July, 2015 | Allan Gray Orbis Foundation
Bianca’s Startup Do’s and Don’ts

Bianca’s Startup Do’s and Don’ts

C0002148Grow Up co-founder Bianca Vernes had a May 2015 launch date but a prototype that was far from ideal. This predicament led her to wish for things that she’d only know later: the dos and don’ts of startups. Though hers has been a steep learning curve, it’s been an invaluable one and one she’s eager to pay forward.

The Grow-Up prototype was revealed a mere two months before they would launch. What was meant to be compact, efficient and aesthetically pleasing was everything but. What Bianca saw instead was a clunky, heavy, inefficient and … ah-hem … not-so-appealing version of Grow Up’s vision. Something had gone terribly wrong!

With the launch date an unreachable target now, it was time to take stock and ask some difficult questions: Was everyone doing what they were supposed to or even skilled to do? Was the original vision still being served?

Time to get serious

Fortunately Bianca didn’t have to go it alone. She was about to go on a week of business training that formed part of Youth Lab ZA’s ICre8SA programme. In 2014 both her and co-founder Lilian Maboya were selected as two budding innovators who would be exposed to business mentors and various industry experts during a year-long programme.

Bianca was assigned a mentor, Joshua Ngoma, of Earn International who is a seasoned entrepreneur with a background in engineering. Not surprisingly he put a lot of emphasis on building a business’s foundation, at which point Bianca realised that if she wanted people to take her business seriously, she had to do so first. This would mean tearing up the rickety foundations they had laid before and starting over.

She looked intently at every aspect of the business – Grow Up’s vision, goals and timelines, its financial and legal compliance as well as the assignment of roles and division of tasks. Some major changes ensued, affecting the day-to-day running of the business, the contracting of contributors and its access to funding.

After some honest conversations Lilian decided to take a step back to focus more on her Honours studies. This left the day-to-day running of Grow Up to Bianca and her budding team, which currently includes Cape Town designer Philippus Johan Schutte and web developer Raphael Segerman. She relished the challenge that lay before her and made some notes as she went along.

The DON’Ts

  • DON’T assign or pick up roles where the expertise to fulfil them is lacking. Bianca explains, “It’s so easy to take people up on their offer because you’re so grateful for them wanting to support you.” However, you might find yourself settling for a service or product that doesn’t best serve your business. Or you might be wasting time figuring things out by yourself when you should be hiring an expert to do it for you.
  • DON’T rush. She warns not to “sacrifice your business, your vision, yourself and your happiness at the altar of an arbitrary date.” What is important is not when you launch but how you launch and what you launch.
  • DON’T leave boxes unticked. Not even for friends. Get things on paper and secure those legal and financial ticks. If you don’t, you’ll leave your business vulnerable.
  • DON’T assume that the team you started out with is the team you’ll finish with. Don’t subscribe to blind loyalty if it does not serve the business.

The DOs

  • Become legally compliant. Get your employment contracts sorted and file for patents. Bianca suggests getting a legal team behind you, particularly Novate. They specialise in small businesses and offer their services on a month-to-month basis.
  • Become financially compliant. Get a separate banking account for your business and set up a detailed budget. Bianca has learned that “not everyone you go to for funding will be able to foot your entire bill, but they’re likely to fund a portion.”
  • Always act with integrity and respect towards your team. Be sure to acknowledge and honour the roles people have played or are still playing.
  • Believe in yourself and your idea. Ask yourself: “Would I invest in this?” If the answer is yes, then put your money on the line. She explains that she recently risked paying for a trip to Johannesburg to pitch Grow Up to the Climate Innovation Centre, which is part of the Innovation Hub based in Gauteng. The risk paid off! Grow Up was awarded a three-month incubation programme.

Better than ever

Bianca also believed in herself and Grow Up to the point that she approached the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for support. And this request too was met with enthusiasm. Two more major changes to Grow Up has been the addition of product designer Max Basler of Lumkani fame and horticulturist Joshua Bones who specialises in water systems and irrigation. With their help Grow Up plans to intimate its pilot programme between June and July, during which the focus will be on refining the design; developing the marketing and branding content, and constructing the website and instruction manual. And if all goes well, Grow Up is aiming to launch its product come December this year.

The challenges and obstacles along the way has not only made Grow Up stronger as a business, it has also taught Bianca a thing or two about cutting yourself some slack and getting back up again.

The Road Less Travelled

The Road Less Travelled

harald oswin“My story begins with my mom’s.” This acknowledgement from Harald Oswin reveals a lot about his  motivations  and  sense  of  self. Harald has several accomplishments for his age. His anchoring is due to his mother’s commitment to giving him the best education. He attended Waterford Kamhlaba United World College of Southern Africa in Swaziland on a 50% scholarship. Harald’s mother made ends meet through a retail job and sacrificed her annual leave for nearly ten years to earn extra money. From her, he learnt the value of hard work and believing that it’ll open doors. The one thing he’d like to give her in return is the key to open the doors to her dream home one day.

By  the  time  Harald  was  in  his  final  year  of  school,  he  had  flourished  so  much academically and in his role as Chairperson of the Student Representative Council that the school increased his scholarship to a full one and wrote off all the debt he’d accumulated over his school career. He owes a lot to Waterford. Besides awarding him with a full scholarship, they also acknowledged the many late nights he would spend on campus. He would often be working on projects until very late at night and then have to walk five kilometres back home, trudging through fields and a ghetto. After observing his unwavering dedication, the school offered him boarding the following semester.

Harald is the co-founder of Geyserflicker, a company that is set to improve the lives of millions  of  South  Africans  by  relieving  the  pressure  on  our  power  grid,  bringing household electricity bills down and saving us from getting up early in the mornings to flick our geyser switches back on.

Harald had  to  be  at  work  by  06h00  every morning during his internship  at  Rocket  Internet  in Cape  Town  in  2012. His flatmates told him that the geyser, as the home’s biggest electricity hog, should be kept off as much as possible. This meant that he would have to be up at 04h00 to switch the geyser on and give it time to boil. It frustrated him so much that he even considered hiring someone whose only job would be to stand by the distribution board and flick the switch every morning!

By the  time  the Foundation’s annual Jamboree  took  place,  he  had  a slightly more refined solution – a device (not a person) to flick the geyser switch. He received the support he needed to pursue the idea further. 

Lasting connections

Soon after Jamboree Harald boarded a plane to Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the United States to begin his third semester at Harvard University as a student in Applied Mathematics. He applied for a Harvard scholarship thanks to the encouragement of Mr. John  Storer,  an  inspirational  high  school  teacher, and  received  his  acceptance  letter soon  after  starting  at  UCT  as  an  Allan  Gray  Candidate  Fellow  in  2011.  The Harvard scholarship meant that he no longer needed the funding offered by the Foundation, but he chose to remain part of the Fellowship Programme, participating as much as he could albeit remotely. At Harvard he was more motivated than ever to find someone to make the geyser switch device for him.

After crashing many engineering classes in search of such a person, he met Barry McKenna who helped him build the first prototype. Barry is now co-founder of Geyser Flicker. Their business idea was a  finalist  in  the  Harvard  College Innovation Challenge in 2013 and soon after that, they were offered a Fellowship and seed funding from the New York-based Resolution Project.

This funding allowed Barry and Harald to progress to the next phase of their business: registering their company with two more directors and producing a prototype. Since  2014  they  have  also  had  their  business  incubated  at The  Innovation  Hub in Pretoria  as  part  of  the  Maxum  incubation  programme. With all the resources that incubation offers – access to infrastructure, business mentors, legal professionals and venture capitalists – their business ought to be financially viable soon. This will probably happen a lot quicker considering that Harald was acknowledged as the Fastest Moving Green Entrepreneur in the Maxum Programme at the end of 2014.

Harald and Barry also entered The Green City Startup, an entrepreneurship competition held in collaboration with the of Johannesburg’s Challenge Fund.  They were selected as one of eight finalists to receive grant capital. This funding is earmarked to help them get their first bulk orders from municipalities. They also stand a chance to be one of two finalists to walk away with R1 million at the end of August.

Remote dedication

Another feat Harald is proud of is being the first Candidate Fellow to complete the four-year Fellowship Programme remotely. Unlike South African-based Candidate Fellows, Harald didn’t have access to mentors or dialogue sessions.

Just knowing that there was someone else on campus also putting in the hours to submit ignitions would have been great. But this was a luxury he didn’t have and he chose to do it purely out of passion. In fact, the habit of thinking up solutions for inefficiencies around him (that’s the gist of ignitions) and submitting them on a monthly basis has become such an ingrained habit that Harald still regularly pens down his ignition ideas despite being finished with the Fellowship Programme.

“I think the main way the Foundation has helped me is that it has allowed me to shift my mindset and it  has  made  me  more  entrepreneurial.  I can’t  thank  them  enough  for always  making  me  think  in  an  entrepreneurial  manner.”  He also  cites  the  annual Jamborees as having been a highlight of his yearly calendar and notes that despite being remote for most of his Candidate Fellowship, he never felt any divide whenever he was reunited with the South African cohort of Candidate Fellows.

When  asked  to  explain  the significance  of  being  a  Candidate  Fellow  he  replies  by acknowledging the great responsibility of having had so much invested in you. The only appropriate response would be to live an extraordinary and selfless life, making every effort to bring positive change to South Africa.


Numeric – Rebuilding mathematical foundations for the future

Numeric – Rebuilding mathematical foundations for the future

Amongst the many challenges of an underperforming South African education system, one of the greatest problems is the lack of numeracy foundations at ECD and Basic Education level.  The impact of this is devastating in later years, as shown clearly in the Department of Basic Education’s Annual National Assessments.

Below is the trajectory of the average percentage mark in 2014 starting from a high of 68% in Grade 1 and declining slowly to 43% by Grade 6. The real damage, however, occurs in Grade 9 where the shaky foundations take effect and the whole mathematical edifice collapses into an overall national average of 11%. The cumulative impact of not building a strong enough foundational understanding in Maths is that by Grade 9, learners would have effectively lost 90% of their understanding of the subject.

ANA results

In 2012, Prof. Jonathan Jansen noted that: 

(F)or every 100 children who enter the schooling system in South Africa, only 48 will make it to Matric. Of the 48 who make it to Matric, only 22 will take Maths as a subject. Of the 22 who take Maths as a (Matric) subject, only 10 will pass; and of the 10 who pass, only four will pass with a mark that is over 50%.

With just four out of every 100 learners leaving the schooling system with an adequate understanding of this important subject, we are not producing enough doctors, scientists, engineers, accountants and business people to build South Africa into a stable and thriving civil society.

How do we address this catastrophe and what can be done to salvage the mathematical future of some 900,000 Grade 6 learners? An innovative organisation called Numeric helps to make things add up by helping young South Africans excel in Maths by empowering them, their teachers, coaches and peer educators to be world-class.

Khan Academy 2Since establishment in October 2011, Numeric has developed a low cost, scalable model for delivering high impact learning environments in low income communities. Using a gamified, powerful, and free, online learning tool that is modelled on the Khan Academy, Numeric provides disadvantaged children with world-class video instruction through comprehensive exercises that help them master Maths content.

Salman Khan, whose model inspired Andrew Einhorn’s Numeric, are both financial services wunderkinder. Khan is a former hedge fund analyst while Einhorn was an analyst at Allan Gray. The former admits that establishing his academy was a “strange thing to do of social value”, given his background. While the latter’s father thought that Numeric was just a hobby for his Harvard Physics and Computer Science graduate son. However, this year Numeric celebrates its fourth year having reached over 3,100 children through its year-long Maths programmes in the Western Cape and Gauteng. Over 240 teachers-in-training have attended its university-level courses and over 70 Bachelor of Education students have completed year-long teaching internships.

Version 2Numeric’s winter school Maths camps are a popular, and highly competitive, annual event for their Grade 7 learners in the Western Cape and Gauteng. The camps are conducted at UCT’s and UJ’s campuses. Of Numeric’s 1,600 beneficiaries, the camps can only cater for 150 learners each at either campus. “For most of our kids, spending a week at the university campuses is their first opportunity, other than at their schools, to be at a large academic institution. It is symbolic. We hope to plant the seed of making university education an attainable dream for them. Mastering Maths is a critical step in making this dream come true,” says Einhorn.

A self-confessed Maths24 champion at school, Einhorn was thrilled to be challenged at last week’s Maths24 tournament with beneficiaries at the UJ camp. Maths24 is a game where you are given four numbers, and you need to combine all four of them to make the number 24.  For example, given the numbers 5, 4, 3 and 3, you can combine them in the following way to make 24:  (5+4) x 3 – 3 = 24. He reported later, “I was schooled by an eleven year-old from start to finish. If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is!”

The Foundation was inspired by Numeric’s Programme Manager, Kristen Thompson’s, enthusiasm during a site visit in June:

Numeric approaches the education crisis in a structured and sustainable way. Our approach enables us to partner directly with schools and communities by engaging schools, learners and parents. We recruit young people from the communities where we work and train them to be coaches. The greatest highlight is watching the gradual shift in attitudes and abilities of both our learners and coaches. They start the year with negative attitudes about Maths (“Maths is boring”, “Maths is difficult,” and “I can’t do Maths”) which become positive by the end of the year (“Maths is fun”, “Maths is interesting,” and “I can do Maths”).

Numeric’s 2014 results speak for themselves.

  • The overall persistence rate was 74% compared with 66% in 2013. Persistence is the percentage of learners who remain on-program for the full year.
  • The average Numeric learner scored 46.1% at endline compared with 33.7% at baseline, a gross shift of 12.4% (2013: 7.5%)
  • The average non-Numeric learner scored 32.1% at endline compared with 27.5% at baseline, a gross shift of 4.6% (2013: 2.4%)
  • The net shift attributable to Numeric was 7.8% compared with 5.1% in 2013
  • The delta attributable to Numeric was 0.60 compared with 0.34 in 2013. Delta is a statistical measure of impact and Numeric targets a range of 0.5 – 1.0.
  • Numeric learners accounted for 67 of the 100 most improved learners out of a total 4, 610 learners tested. Numeric learners account for 23% of all learners tested

improvement chart

A continuation of this positive trajectory will make a meaningful difference to SA’s long-term skills base. It proves that positive momentum in the fight to save this country’s mathematical ability is achievable with a powerful combination of technology, determination and passion. Numeric shows us that it is possible to rebuild mathematical foundations – one classroom at a time.

Learning points from the 7th ANDE Metrics from the Ground Up Conference  Author – Teri Richter

Learning points from the 7th ANDE Metrics from the Ground Up Conference Author – Teri Richter

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 8.24.59 AMOn 23 and 24 June, I represented the Foundation’s Impact Assurance team at the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) 7th Metrics from the Ground Up Conference in Washington DC, USA.

The event was attended by over 90 delegates representing over 70 organisations including academic institutions, capacity development institutions and accelerator programmes, donor agencies, foundations, investors, venture capitalists and research service providers. These included representatives from the likes of The Kauffman Foundation, Acumen, DFID Impact Programme, Dev Equity, the Grameen Foundation, Mercy Corps, MIT D-Lab, Root Capital, the GIIN and Village Capital. The Foundation was represented as a capacity development programme, foundation and research body.

With the iconic capital city of Washington DC as the backdrop for a conference centred on understanding how to measure entrepreneurship at its core, the two-day event was filled with vibrant discussion, sharing personal experiences and debating best practice.  The conference created a platform for practitioners and supporting organisations to discuss what is and isn’t working in the field of tracking, monitoring, evaluating and understanding the impact of entrepreneurship as well as the programmes that are designed to support entrepreneurial development.

The key take-aways from the conference include:

1.     We are not alone

Many challenges mentioned at the conference resonated strongly with the challenges the Foundation itself faces within our Impact Assurance team, that is, the mandate to understand the impact of our programme and how we work smarter to measure this change.

2.     Although we are not alone, we are unique

The holistic and long-term approach of the Foundation is unique. It is an invaluable opportunity to be part of the Foundation as a participant and an implementer from both a programmatic as well as research perspective. Many of the programmes present chose to focus on working with individuals who are already entrepreneurs, aiding them in accelerating their success or financing their endeavours. The Foundation, on the other hand, selects individuals who have the potential to become entrepreneurs. This makes measurement somewhat more complex as our development programme needs to be measured through specific developmental outcome indicators.

3.     We are following best practice

Within our Impact Assurance team, we honour best research practices through understanding our beneficiaries’ development journey, tracking measurable outcomes within our Theory of Change and remaining fully-engaged with outcome indicators.

4.     We can learn from and implement Lean Research and evaluation

A key theme of the conference was that of Lean Research. Lean practices stem from management philosophy derived from the Toyota Production System. The Lean process was developed with the aim of creating and enhancing the value of a process through eliminating and reducing waste. Although the Lean philosophy is most practiced in the manufacturing process, the research world is strongly proposing its application in research and evaluation. The key aim of Lean Research is to create a seamless process for value creation through research by eliminating waste, implementing right-sized research which is respectful, relevant and rigorous. The most important fact is that Lean Research and evaluation is lean in execution, not necessarily lean in preparation.

5.     What you measure is what you get

This simple statement is suspiciously obvious. While you are only able to research, understand and make deductions on aspects that you have collected data on, the power of this statement lies in the implication that the work must be done up-front to understand which questions should be answered and what data will be sufficient to answer these questions. Consistent with the Lean Research process, the most effort and time should be dedicated to preparation.

Although the five learning points above are a tip of the iceberg relative to what the conference had to offer – these learnings will support and further develop the work done by the Impact Assurance team. These thoughts will spur even more vigorous and passionate debate within our team and continually strengthen our commitment to gaining a better understanding of and measuring not only our own budding entrepreneurs, but entrepreneurship worldwide.

It was a privilege to attend a conference surrounded by individuals who are passionate about entrepreneurship and dedicated to helping our community better understand the journey of entrepreneurial development.


Richter is the Foundation’s Business Intelligence Officer

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