The numerous South African SME ecosystem reports that have been published so far in 2018 paint a picture of a rising tide in local entrepreneurship: an increasing number of incubators with a diverse range of focus areas, entrepreneurship as an acceptable viable career path, and more funding available to back early-stage entrepreneurs than ever before. But with all this positive momentum, is the percentage of successful entrepreneurial ventures increasing proportionally? The ecosystem clearly delivers in terms of quantity, but is it producing the results, the quality, that South Africa needs to propel innovation, job creation and growth?
Today, South African venture capital firm Knife Capital announced that it is launching its fourth Grindstone Accelerator programme in partnership with African SME market access specialist Thinkroom. Grindstone engineers growth for South African technology entrepreneurs in shaping scale-up companies to become more investable, sustainable and exit-ready.
Grindstone is best described as part-accelerator, part-investor and part-advisor and was the first programme of its kind in SA. The year-long Grindstone programme takes ten businesses with proven traction through an intensive review of their strategies and provides them with the necessary support to build a foundation for growth through executive coaching, transfer of skills and introduction to relevant business networks. For those companies seeking funding, Grindstone also serves as potential deal pipeline generator for Knife Capital’s SARS Section 12J Venture Capital Company: KNF Ventures.
“We initially set out to prove that by offering the right guidance and support to coachable entrepreneurs, we can engineer growth on a significant and sustainable scale,” says Andrea Bӧhmert, Partner at Knife Capital. “The fact that so many of our Grindstone companies have experienced growth, investment and/or exits clearly demonstrates that it is possible. The team is excited about taking everything that we’ve learnt into the next Grindstone programme starting in August.”
Some of South Africa’s best scale-up companies have been through Grindstone with measurable results. Knife Capital invested in ticketing solutions provider Quicket; tax wizard TaxTim received strategic investment form MMI, Transport data company WhereIsMyTransport raised multiple funding rounds from an impressive group of local and international investors, and computer vision & radar startup iKubu exited to Garmin. Top Grindstone growth companies include marketing technology agency MPULL; financial inclusion business Picsa; augmented reality animation/ gaming company SeaMonster; and Bitcoin blockchain specialist Custos that fights digital piracy. “Grindstone is about measurable growth, about building a foundation that can handle both challenges and opportunities. It is about being prepared, as interesting things happen to companies that are ready and able to act on short notice” says Bӧhmert.
Earlier this year, SME market access specialist Thinkroom Consulting acquired a 50% stake in Grindstone to bring elements of the programme to corporate innovation initiatives and to expand it into Africa. ”We’ve worked with many African startup initiatives through the years and while some add significant value on the funding readiness side, Grindstone stands out as it forces participants to consider themselves as an acquisition target, whilst building and preparing them to be exit-ready. We are delighted to be launching the fourth Grindstone programme with Knife Capital,” says Catherine Young, Thinkroom Founder & CEO.
Knife Capital boasts a significant track record of adding value to high-growth South African technology-enabled companies for exit. These include Fundamo that was sold to Visa for $110m; CSense that was acquired by General Electric and the recent exit of orderTalk to Uber Eats. “We created Grindstone by effectively compressing our venture capital engagement model of aggressively growing a company for three to five years into an intense one-year programme” says Keet van Zyl, Knife Capital Co-Founder.
The selection process will kick off in August 2018 with an interactive Exit Readiness Workshop aimed at providing tangible information to fifty SMEs and unpacking some of Knife Capital’s exit case studies. Twenty companies will then be shortlisted for Grindstone’s early-stage ‘Find-Make-Grow-Realise’ investment course and gap analysis bootcamp, where ten companies will be selected as participants for the final stage of the programme.
Grindstone collaborates with other top incubation and acceleration programmes in the market to augment the learning experience and continue the growth journey. The programme is supported by value-adding partners such as FNB Business, Webber Wentzel, Billybo Group, Creative CFO, KNF Investors and a range of Grindstone alumni companies and entrepreneurs.
High-growth companies that are interested in joining the Grindstone Accelerator Programme can apply here. Applications close 31 August 2018.