Umbono Alpha Beta: Beer, pizza and startups, the Google way

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Umbono Alpha Beta is a Google event at which you can have as much free beer and pizza as you want, as long as you love startups.

Memeburn was invited to watch as six startups — three teams at the end of their six month Umbono program (last year’s winners) and three who are just beginning — presented their products and businesses to a packed (and we do mean packed) room.

Umbono launched last year as a trial startup incubation project exclusive to Cape Town, South Africa. The Umbono programme aims to transform visions into businesses by taking successful applicants with new or existing tech businesses through a six month programme. At the end of the programme Google hopes to have businesses “pitch-ready” with a business plan in place.

Teams receive seed capital, a collaborative workspace, business strategy and product planning mentorship as well as access to an expert network of VCs, angel investors and Googlers. Through events like tonight’s Alpha Beta, teams also have the opportunity to pitch their ideas to an audience. These events serve as a platform for growth, seeing teams hone their pitching skills and receive feedback from a Q&A session.

The event started off with SampleBoard. SampleBoard allows you to conceptualise visual ideas — think interiors, weddings, fashion, landscaping and so on. It has the professional functionality you’ve always wished Pinterest had.

Next up was TravelGround, the service that helps you find accommodation in South Africa. The founders of TravelGround told the story of how they pulled a double pivot, first by starting a new company called LocalSort, a service which enables hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs to make money from recommending attractions and restaurants to their customers. While in the Umbono program, they pivoted back to TravelGround as it was easier to monetise.

Probably the most intriguing of the lot, TaxTim was up third. It helps South Africans file their tax returns through a jargon free conversation style interface, with a yellow faced mascot called Tim.

Pashash aims to make it easier for you to discover great things to buy. Through your Pashash network, you can discover what, where and for how much your friends are buying things. It creates a map of deals which you can check out when you’ve got cash burning a hole in your pocket. If you’re interested in alpha testing the app, you can check it out here.

The second to last startup to pitch their idea was Peach Payments, a payment solution for emerging markets. Before you groan and mumble something about M-Pesa, Peach Payments aims to provide eCommerce sites with payment options for their customers. 150 of them (including M-Pesa). The startup also offer customers a suite of risk management, fraud protection and automated reconciliation solutions.

The final team to present was Gigham. One of the best startups I’ve seen in recent times, is called Ravn, but alas, it’s only available in the US. Gigham allows you to find out what’s going on in your area and it’s the closest thing to Ravn to hit South Africa yet.

Umbono is brilliant even if you just go for the pizza. Inevitably, whether it’s when teams speak about lessons learned, or through a serendipitous conversation, you’ll probably end up learning something. If you’re interested in learning even more, Google invites you to enter your startup into the Umbono program. Apply here.

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