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There are times when the African incubator and accelerator space can seem like a bit of a crapshoot. One minute a new player will have a ton of press coverage and a load of backing behind it, the next it’ll have quietly disappeared and its founders will be suspiciously unavailable for interviews. A new incubator and accelerator programme called Sw7 is, however, trying to change all that.
Following the example of programmes like the one used by the Co-creation Hub in Nigeria, Sw7 doesn’t ask any of its participants to hand over equity in their companies.
Instead, participants pay a nominal fee to participate in one of three programmes with the most intense being a nine-week, part-time evening programme.
The point of the programme, says Sw7 founder Keith Jones (who also helped launch the Founder Institute last year), is that it allows startup founders to reap the benefits of an incubator programme without having to give up their day jobs.
That’s why the weekly lectures for the programme take place in the evening. During the course, Founders will apparently be equipped to build out the plans and strategy for the business through a series of mentoring workshops from up to three mentors, group workshops with their cohort and individual exercises amounting to around fifteen hours of work a week.
Given the sacrifices some entrepreneurs have to make to get their businesses up and running, having the option to keep up a day job in the early stages can be incredibly important.
That does not however mean that the programme is limited to early stage ventures. According to the Sw7 site, companies with up to R50-million in annual turnover can take part.
Backed by the likes of Microsoft BizAfrika and Jobsfund (the former subsidises most of the participants’ fees) and includes a number of international and South African mentors. Among the local contingent of people who’ll be handing out advice to the startups are PriveProperty founder Justinus Adriaanse and Quirk MD Justin Spratt.
Aside from the financial benefits Sw7 gets from its backers, Jones also reckons that they allow it to be the kind of incubator “where job creation and innovation are measures for success, rather than the ‘home run’ kind of exits we hear about from Silicon Valley”.
According to Jones, the reason Sw7 decided to veer away from the equity based model of incubation is that it simply doesn’t work in South Africa. “We don’t have the volume or quality of businesses coming through the market to support the traditional equity based international acceleration programmes,” he says.
“On top of this, we have a world class B2B IT sector, which means that many of the businesses are able to bootstrap and fund the build of their products through services without the equity dilution”.
It’s pretty obvious therefore that Sw7 has a lot of things going for it: manageable operating hours, decent backing, a solid group of mentors and fairly reasonable prices. That however is no guarantee of success. If it is to avoid the fate of so many other incubators and accelerators then it’ll have to at least have to bring in a few serious wins for its first group of ventures. From there, it can build a reputation and hopefully help push innovation in the South African tech scene.
Sw7 will open the doors for its first semester in mid July and is currently still accepting applications.