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Fresh from netting R25m, Grindstone Accelerator will go ahead despite coronavirus


The next cohort of SA’s Grindstone Accelerator due to start in June, will go ahead, despite the threat of the coronavirus, the programme’s directors confirmed yesterday.

This, after the accelerator yesterday announced it had netted R25-million from the R1.4-billion SA SME Fund and concluded partnership agreements with Google for Startups and Deloitte to extend the programme’s reach.

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The Grindstone Accelerator is jointly owned by Cape Town based venture capital (VC) firm Knife Capital and Thinkroom Consulting, which assists high-growth innovation-driven firms to become sustainable and fundable.

In a statement yesterday, Grindstone said the new money and partnerships would allow it to double intake numbers, digitising learning content and running annual programmes in both Cape Town and Johannesburg to add six cohorts of 10 scale-up companies each over the next three years.

After netting R25m from the SA SME Fund, the Grindstone Accelerator says the programme will go ahead despite the coronavirus threat

However, Grindstone was unclear on whether this meant that all future cohorts were indeed going ahead, with the ongoing threat of coronavirus.

Next cohort going ahead

But in an email yesterday the Grindstone team confirmed that the programme is going ahead.

“We are fortunate that we are in between Grindstone cohorts, so the programme is going ahead,” confirmed Thinkroom’s Catherine Young and Knife Capital partner Keet van Zyl in a joint response.

The two said cohort five (see the names of the firms participating, in this story) is currently wrapping up and held its last workshop, which covered legal compliance and intellectual property, at the beginning of March.

“So, the one thing left is the exit celebrations and the announcement of the growth metrics. Our celebratory event was planned for May but we may now keep the champagne on ice a bit longer or have a virtual celebration should the world still be in this current situation by June,” the two said.

“Also that (June) is when the new cohorts are announced and we will take a view on how to approach implementation adjustments before then if required,” they said.

They added that they had reworked the programme’s approach “slightly” to do much of the screening and initial interviews online “as that was in the making for a while now with extending our programme”.

“We can run our first ‘Find-Make-Grow-Realise’ course online if needed. Our physical workshops and one-on-one coaching and intro’s only really kick off in the second half of the year.

“So our timelines may shift forward, but we are in a good position to do so, as we have been spending time and money on the virtual solution for a while now.

Ventureburn also asked whether it would be possible to move the entire programme online.

Responded Van Zyl and Young: “While we can move much of the programme to online and this investment does provide for digitisation of content and a virtual toolset, a lot of the human interventions, networking and fun will be taken out of it of we move the programme to an entire online format. So unlikely.

“But we accept that we will have a #newnormal and believe we are well equipped to run a new normal with almost immediate effect,” the two said.

New Grindstone programme director

Meanwhile, in its statement yesterday, Grindstone said it had appointed a new programme director, Will Green, an emerging market entrepreneur and advisor.

Green has worked with many startups, scale-ups and corporates across different industries within South Africa and abroad.

“I was fortunate to take part in the inaugural Grindstone programme and have been involved as an active alumni and mentor over the past four years. I’m extremely excited to be joining the Grindstone team and work with some of the region’s brightest people to advance the local entrepreneurial ecosystem,” he said in Grindstone’s statement.

Over the past two years, Grindstone digitised many elements of the programme using video tutorials combined with virtual conference, coaching and community engagement software in order to scale the programme learnings and reach more scale-ups.

Added Green: “We had earmarked 2021 for this virtual launch, however in the light of the current Covid-19 crisis, we are bringing these plans forward and will roll it out with the 2020 cohorts.”

Those businesses that have completed the Grindstone Programme include iKubu (subsequently acquired by Garmin), Payfast (acquired by DPO Group), SeaMonster Animation, Electrum Payments, Iono fm, Quicket (funded by Knife Capital), Picsa Finance, WhereIsMyTransport (which recently raised a $7.5-million round from Google and Toyota), Locstat, Granite WMS (funded by Knife Capital) and OneCart, among others.

Applications for the next Grindstone cohort are now open and will close on 24 April.

Read more: Grindstone Accelerator helps firms in fourth cohort grow revenue by 36%, add 32 jobs
Read more: Meet the 10 startups selected for Grindstone Accelerator’s fifth cohort
Read more: Knife Capital announces participants in fourth cohort of Grindstone Accelerator
Read moreKnife Capital launches fourth edition of Grindstone Accelerator programme
Read moreHitting the high road – what it takes to join Grindstone accelerator [Q&A]

Featured image: SA SME Fund CEO Ketso Gordhan fist pumps Knife Capital partner Keet van Zyl, as the two celebrate the signing of the new SA SME Fund investment at last month’s Savca VC Conference. Knife Capital partner Andrea Bohmert looks on (Supplied)

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