The Foschini Group and startups: an unlikely combo


Ventureburn and Splash conducted an interview with The Foschini Group’s (TFG) CIO, Brent Curry, which revealed many insights into what TFG and startups are producing. It’s also particularly important to note his insights as they might be a way for entrepreneurs to bring their product to a large market.

To date, TFG has partnered with tech startups such as Wumdrop and Pargo which brought about TFG’s Deliver 2 Me service while also allowing customers to choose a convenient collection point for their items.

“We know that exceptional tech talent usually prefers working in the edgier startup space, rather than at a big corporate where their freedom and creativity is more likely to be stifled. So working with startups enables us to access that very scarce talent,” said Curry.

“We are always focused on working with black-owned businesses as part of our enterprise development programme,” he continued.

He also went on to explain how startups’ pricing in regards to their solution is attractive to big corporations such as TFG. Startups are also able to add new functionalities quicker compared to larger organisations.

“We also explore opportunities with startups in the tech space, because they have innovative ideas and are fired up by their product or service. Often they are not market-ready, but their entrepreneurial spirit means they are open to Intellectual Property input from TFG to transform their concept into a real-world solution,” said Curry.

Working in the startup sector means you’re probably more than likely to hear about the risks of working with big corporations. Which is why it’s refreshing to hear another perspective, that is, the risks big corporations face when dealing with startups.

“We have no challenges per se, however being a big corporate we have a lot of governance and have to fill out all the right forms, but startups don’t want to work this way. So we drop some of these requirements, to ensure we get products out quicker as solutions,” said Curry.

Read more: Banking on ecommerce growth in SA — Q&A with The Foschini Group’s Brent Curry

He adds that working with startups is somewhat of a calculated risk for big corporations. But TFG mitigates those risks by working closely with the startups during the development process.

The partnership between TFG and tech startups is that of a symbiotic one. Curry mentioned that in certain cases the company would bring startups on site, providing them with office space. In return, the accompanied startups would provide TFG with their services.

TFG would also offer IP to partnering startups. “Startups are not always business ready, but we understand how the business works and can identify the value proposition,” said Curry.

The corporation not only provides startups with IP but also coaching and strategic input on how to price any products and services as well as how to commercialise any concepts.

TFG are partnering with tech startups to show that corporates and startups can coexist

“In many cases, we’ve even directed them to venture capitals and funding companies to grow their business,” said Curry.

He elaborated on this aspect, using Wigroup as an example. TFG’s investing network helped Wigroup grow into a medium-sized business, according to Curry.

Some might think that corporates steer clear of accelerators and tech hubs, but most C-level executives keep a close ear to the ground regarding startups.

Read more: 10 defining moments that shaped the 2016 SA startup ecosystem

“A friend chairs the Young Entrepreneur Organisation and will encourage me to meet with potential partners in the tech sector,” said Curry.

C-level executives such as Curry also attend international and local tech conferences to find innovative startups. During a recent trip to Mobile World Congress held in Barcelona, Curry managed to find attractive startups.

“We made many connections and we will be trialling some of those potential solutions, as they are looking to partner with companies like TFG to take their product to market,” he said.

TFG also hosts a DevFest in the IT sector. The corporate would pose a problem which the developers would try and solve. The company then awards a monetary prize for the team with the best solution. Curry went on to say that the DevFest is open to both internal staff as well as outside participants.

The partnership programme is currently undergoing changes, with more effort being put into TFG’s ecommerce site. The corporation is also looking into including mobile wallets for customers, said Curry.

His final thoughts drifted toward Cape Town being a key player in Africa’s startup scene.

“Cape Town is a great incubator for startups because the universities and other training institutions put out really good talent. Cape Town is also home to a number of large corporations, with the retail sector primarily based in the city so you don’t need to move to Johannesburg to work in this space. “



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