieve 12 – 18 months’ worth of growth in a 3-month span. On Demo Day you’re not going to believe that just 3 months ago you were standing where you are today. Congratulations and good luck.”

SBC AfriTech is anchored and endorsed by heavyweight corporate sponsors RCS, BNP Paribas Personal Finance, Old Mutual, Nedbank and PwC. The programme also has local service partners Brevity Law, Cloudworx, Inner City Ideas Cartel, and The Loudhailer and is globally supported by Google Cloud, Cisco and Amazon Web Services.

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Annual Show Fundex To Reveal Entrepreneurs Funding Secrets

Riversands Incubation Hub is set to host its third annual FundEX event at Riversands on Thursday 16 August 2018.

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Last year’s FundEX brought together more than 600 entrepreneurs seeking funding for business expansion. This year’s one-day conference and expo is set to create numerous golden opportunities for entrepreneurs needing access to funding.

FundEX carries the theme ‘Secrets of Scale’, and will unpack what it takes to build a ‘fundable’ business, featuring entrepreneurs who have attracted funding and built successful businesses.

“We measure the success of FundEX against the number of entrepreneurs who secure funding after the event. Contrary to popular belief, there is funding available. This event aims to provide practical guidance on what funding is available and what it takes to access this capital,” says Jenny Retief, CEO of Riversands Incubation Hub.

While Riversands does not provide funding, the organisation plays a role in bridging the gap between entrepreneurs and the many players in the funding space.

Related: Government Funding And Grants For Small Businesses

This year’s FundEX will extend beyond the one-day event and includes 10 places for entrepreneurs to work with a finance coach with insights from funding experts to prepare for funding. “We will walk this funding journey with these selected entrepreneurs,” adds Retief. Entrepreneurs attending FundEX can apply to be selected for this ‘fast-track’ process.

Entrepreneurs will also have the opportunity to interact with a variety of funders including banks, government funders and alternative funding platforms in the funders’ lounge during the show. Appointments with funders can be booked on the day, with the lounge opening at 10:00 and running to 15:00.

The one-day event runs from 09:00 to 16:00 and is open to the public, with tickets available online at http://www.fundex.co.za priced at R350 per head.

Riversands Incubation Hub is located off William Nicol Drive near Dainfern.

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