The co-founders of acceleration team SW7 Keith Jones and Odette Jones, claim to be the biggest on the continent. Now partnering with Microsoft, they are planning to offer on-demand acceleration. Russell Southwood talked to them about their plans.
Microsoft and acceleration team Sw7 (Start with Seven) have launched a new programme designed to create, grow and scale African technology businesses. According to Rochelle Mountany, Independent Software Vendor (ISV) Partner Lead, Microsoft:"As part of our digital transformation, Microsoft is moving beyond transactional reselling via partners, to a true partnership philosophy where we're working together to develop and sell each other's technology and solutions."
Sw7 claims to be the largest technology accelerator in Africa. It has run 9 accelerator programmes, working directly with 150 tech CEOs and had varying degrees of engagement with another 200-300 business. According to co-founder Keith Jones:"It's a vast continent to reach. We're Joburg based but would love others to be part of it. We want to create an inclusive rather than exclusive programme. It's also a B2B-focused continent."
Co-founder Odette Jones, Sw7 chipped in: "The Microsoft partnership is an exciting step forward for Sw7. South African technology markets are B2B led, the skills pool the Microsoft partner base offers is unparalleled, this combined with the Azure stack and the access to market provided by Microsoft means they offer huge value to the ecosystem of growing and scaling technology businesses."
Sw7 says that its programmes are unique in a number of different ways. Keith Jones points to one of several key differences:"The project is open and not cohort-based. There are no deadlines to enter the programme. As soon as you have a strategy and want to accelerate your idea, we want to talk to you".
Odette Jones highlights how they have responded to their past experiences:"We've had people looking for this (kind of approach) over the years. People would call us nine months after completing our acceleration programme and say where can I find a good VC? Or talk about some other challenge they're facing. I'd say: We covered that. And they'd say: Yeah, we weren't listening. They have sufficient trust in us to tell us that. So the challenge for us was how can we respond to busy people wanting to grow or scale their business? How can they access help when they need it? So we created Acceleration-on-demand".
What they deliver combines a light-touch access to digital information available online with face-to-face workshops. As Odette Jones puts it:" The former is self-service and the latter is where participants extract the value. There will be some glamorous companies doing things like saving the planet but 85% of businesses will be B2B. It will be going across all sectors with tech. It's not a one size fits all. There will be some cool content but it will be a blended model".
The programme is focused on tech businesses:"When we start, we assess the business across a grid matrix. We put the business on one of seven levels. Then assess them across seven pillars including product-market fit, access to market, etc. The only strategy is to go to the next level. Either you're good enough and you can move forward to the next level. If not, you can't. And moving to the next level is based on meeting your own goals. The appetite to grow is high but resources and time are low".
Keith Jones captures the dilemma every acceleration team faces:"Every VC or company says can you bring me 10 "good ones". Of course, the definitions of "good ones" differ. Our job is to try and bring Microsoft the good ones. Are you using Azure and are you growing?" He sees the main effort needed with most participants in two areas:"Your product is 15% of your business, product-market fit is 40% and access to market is 40%".
He doesn't believe that all companies should be chasing funding:"Most people think that money is the problem. They want to chase VCs but obtaining and securing commercial contracts is the best sort of money. We have more data points on the markets in Africa that are digitally accessible. We're ensuring they don't waste resources and understand where to focus first".
Companies using the programme have included:
- Digital vault business for individuals that works with short and long-term insurers. Creating a vault for documents for individual's life events.
- A document management system integrated into Sage that can be used for a range of things including procurement.
- A performance management system for education in schools. The particpant has a provincial contract in South Africa to benchmark the performance of children.
Others include leadership in health care; risk management and fraud reduction; and collapsing the production management cycle in terms of running Government contracts.
So much of the success of any acceleration team is built on the strength of their network so how strong is Sw7's?:"Over the years we've built a network of 100 tech founder CEOs. We have the ability to curate these meetings and that is very important. You're not talking to a consultant but to someone who's been there".
"A big thing for us is we've been building an African solution for our own market. Every single Western model launched in Africa has left. Tech Stars has gone. The main international still here - MEST - went local. We've shown durability".
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