Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) on Thursday announced the first winner of its Mandela Bay Entrepreneur Fellowship. The winner, Martin Smuts, is a computer science graduate and head of fintech startup Avinci Consult.
With the win, Smuts walks away with R100 000 for the growth of the company, which he co-founded with Henry Faul, a Computing Sciences third-year student at NMMU. The company has developed, amongst other things, a number of smart algorithms and systems that assist people to find appropriate investment vehicles, manage personal finances and calculate personal risk.
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According to Smuts, the fellowship money will be used to get our products to market.
NMMU has plans in place to continue giving out these fellowships — open only to masters and PhD graduates from NMMU’s Department of Computing Sciences and School of ICT who commit to joining or launching a startup — for the next 10 years.
The initiative was launched last year by NMMU and Happimo, a non-profit company that focuses on promoting entrepreneurship and implementing software that helps government departments solve technology-related problems in education, housing and security. Neither organisation will have any financial stake in the venture at a later stage, irrespective of its success.
Well-known entrepreneur and NMMU alumnus, Alan Knott-Craig Jr, has underwritten the fellowship for 10 years.
“What they do with the money is up to them, as long as they commit at least 12 months to a start-up … Most entrepreneurs just need 12 months’ breathing room so they can get on their feet and pay the bills. Hopefully the fellowship helps with this,” says Knott-Craig.
“We are excited to announce the first winner of the Mandela Bay Fellowship,” says Happimo CEO Craig Rivett. “We look forward to seeing where Martin and Richard can take their startup with the R100 000 seed money.”
The prize is the latest in a series of initiatives which suggest that Port Elizabeth, the city in which the university is located, is quietly becoming a startup hub in its own right. Late last year, the SEDA Nelson Mandela Bay ICT Incubator (SNII) announced that it had taken on 10 new ICT and tech startups and shown a 25% growth for its clients over the past year.
And earlier this year, PE-based startup Tuse by Millbug joined Silicon Valley’s Founders Space accelerator programme.