“We really got a lot”. This is how Thabo Moshoane describes the year of support his startup got from IBM, which included access to two cloud-based services to the value of $140 000.
Moshoane — who co-founded Slyk (pronounced “slick”) IT Solutions in 2010 with Tshepo Motiki — was one of four startups that were part in IBM’s Aspiring Entrepreneurs initiative last year.
Slyk has so far been able to sign agreements with tech suppliers Dell, Lenovo and HP for their app which tracks the warranty on digital products.
Moshoane may have been lucky to tap support from IBM. The US tech giant aims to spend millions over the next few years to assist 74 black-owned IT businesses.
Some tech companies such as Facebook provide no support specifically for black startups, while others like IBM aim to spend millions
But not all tech giants are getting stuck in helping black entrepreneurs to set up and grow tech startups.
Facebook and Microsoft for instance provide no support specifically tailored to black entrepreneurs. Google says it has provided digital skills to 35 black entrepreneurs since 2016 in a project with a local incubator organisation.
Facebook Africa’s strategic product partnerships manager Proud Dzambukira told Ventureburn in an email that Facebook Developer Programmes are “created for all, no matter the race, colour or sex”.
“We pride ourselves on engaging with people who are eager for new opportunities for community, self-improvement and collaboration, and have a number of programmes in South Africa which speaks to this, including Developer Circles from Facebook.
He said Developer Circles were created to help grow and advance tech communities and that since the initiative’s launch in the middle of last year, it has grown to over 4000 DevC members across the country.
Microsoft in 2010 pledged to spend R472-million training five to 10 black-owned software companies over seven years. The support formed part of the company’s equity equivalent programme.
Multinationals which are unable to sell equity to black partners under the Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) codes, because their global practice or policy does not permit it, are allowed to use equity equivalent programmes as an alternative, upon approval from the Department of Trade and Industry.
But Warren Larkin, who used to head the programme, told Ventureburn earlier this month that the targeted support for black-owned firms has come to an end and that no new black-owned firms would be taken on.
Microsoft’s local community stakeholder manager Francois Smith added that the company’s Bizspark programme is open to any tech startup from regions around the world. Microsoft offers online cloud-based resources through the programme.
Google’s public relations liaison Mich Atagana said the tech company has since August 2016 helped train 35 black-owned businesses on core digital skills such as Google Analytics, client management and branding through the Siyandiza project run together with Shanduka Black Umbrellas, an incubator organisation which assists black entrepreneurs.
Atagana however did not provide the rand value of support of this specific project.
IBM’s Bhavya Rama, who heads IBM’s R700-million equity equivalent programme, told Ventureburn that the company is currently assisting four aspiring entrepreneurs and four startups through the company’s enterprise development programme, which it launched in January 2015.
The programme includes three streams – a six-month programme to assist aspiring entrepreneurs, who have an innovative ICT business idea, another to help and fund black-owned IT companies and a third (which the company aims to launch next year) to help existing black-owned tech firms to expand.
It forms part of IBM’s R700-million Equity Equivalence Investment Programme, which also includes an academic programme and a research stream.
Last year Rama told Ventureburn that the company had spent R1.2 million on incubation support and about R2.5-million funding software and hardware development for WeSolve and IT Aware.
Rama said IBM in January launched the third segment and is currently busy looking for suitable companies for the segment. This programme offers support tailored to the individual needs of firms that are 51% or more black-owned and that are classified as qualifying small enterprises (QSEs) on the BEE scorecard — ie that have an annual turnover of under R50-million.
She said IBM aims to support two to five participants per stream. These enterprises will be supported for their next level of growth through technologies such as data, analytics, cloud-based services, security which will enable them to enter new markets or regions.
So far the three startups that took part in the first stream have graduated, as have the four participants from the aspiring entrepreneurs segment.