The magical million milestone. It’s a big financial and psychological turning point in the life of a young business.
A million rand turnover or investment is a sign that you’ve either made it or stand a reasonable chance of doing so in the future.
And this morning there are five more members of the million rand club, thanks to a pitching competition held last night at Joburg’s Alphacode incubator. Alphacode is a hub funded by RMI Holdings for startups in the financial sector – so called “fintechs”. Its event last night was for firms looking for B-BBEE enterprise development funding from Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Royal Bafokeng Holdings, and prospective investees came from a variety of backgrounds in the banking, insurance and tech worlds.
Five of the 11 who pitched came out of the event with a cool R1m to bolster their businesses, but who were they?
Cashflow is everything for any business, says E-Factor founder Tito Mbatha, which is why his initiative is designed to smooth over those ever-increasing gaps between sending and invoice and getting paid. E-Factor allows small businesses to sell their invoices to credit houses who take a cut in return for paying out instantly and handling collection of the cash.
After cash flow, credit is the next big stumbling block for South African firms. InvoiceWorx takes the pain out of applying for loans by acting as an online repository for financial information, which co-founder Siya Ntutela says is then credit scored and presented to banks and institutions for various types of financing. Ntutela, who also founded Bonsai Capital, says this speeds up loan applications from weeks to hours.
The judges at the Alphacode event clearly see a need for more solutions to short term cash flow management. Imafin is broadly similar to E-Factor, in that it will effectively “buy” an invoice by offering a loan against it. The key difference, says founder Nivan Bilou, is that Imafin is backed by Diners Club International and can thus offer its own terms, which he claims are 50% cheaper than traditional factoring options.
A special award from Royal Bafokeng Holdings, of R1m, was given to back Heritage Capital. Co-founders Philile Maphumulo and Kedibone Imathiu have built one of the country’s only black-female owned private equity groups which is looking to invest in small firms operating in key industrial, consumer and service sectors.
The founders say they’re specifically looking to invest growth capital into firms that will create employment opportunities.
Stockfella barely needs an introduction, as founders Tshepo Moloi and Ruddy Mukwamu point out that they’ve already gained a prolific media profile that includes being featured on Carte Blanche. The solution they offer is so obviously simple in hindsight, it’s odd that there aren’t more companies doing it.
Stockfella is designed for township and rural savers who take part in a stockvel – for the uninitiated this is an informal group fund that community members pay into and can take out of when they need money for starting a business, school fees and so on. The problem with stockvels, says Moloi, is that there’s little security, and the fact most dealing is done in cash creates massive risks. Stockfella is a simple online app which allows people to contribute and withdraw electronically, and offers interest on balances. Ultimately, Moloi and Mukwamu say, the plan is to add features such as rewards, mobile money transfers and other products through the app.
While the winners were definitely all worthy, I should point out that there were plenty of other great ideas we’ll be following up on. Iselfinsure is a brilliant plan to turn insurance costs into a savings account – much like the way medical aid operates – so insurees can receive payouts if they contribute more than they claim.
My personal favourite startup at the event was Traffic Eye, an in-car telematics device which can be linked to an insurance company to help evaluate your driving standard and premium. Unlike the system currently operated by Discovery, however, Traffic Eye puts the customer in control of the data – you choose what the insurer sees, and can revoke access to that information if you switch insurer.
//Update – The original article stated that Alphacode was funded by RMB, this has been corrected to RMI Holdings. Sorry, RMI!