Eve Dmochowska
Eve Dmochowska

Developing online ventures in SA

Ideas are free. Developing them into viable businesses, not so much. Developing them into viable online businesses…well…take a number. Especially if you live in South Africa.

Entrepreneurs with exciting new ideas for online ventures usually have two problems:
1. They are unable to get funded for the first stage of developing their product
2. Their team is not rounded enough in technical, business and marketing skills. In fact, very often, there is just one person behind the idea, who thinks he can single handedly take the product to market. Sometimes he can, but most often he is too delved in programming to understand the importance of a business plan and market research.

So the solution has almost always been to work on the venture as a sideline to a “real” job, or to fund it out of your own pocket. Neither of these is a good solution, nor a long term one.

Which is why I think that the new initiative from the Innovation Hub, GIBS and IdeaBank (my company) is particularly exciting for online entrepreneurs. Called Business Beat, the program is a collaboration between the GIBS MBA students and online entrepreneurs and “techies”. Aiming to bring together experts from all necessary disciplines (finance acumen, marketing, innovation and technical expertise) the program will create 15 teams which will produce a prototype and business plan for a viable online venture. Along the way, the teams will be mentored and the aim is to plan out at least 15 excellent ideas that can be taken to market.

At the end of the program, the plans will be evaluated and the three best ones will make it into the Innovation Hub Maxxum incubator for full-on development.

The first stage of the program happens this coming Monday, Nov 3 at 2pm at the Innovation Hub in Pretoria. It is an introduction session to the program, and is compulsory if you want to participate in Business Beat. There will be venture capitalists there, as well as existing online entrepreneurs to set the mood and answer any questions. Attendance is free and strongly encouraged!
If you are interested to participate (whether you have the ideas, the business skills or the technical skills) and are committed to seeing the project through to the end then please sign up here, visit the wiki for more information or email me on [email protected]

South Africa has a very weak venture capital structure for online entrepreneurship, and an almost non existing structure for first stage or angel funding. In the ideal world, I would like the US VCs to wake up to the potential of Africa not only as a new market, but as a new source for highly skilled technical expertise and innovation. I think it will happen in due course. Certainly, we are a place where you get more bang for your buck.

In the meantime, we will continue to find innovative ways to support our online entrepreneurs. Hopefully, Business Beat will produce the ideas – and the actual online applications – to feed the entrepreneurial spirit and encourage innovation in this field. And, equally hopefully, it will prove to the potential funders that without supporting the first stage of development, there is little opportunity to even have a second stage.

Join the evolution!