10 Defining Moments That Shaped the 2015 South African Startup Ecosystem

2015 was a year of grinding it out and building momentum... More and more investors, business accelerators and corporate venturers are embracing South African innovations. These are some of the defining moments that shaped the South African entrepreneurship ecosystem in 2015 that stood out for me:

iKubu: Exit to Garmin — Jan 2015

GPS navigation giant Garmin acquired South African radar startup iKubu to make roads safer for cyclists… And they did! Time magazine has named the Garmin Varia as one of the Top 10 Gadgets of 2015. Corporates are insourcing innovation worldwide, and SA is ideally positioned for this trend. Garmin established a research and development centre in Stellenbosch, and more innovative technologies are being developed by this team. Find out why the iKubu <> Garmin exit is extra-special to me.

LifeQ: HealthTech Launched at CES by HealthQ — Jan 2015

Digital health and wellness company HealthQ Technologies launched global technology: LifeQ at CES 2015. LifeQ focuses on highlighting and improving six major verticals in one technological device for users to optimise their health and well-being including: fitness, nutrition, sleep and stress, medical, health and data mining. LifeQ continues to innovate with a goal to creating a continuous, on demand record and model of personal physiology — taking wearable tech to the next level.

TYME: Acquired by Commonwealth Bank of Australia — Feb 2015

CBA acquired 100% of South African based technology company TYME [Take Your Money Everywhere] that designs, builds and operates digital banking ecosystems. This deal combines TYME’s vision of financial inclusion and CBA’s vision to excel at securing and enhancing the financial wellbeing of people, businesses and communities. TYME was started through a Deloitte Consulting project that was funded by mobile operator MTN, but then the startup was spun out of Deloitte in 2012.

WooThemes: Joins Automattic — May 2015

Web development corporation and WordPress founder Automattic acquired WooThemes for their e-commerce plugin: WooCommerce that turns a WordPress site into an online shop. WooThemes has been a global distributed company from the outset, bootstrapping its way to success.

Kapa Biosystems: Acquired by Roche — Aug 2015

Swiss-based medical-tech company Roche acquired Kapa Biosystems to strengthen next-generation sequencing product offerings. Regulatory clearance to finalise the acquisition was recently obtained. While the company is headquartered in the US, it established a research and manufacturing facility in Cape Town in 2006 as a Joint Venture with the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) for the commercialisation of the company’s protein engineering technology platform. TIA originally invested R24m and received R58m when it successfully exited in May 2015. Financial terms of the Roche transaction are not disclosed.

SweepSouth: Accepted into 500 Startups — Aug 2015

South African on-demand domestic cleaning startup SweepSouth became the first South African startup to be accepted into Dave McClure’s renowned Silicon Valley-based accelerator programme: 500 Startups. The collaboration in the SA startup ecosystem contributing to this achievement is encouraging: SweepSouth came to the fore through StartupGrind, joined the Microsoft BizSpark programme, won the pitch competition at SiMODiSA’s Startup-SA conference and secured seed funding from prominent local angel investors.

WiGroup: Investment by Investec — Aug 2015

Mobile transaction solutions provider WiGroup raised a significant amount of funding from Investec Asset Management’s Africa-focused private equity fund to fuel its emerging market expansion. It plans to leverage off its presence in South Africa to sell more software to corporate clients and mobile money issuers in the rest of Africa.

WhereIsMyTransport (WIMT): Funding round & internationalisation — Sep 2015

Transport information startup WIMT raised a R12m funding round from an enviable group of investors to internationalise its operations and enable the company to build solutions that serve developing cities worldwide. It has also recently been awarded the international 2015 Global Grand MobiPrize that honours businesses that have both environmental and economic impact through sustainable transportation and new mobility.

PriceCheck: Management buy-back from MIH — Nov 2015

Kevin Tucker — original founder of price comparison website PriceCheck — sold it to Naspers’ MIH Internet Africa in 2010, but has now bought back the site in partnership with Silvertree Internet Holdings.

WeChat: R50m Seed Fund for African Tech Startups — Dec 2015

In February Naspers and Tencent joint venture: WeChat Africa invested into the social jobbing platform M4JAM to fund its ambitious expansion programme. M4JAM won the Best Wild Card App at the MTN Best Business App of the Year Awards 2015. Following its successes with startup investments, WeChat announced that it is investing R50 million in tech companies supporting local talents and innovations. The messaging & calling app company is working with Cape Town tech strategy firm Batstone to identify and support tech-enabled businesses by assisting with rapid market access using the WeChat platform.

Renegades — X Ambassadors

For some of the other defining moments, also see:

Ventureburn’s top 5 tech startups in South Africa of 2015

Disrupt Africa’s Top 5 African acquisitions of 2015

Apart from success stories in the making that will unfold in early 2016, the year is starting off with a bang! Global mentorship-driven startup accelerator Techstars is expanding their partnership with Barclays to launch a new FinTech accelerator programme in Cape Town. Following on from the success of Tech Lab Africa, the Barclays Techstars Accelerator will focus on financial technology startups that are trying to innovate and disrupt the banking industry. More validation that credible international investors and entrepreneurship development programmes are looking to get involved in the vibrant South African startup ecosystem.

2016 is well teed up for startup success. Let’s build on the momentum created, collaborate, learn, innovate, fail, iterate, invest, bootstrap, accelerate, exit, have fun, make money and create an impact. All hail the underdogs!

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