Named Sw7 - short for "Start with 7" - it boasts an array of some experienced and established Tech & Digital business leaders as mentors, but why should any Startup Founder even bother paying to join their programmes considering there are tech hubs, accelerators, pitch events and startup funds popping up and offering founders similar services?
Sw7 states that:
"We provide a framework for Founders and Directors of Technology businesses which accelerates the successful launch and growth of a business in the Tech sector in Africa, from Ideation and Incubation through to Acceleration, Growth and Exit. With mentoring from over twenty CEO’s and Founders, we offer access to the largest brains trust in the Tech Startup space in Africa."
With this in mind we felt we needed to learn more about this new accelerator which has launched in Johannesburg (and offers programmes in both Johannesburg and Cape Town).
We had a chat with one of the founders, Keith Jones.
iAFRIKAN: What are the Founders & Mentors experience in mentoring and helping Tech Startups?
Keith Jones: Most of the mentors are experienced and are already engaged in the community, either doing their own startups, or mentoring others.
They have huge value and experience to offer and all give their time for free. There is a great 'pay it forward' culture within the community.
The Sw7 team launched and successfully ran a large global early stage tech acceleration programme last year and are now mentoring full time. We have taken our learnings form the last eighteen months and come up with a programme and structure that we think is appropriate for the South African market and where the startup community is right now.
How would you say Sw7 is different from other competing accelerators and similar programmes like the Lean Startup Machine?
We don't really see them as competition.
It is all about the value we provide to the startups. We feel we provide great value and will act as a feeder for the rest of the community. We all have a role to play in the eco-system. It's really about launching successful tech businesses.
We are the only tech programme of it's kind in the country, we have over thirty CEO's mentoring for us, which is the largest IT brains trust in Africa, and through the value we can offer by being supported by Microsoft makes it a compelling option.
Also, the fact we don't take equity means we can service the later stage market as well as the early stage. We also look for founders that are bootstrapping and try to help them. Over eighty percent of tech startups bootstrap and we are looking at pulling the whole community together and servicing all of them, not just the ones that look for funding.
We really want to build a resource pool and network for tech startups, whether they are looking to be funded or not.
What is the reason for having mentoring sesions after-hours?
We have a very low fund base in this country for tech startups, particularly at the seed stage. The largest IT businesses in the region don't place high value on IP either, which means most of the market has to bootstrap.
This means you have a day job, or are billing during the day, so after hours means we can help you get your tech business off the ground without the huge drain going onto a programme full time is. We need to build volume, capacity and understanding in the market, the best way to do this is after hours.
It is really an applied MBA for technology businesses.
Who is funding Sw7?
Sw7 is mostly funded by Microsoft Bizsaprk, we do expect the Founders to contribute to the cost of the programme as well.
What about traction, how many people have signed up so far?
We have two cut-offs and are launching Cape Town a week after Joburg. The Joburg programme is nearly full, it will most definitely fill.
Cape Town is about a third full, but our main recruitment week for CT is next week – so we expect to fill as well.
Will you expand beyond Johannesburg and Cape Town?
Yes, we will probably be running the Sw7 course in Vancouver in September 2014 and based on the demand, are already looking at the other centers in the country (South Africa), like Pretoria, Durban and Bloemfontein, in that order.
Why Microsoft BizSpark consdering many startups tend to use Free & Open Source Software?
Microsoft BizSpark has the support of the Jobsfund, so our primary driver is really creating successful businesses that create jobs. Microsoft would of course like the startups to use their platform, but is is a value based proposition, so there is real not pressure to use the stack.
Beyond subidising, what is BizSpark's involvement?
They have no direct involvement, but they do offer extensive value to launch the business, doing all the back office admin set up, providing business and technology mentoring and training. This is on an "opt-in" basis, but the value is huge.
Keith concluded by adding:
The real goal of Sw7 is to create a network and community that can share ideas and resources. We are building an extensive wiki of the market. We are also unique in that we are the only accelerator offering the BOSIDNA psychometric profiling. We offer a free assessment from our web site.
The psychometric assesment is key according to Keith because "the insight in to the entrepreneurs personality, strengths and team structures provide great insight into who should be doing what."
Startups are all about focusing on what you are good at, that is how you differentiate and succeed. We are also building strong relationships with the North American community – Vancouver and Boulder specifically – with a view to offering access to market and funding for the local market.
Cover Image Credit: Ruben Alexander