Concrete support needed for SA ICT startups

Building a thriving, innovative ICT sector takes more than investment – it requires ongoing mentorship and support, says IBM.

October 11, 2013

Building a thriving, innovative ICT sector takes more than investment – it requires ongoing mentorship and support, says IBM.

While funding is a critical factor in the success of any start-up, to remain viable and grow, businesses need a great deal more than this, says Clayton Booysen, ISV and Developer Relations Lead for IBM South Africa. “New companies often need business-focused guidance and mentorship. They need doors opened for them,” he says.

For example, in many cases, technology-based start-ups lack business skills and the know-how needed to secure venture capital, he says.

During his two-year involvement in IBM’s local chapter of the IBM Global Entrepreneur Programme and its Smart Camp, Booysen says he has seen start-ups thrive as a result of their involvement in the programmes. “Their feedback indicates that the mentorship component of the programmes is the most valuable part of their engagement. Many have tweaked their business models as a result of the input and advice they have received from the business and venture capital advisors and mentors involved in the programmes.”

Mauricio Sucasas, Director: ISV and Developer Relations Growth Market Unit for IBM, says IBM’s $150 million investment fund and Global Entrepreneur Programme takes a unique approach to supporting innovative start-ups. It backs promising companies where there are synergies with IBM’s own focus areas, thus allowing the computing giant to extend concrete support based on its own expertise and ecosystem. “We understand their technologies and help them assess their market strategies and access new markets.

The programme selects promising start ups, allocates them an IBM relationship manager, and supports them by giving them access to coaching, feedback, resources and skills they would not normally have at their disposal. IBM helps them build credibility and may also help by facilitating introductions to important industry partners. The Smart Camp component of the programme allows aspiring entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas in interactive sessions that deliver valuable insights and guidance, whether the participants reach the next level of the Smart Camp selection process or not.

In their interactions with mentor panels at IBM Smart Camps, participants are shown the weaknesses in their business models, and given advice on improving their businesses and securing venture capital.

“This programme is mutually beneficial,” says Sucasas. “It not only gives start ups valuable support and mentorship, but it also gives IBM access to innovative new solutions and approaches, which may present future partnership or acquisition potential.”

Fostering innovation is a key focus area for IBM, in line with its Smarter Planet agenda. “These innovations emerging from the Global Entrepreneurship Program and our Smart Camps may revolve around the actual technology, or may simply be an innovative new business model that addresses a market need – such as that presented by Kenya’s MoDe – winner of this year’s Smart Camp series,” says Booysen.