2018 has been a tumultuous one, in the the entrepreneurial sector. We have seen several startups grow from concept pitches into well-respected brands in their fields and others shutter their doors. However, the evolution of the South African startup ecosystem is beginning to gain significant traction and is resulting in the emergence of smarter and leaner business models, globally relevant businesses and a highly respected diaspora of entrepreneurs in hotspots around the world.
And so, to celebrate the achievements of a long, hard slog of a year, on the 1st of November, Heavy Chef and Nedgroup Investments opened a public poll for nominations of SA’s Most Exciting Startups of 2018, and the response we received was overwhelming.
In just under four weeks, we received over 1600 initial entries. After weeding out all the spammy submissions we sat with 964 total nominations. These were made of 141 unique entries, with some like Thursdays, Future Females, LocumBase and Thursdays receiving 100s each. Side note: the female-run startups seemed to have the strongest community support.
Thereafter we ran a rigorous adjudication process, with a panel of well respected individuals in the entrepreneurial sector, looking at technological prowess, inspiring leadership and creative innovation. This was whittled down to a Top 12 shortlist (see that list here), and then finally the winning 5 startups: LifeCheq, LifeQ, DataProphet, Aerobotics and Thursdays.
These companies are doing extraordinary things and are on course to being some of the Heaviest Chefs in South Africa’s latent startup community.
Imagine being able to map your financial path to achieving your goals, while not having to pay the exponential amounts of this private wealth service? Well LifeCheq is making financial advice credible and authentic by moving personal financial advice from a biased, commission-based advisor to a subscription service that gives users access to a team of actuaries and experts. Co-founder Abu Addae is an Actuarial Scientist who cut his teeth at Old Mutual, and is now shaking up the industry by providing legitimate, non-biased financial advice at an accessible rate. Curious about their future plans, I asked him what we can expect to see with LifeCheq in 2019 and this is what he had to say, “For 2019, we're going to be doing what we always do - focus on trying to serve our clients better. We're going to be rolling out some new services to give our clients an even better one-stop experience so they can have more of their personal finances in one place. We're also going to be creating some really amazing interactive content experiences for them, expanding on our LifeCheq Exclusive content and events platform.” Opening the gates to what may have been considered a service only for the rich, definitely deserves some credit. LifeCheq is therefore definitely one company to be on the lookout for from now.
There’s insurers and there’s reinsurers. Insurance companies underwrite insurance risks for people and companies. Now a reinsurer is an insurance company that insures the risks of other insurance companies. Our next most exciting startup, LifeQ, managed to sign major deals with 2 of the 3 biggest reinsurers in the world. How crazy is that! LifeQ is a world-leading science and technology company that aims to enable people from all walks of life to enjoy optimal health. LifeQ has made significant strides into international markets with its tailored health solutions. LifeQ aims to help people live longer, higher-quality lives. I had the privilege of asking them what their biggest struggle was starting up this amazing company and Riaan Conradie, President & Co-Founder of LifeQ Group said, “LifeQ exists to empower people and weed out injustices, in the cause of promoting good individual and population health and wellbeing. We are uniquely positioned to drive this disruptive change in the world because of our fundamental systems biology understanding of an individual's physiology and how it relates to aging and disease progression. One of the biggest challenges, but our strongest defendable position, is to keep on building out and supporting this vital systems biology function in our business. This has been very hard to do for a multitude of reasons, such as the scarcity of appropriately skilled systems biologists in the world and positioning this scarce group of scientists to rather focus on building out our fundamental systems-level understanding of human physiology instead of assisting on more imminent deliverables for several Fortune 100 companies we’re engaging with. We will continue to build out and better position this function in LifeQ as we believe that an objective systems-level understanding of human physiology will be a vital ingredient for the future of healthcare. It will also be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for large corporations to build out this function in the appropriate way given corporate constraints.” I would easily put my money on them heading towards becoming one of our first unicorns. LifeQ is a true example of the potential reach of South African startups.
‘Why is now the time for your company to exist?’ I asked our next winner. Their response had me pausing to think about how skilled some individuals are in our country. Frans Cronje, Managing Director of DataProphet said in response, “The Industry 4.0 transformation is underway at many of the world's factories - encouraging further automation and better communication between machinery to allow for more accurate and more personalised items to be made. However robotics and automation are still missing the intelligence to recognise when they are making a mistake and how to correct themselves to avoid making mistakes - this is where DataProphet comes in. DataProphet exists because factories need to be smarter; the machinery on the line needs its own intelligence. AI, with the slew of recent breakthroughs, can provide that intelligence - and what better place to do it from than South Africa?” DataProphet is an AI startup that reduces risk in manufacturing by analysing data in factory production and uses machine learning to identify and eliminate defects and minimises downtime. Its primary product, Omni, seamlessly works on top of existing platforms and manufacturing environments. Isaac Matsa, a natural born salesman, is driving growth for this impressive startup and represented DataProphet on our Heavy Chef stage. He introduced us to the amalgamation capabilities of their world-class product, Omni, which they use to help companies obtain quantifiable results and access intellectual knowledge from past generations that has been inaccessible for years. Therefore unlocking and utilizing maximum knowledge for optimizing the process of manufacturing.
Using satellite and drone mapping, Aerobotics monitor crops and warns farmers about potential risks, scouts. The mobile app increases accuracy and saves time by planning targeted scouting trips. Farmers can receive accurate statistics for orchards with every drone flight including tree health, tree counts, individual tree size and canopy area. Benjamin Meltzer and his co-founder James Paterson are creating a global agritech business that is solving age-old problems for farmers, worldwide. 2019 will be an even more exciting year for Aerobotics, as Benji Meltzer CTO of the company said, “2019 will be a pivotal year for Aerobotics. We are actively taking our product to market, moving into new geographies and setting up international offices, but I am personally most excited about the new products that we will be releasing. We have spent the last 4 and a half years building up our core product offering (early problem detection for farmers using mainly drone analytics) - ensuring that we have a solid foundation. We are now in a position to really revolutionise the space, by building more predictive and prescriptive analytics - and in doing so offer farmers even more actionable information.” I never thought that I would be a part of the generation that got to witness the immense capabilities of local technology and talent at this scale. Their drones have the capabilities of quantifying the exact number of trees on a farm and will soon be able to predict how many fruits each tree will produce by harvest. Now if you don’t find that crazy then I don’t know what would impress you.
eCommerce startup Thursdays (allegedly named because it was founded by Shona Macdonald on a Thursday) focuses on swimwear and lingerie for women c cup and up. Focused on empowering women in the clothing sector, this is a truly inspiring, fun and heartwarming social entrepreneur venture. Founder, Shona Macdonald, is tackling on the most challenging segments in business and has made healthy strides over the past year. Reviving an extinct industry with style, Thursdays is breaking the stereotypes of the definition of beauty. The amazing Shona Macdonald had this to say about the inspiration behind Thursdays,”I started Thursdays firstly because I struggled to find beautiful lingerie and swimwear that fit me properly. Because I was young, I felt there must be something wrong with my body because the shops weren’t catering for me. I felt incredibly guilty that my mom had to splurge on expensive bras, that she couldn’t really afford, and that I didn’t even love but found “alright”. I really had no choice if I wanted proper support and comfort. As I grew up I realised that the problem didn’t lie with me, but with the industry. When I was studying my BCom Entrepreneurship, it made sense to build my business plan around a problem that I’d encountered daily since 17. The more and more that I looked into it, the more I realised that I had to actually make it happen, not just so that women around the world (this support issue is a global problem believe it or not) could be properly supported, but so that we could keep this critical skill (bra making) in South Africa, and employ more women in the labour force. Underwear manufacturing factories in SA have almost all closed down due to the increase in Chinese imports. This is thousands of jobs for unskilled labour, and an industry that we really need to be supporting if we are going to solve our local unemployment crisis. Developing this brand has opened my eyes to the bigger potential that Thursdays has. As a brand that is proudly African and celebrates diversity, we have started to collaborate with representatives from different African cultures, bringing elements of these cultures into the designs of our lingerie and swimwear, and giving them the opportunity to create a complimentary product to sell alongside our collection, creating a real income stream for the community itself, and giving them a voice to help us educate the globe on what makes that particular culture, or element of Africa so awesome. For too long Africa has been portrayed as an amalgamation of all the different cultures and elements, when the truth is we are often very different from one another, in a very interesting way. This part is still under development though – so you will see it more clearly in our Maternity line that we are launching in 2019. For this we have worked with female isiZulu beaders from KZN. In essence, Thursdays is a love letter to yourself, to appreciate the beauty that you have always had in you. It is also our love letter to Africa, to thank this content for providing us with the most beautiful homeland.” It’s great to see brands such as Thursdays preserving skills that one could consider super scares in our country. It takes a lot for one brand to revive a dying local industry, and that in itself deserves a Bells!
Being a young aspiring entrepreneur myself, I must say, the pressure is on. These businesses have not only accomplished remarkable results in the year, they have raised the standard of local innovation to a world-class level. Silicon Valley should be worried, because the world’s best businesses are now emerging from the South. We raise our hats to the teams behind these businesses and would like to congratulate you once again on being part of SA’s Top 5 Most Exciting Startups of 2018!
Big thanks to Nedgroup Investments and Xero for making all of this possible, and for hosting a banger event to end the 2018 Heavy Chef calendar.