At the Stellenbosch University LaunchLab we have the privilege of working with start-up founders every day that are making a huge impact in their specific areas. In recent years, I have had many conversations around social entrepreneurship, including themes around profit versus impact. It’s not just about creating 10X return for an investor in 5 years. Adequate returns will come if real problems are being addressed.
One of the exciting things about working with start-ups in South Africa is that we have local problems and opportunities that require high impact solutions to address them – and this is the foundation of many of the start-ups’ business ideas. This generous, problem-solving leaning is not coaxed or forced onto them. The desire to make a difference is built into the DNA of us South Africans. Despite whatever is happening in business or politics, the clear majority of citizens believe that we can and strive to help our country achieve its potential.
A few of the start-ups that we have the privilege of working with at the LaunchLab include:
BridgIoT started before the Western Cape water crisis began, but their commercial focus has come at the right time. They provide internet of things (IoT) solutions for home appliances with usage controls and reporting dashboards. One of their products is Dropula, which is a smart geyser and meter that is being installed at schools across the Western Cape. Thousands of litres of water are being saved at each school and electricity usage is down. Beyond that, BridgIoT is saving schools enough money every month to pay another teacher or two at each school they are installed in! That is real impact!
MzansiGO was started after a lacklustre experience moving in Cape Town. Thinus, the founder, hired a couple of entrepreneurs who had a 1.5-ton truck to help him move. After asking them how they get business, they said it was mostly through word of mouth and random street pole flyers. Thinus created a booking form for this team, and MzansiGO was born. Now, MzansiGO has 16 trucks and crews on their platform, and sign up new crews monthly. The most amazing thing is that these crews who used to only do 4-5 moves per week each week are now doing 3-4 times that, which also means 3-4 times the revenue! This is creating new market access opportunities for these teams that they would not have had otherwise.
Fingertips (website not live yet) empowers students to use their student cards as virtual credit cards for purchases both online and in person. For the thousands of students without bank accounts, they are able to provide them with the security and convenience of an account without all of the red-tape and expenses related. This team from UWC is helping the unbanked get access to products and services that they have never had before.
MyGrow offers emotional intelligence training to the masses. This resource which is traditionally reserved for executives and senior management in once-off expensive week-long retreats can now be accessed by the masses every day at an affordable price. This method is far more effective at creating real impact for individuals by offering short manageable daily engagements. MyGrow is also interesting because they were based at the UCT GSB Solution Space and were part of their inaugural Venture Incubation Programme. This is a great “collabetition” between LaunchLab and Solution Space.
These are just a few of the amazing entrepreneurs that we work with at LaunchLab every day who are solving real problems for South Africans and Africa. A trend that we see increasingly with these start-ups is that profit and social good are inseparable, similar to the more established businesses such as those in the Nation Builder network. We hope this trend continues to permeate the start-up ecosystem in South Africa.
Paschal is the Incubation Manager at the University of Stellenbosch’s business incubator, LaunchLab. https://launchlab.co.za