9 things we learnt at Startup Grind Cape Town

The latest Startup Grind Cape Town event took place on Friday, featuring Monique Woodard of 500 Startups. The fireside chat covered a wide variety of topics, such as black entrepreneurs, her personal journey and more.

Interestingly enough, the finals of the 500 Startups/Geeks on a Plane Africa pitching competition took place at Startup Grind as well. Here are all the notable quotes and happenings that took place at the event.

FinChatBot won US$1000 for pitching competition

FinChatBot walked away as the winner of the pitching battle (winning US$1000), with DroneClouds in second place and Mobenzi in third. The other two finalists received US$500 each.

FinChatBot combines fintech and chatbots to interesting effect, allowing financial companies to “engage in real time with their audience through their preferred communication channel”.

DroneClouds uses satellites and drones to analyse crops, improving yields in the process. Mobenzi, on the other hand, provides “technology and professional services to organisations involved in research, data collection, logistics and community service delivery”.

“I didn’t have a reason to say no…”

Earlier in her career, Woodard received a job offer, requiring a move from Miami to San Francisco. She said she was happy in Miami, but took the offer anyway.

“I didn’t have a reason to say ‘no’, so I said ‘yes’,” she quipped, advising attendees to “just try saying ‘yes’ to lots of things”.

The formation of Black Founders

The 500 Startups representative explained how Black Founders came about, being an organisation for black entrepreneurs.

“After moving to San Francisco, I was going to demo days… and I was really getting deeply involved in the startup community in Silicon Valley. And I would go to all of these things and I would notice that there were never any other black people there,” Woodard said.

“But then I ran into three other black people who were also there and either starting companies or working for startups… and then we kinda all gravitated towards each other. And then one night, we went to dinner and we said ‘well, why don’t we start a community for black entrepreneurs?’,” she continued.

Woodard said that she hastily registered the Black Founders domain name while at the restaurant, and went about planning the first event.

She added that Black Founders also targeted historically black colleges “as a way to build a pipeline” to Silicon Valley and the tech sector in general.

The most interesting startups on the trip?

Woodard is a part of the Geeks on a Plane Africa trip, so what was the most interesting startup she saw?

“We saw some really interesting startups in Accra. I definitely think that those were some of the strongest pitches that I’ve seen lately…” the 500 Startups executive said.

Woodard said that these startups solved local problems, with one being a “CMS for construction”, for instance.

There’s no reason why cutting-edge tech can’t be used in Africa

The 500 Startups executive noted that high-tech products can indeed find success on the continent. She cited the example of visiting Nigeria and hearing of a local virtual reality initiative, being skeptical of the concept initially. However, she came about to the idea when she returned to the country.

“I meet someone, and they’re doing VR for education. And they’re pumping educational content to places in the rural areas… using VR…” Woodard explained.

US startups are still missing a huge market

The executive noted that black and Latino consumers have combined annual spending power of US$2.5 trillion in the USA.

“So, it’s a huge market, spending power is growing… yet, if you look at technology, it’s completely under served,” she explained. Woodard cited the example of Dollar Shave Club, saying its products were “completely unusable” for people with “coarse and curly” hair.

“So I see those opportunities and those gaps in the tech market all the time…” she adds.

There isn’t a shortage of black entrepreneurs in the US

Woodard also answered an audience member’s question about the “shortage” of black entrepreneurs.

“So, I don’t think there’s… comparatively, in the space… there’s not a huge shortage of black entrepreneurs. There’s a shortage of black entrepreneurs getting VC funding.”

500 Startups and its history with the continent

The executive says they have had roughly 10 investment deals on the African continent, investing in the likes of Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa.

Interestingly enough, Startup Grind’s Guillaume de Smedt told the story of how Startup Grind played a part in a 500 Startups deal.

“500 Startups and YC (Y Combinator) approached Startup Grind and said ‘hey, we’re looking for some cool startups that we can invest in’. So I got in contact with some of the venture capitalists in South Africa, and they sent me through a few names,” De Smedt said. He added that Vinny Lingham submitted the name of a very young startup.

De Smedt said that 500 Startups liked this startup and asked them to put a pitch together.

“They got in, and they actually were accepted by 500 Startups and it’s none other than SweepSouth.”

Some advice for those seeking investment

“Continuing to show up is what separates a good founder from a great founder,” Woodard noted. “I also say, just on a practical level, controlling your burn. The lower your burn can be, the more agile you can be as a founder and as a company. I see a lot of founders… I ask them how much money they’re spending per month, and it’s some crazy astronomical amount and they’re at the end of their runway and they need to raise money immediately. Well, that puts you in a really tough position with investors.”

Woodard says investors don’t necessarily like to invest in a business when an entrepreneur is at their most desperate point. Woodard also looks at how much money a company is spending per month and how much “runway” they have left as a sign of how healthy the company is.

Update: Corrected spelling of Monique Woodard’s name.

Hadlee Simons


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