“This is the latest outcome of the joint partnership between IBM Research and Wits, which started in 2016 when IBM opened its second lab in Africa in Wits University’s Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct in Johannesburg,” said Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Wits Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Postgraduate Affairs.
31-year-old South African engineer Neo Hutiri has added another prize to the pile his Pelebox concept has already won: the Royal Academy of Engineering’s 2019 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation.
Hutiri is the first South African to win the prestigious medal – and accompanying £25,000 (R470,000) cash prize – from the London-based organisation.
IBM cultivating a future for tech startups at Wits University’s Tshimologong Precinct
Creating an environment that cultivates a future for tech startups is a nationwide imperative. IBM SA, through its Equity Equivalence Investment Programme (EEIP), recently concluded a startup accelerator at the Wits University’s incubator, Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, which successfully identified an exciting talent pool within highly specialised ICT focus areas including data and analytics, cloud computing, Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence and cyber security.
Bhavya Rama, IBM Equity Equivalence Investment Programme (EEIP) Exec – South Africa, says that through the Enterprise Development Programme, IBM aims to accelerate local tech startups: “We assist entrepreneurs that are struggling to fast-track their businesses from survivalist/micro to a sustainable and profitable level. As we empower these key players in the local economy, we contribute to the economic transformation of the country, the development of skills within the local ICT sector, subsequent job creation and thus enable the sustainability of SMMEs within the ICT sector.”
Shaun Randles, Enterprise Development Manager, Tshimologong, says that the IBM SA accelerator targeted local, growth stage tech startups that offer a primary technology service or product: “The bootcamp provided an opportunity to understand relevant and emerging technologies such as Cloud Computing, Artificial Intelligence, IoT and Blockchain. Throughout the rigorous 4-week bootcamp, the startups received one on-one-coaching, as well as master classes on helpful tips and practices from seasoned entrepreneurs in a round table format, sharing personal experiences on real business concepts, discussing generic matters and key challenges, which the startups could practically relate to.”
Rama says that further accelerator and bootcamp programmes, enabled by the EEIP will prove vital to the industry and effectively stimulate growth: “By providing tech startups access to funding, a key challenge they face, we will assist to accelerate their growth trajectory. This enables IBM to bring these SMMEs either into our channel or supply chain, thus providing them with market access, which is another significant stumbling block for small businesses.”
She says other challenges include; building a core team with the right technical skill set, achieving traction with user acquisition and retention, being agile and responsive in a rapidly evolving digital world, cyber security threats and risks, and long corporate sales cycles.
In selecting the winner, Rama says that IBM was impressed with the team’s confidence when pitching for the investment and ability to accurately respond to all interrogatory questions from judges; the unique nature of the solution presented and a thorough understanding of the target market and how to penetrate it: “The winner, FIXXR, displayed a solid understanding of the impact that technology has on their business as they scale and gain traction. They also displayed an in-depth understanding of the financial view of the business and how it can pivot using the investment.”
“We noted an unrivaled dedication and a belief in their solution as well as the impressive effort FIXXR put into their solution during the bootcamp. I am particularly inspired by their out of the box thinking and aspiration to be agile and responsive to market demands,” says Randles.
To ensure the startups selected met with the EEIP criteria, Randles says the bootcamp adhered to strict criteria such as 51% black ownership, managed and operated by the black owners of the business, commercially sustainable and viable, is older than one year, and operated, registered and headquartered in South Africa: “We looked for tech startups that were not involved in other enterprise development programmes, had no direct association with IBM, and were not NPOs/NGOs.”
The top seven startups included Loyal1, iMed Tech, Fixxr, Excel at Uni (which placed second), JoBoX App developers (which placed third), Loyal1, iMed Tech, SmartSentials and KL Corp.
Mobile car repair platform FIXXR will use its R500 000 to introduce automated booking and ordering processes, integration with part suppliers and IBM Watson will also provide intelligent systems to customers.
“Tech startups not only represent growth for an economy and an important source of jobs, but they also fuel innovation and enable opportunities for disruption. A thriving tech startup ecosystem will attract more tech investment beyond our borders. We are very excited about this year’s winner and the innovation and disruption it represents,” says Rama.