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Website: Cactus Advisors
Business Accelerator Programmes meet Venture Capital Advisory Unit
Elevator Pitch – Who is Zach George?
Zach facilitates corporate venture capital accelerator programmes on the African continent. These programmes help create, develop and scale technology-enabled startups in Africa. He calls it “company building” – the aim is to assist in deals with large corporates and to raise funds. They are in a very specific niche and could be called a venture capital advisory unit.
Zach was born in India, grew up in the Middle East and spent most of his adult life in San Francisco and New York. He received his MBA from Stanford in 2004. After that he worked as an investment banker on Wall Street for nearly 8 years. Throughout that time Zach always felt drawn to the tech startup community. Whilst on holiday in South Africa in 2010 Zach noticed certain similarities between Cape Town and Silicon Valley 20 years ago. He resigned from his job at Wall Street to do something more “pioneering” in Cape Town – building startups.
Making Mistakes and Learning from Them
People assume that if something works in Silicon Valley it will work in India, China or Africa. That is not true. Zach assumed that if you have a good product, people will buy it – in Africa that is not the case. You cannot grow your tech startup in Africa by raising funding alone as is the case in other places. The problem lies in the route to market. It took Zach a long time to learn that the quickest route to market in South Africa is through large corporates. Startups need to work with the large corporates, not against them.
The Accelerator Industry
Zach pioneered corporate innovation programmes that facilitate startups and corporates working together. The startups use the corporates’ networks and resources, whilst the corporates benefit from the startup’s ability to quickly perfect a concept and their capability to recover fast from a failure. In Africa, B2B businesses are far more likely to succeed than B2C businesses. The opposite is true in Silicon Valley and Europe.
They want to create a pipeline of innovative ideas and to work with large corporate divisions. The programmes they create serve their corporate partners and enable them to work with startups. At the moment startups are taking business away from large corporates through innovative technology. Corporates have in the past bought the startups, but that resulted in hindered growth. Startups feel they can’t be as innovative and creative when they don’t hold majority equity.
The corporates themselves are the clients, they fund the programmes. Startup Bootcamp, the number one accelerator in the world (outside the US), recently contacted Zach last year to work with them.
Accelerator vs Venture Capitalist
A Venture Capitalist may invest in a startup for a large equity stake. When the founders don’t own the company anymore though, future funders are disincentivised from approaching them.
Startups often raise funding without knowing why they are raising funding. Access to market and the right partnerships with corporate give you revenue and traction – then you don’t need funding. You can turn to your suppliers and customers for alternative ways to fund your business.
Joining an Accelerator Programme
When you as a startup join an accelerator programme you get to focus on your business while receiving all the help you need in terms of legal, tax, accounting, social media, product development and marketing. You will be mentored by top-notch industry specialists. In a 3 month period they help build your company with you together with their corporate partners. This is a full-time commitment; you attend the programme Monday to Friday for 8-10 hours a day, sometimes weekends as well. Even if your application to join the programme is not successful, the corporate sponsors still have the right to enter into discussions with you apart from the accelerator programme.
Scaling the Business
Zach plans on growing this business to multiple cities, not just in Cape Town, as well as other African countries.
Promoting the Programme
At the moment they market through channels like Ventureburn, Silicon Cape and Disrupt Africa. Entrepreneurial magazines also contribute. Quality applicants are preferred above quantity.
Zach believes that startups have the potential to create even more job opportunities and have an even bigger impact than social enterprises. If you take Uber for example – it has created more jobs in South Africa than any other startup.
Problem to be Solved in Africa
The cost of data in South Africa is extremely high – among the highest in the world. This prevents ordinary Africans from doing business. The lack of infrastructure like fibre and bandwidth is a huge impediment on the growth of business on this continent.
Another problem is education. If you can make education accessible to remote locations at affordable prices, you will solve many problems. South Africa unfortunately has the dual problem of a lack in education and exorbitant data costs.
Health is another issue Zach mentions. There are no electronic health records in South Africa. The Cloud could be the answer that disrupts the way our health system works.
Reset Button: If you had to start over in a different industry, what would it be and why?
Food security and basic essential living are issues close to Zach’s heart. He would look at an industry where you can grow organic sustainable food and supply clean drinking water. Also harnessing wind power and other renewable energy sources.
Zach feels strongly about the importance of creating a culture of entrepreneurs at a very young age – at school level, not at university. He believes that entrepreneurship development at high school level will really move this continent forward.