Let me count the ways Shana Kay, young and certainly dynamic has hit the technology scene in South Africa. Not only is she a young entrepreneurial executive but also someone who’s tenacity has earned several accolades. To name a few, Shana is backed by experience in web development, programming and project management. As a result of steaming ahead, Infointeg has picked up a SAB (South African Breweries) Kick-Start award and she was listed as one of the Mail&Guardian’s 100 Young People to have lunch with.
We also probe the mind of Marc Elias – CEO @ Seed Engine to find out about his fascination with Infointeg
Let’s get to know more about IntelliCred.
VA: Shana, thank you for chatting to us. Tell us how Infointeg started?
SK: Infointeg (the original name of the company), which has recently changed to IntelliCred, was the result of frustration by my partner, Kevin Derman and I, when trying to find credible information online. We would search for new suppliers or need to validate information potential suppliers would give us, and there would be no way for us to verify this. From this frustration, Infointeg (from information integrity) was born.
VA: You are based in Johannesburg now. What sparked this move?
SK: At the end of 2010, financial resources where running thin. Everyone loved our idea, but bootstrapping the business meant we could only go so far, and decided that we should move to where the decision-makers resided.
VA: I have met many entrepreneurs over the last few years. What makes being an entrepreneur so special for you as a young African woman, in South Africa?
SK: I love South Africa, in spite of the negative publicity it is receiving right now. Being alive in a “free” society (where there is still much work to do), is an exciting space to be in. There are many initiatives geared toward women entrepreneurs, and if you do your homework and get the timing right, you can benefit. I’ve been fortunate to do other things such as my time to do inspirational talks to girl-learners in order to encourage them to study technology as a career and use my networks to raise funds and toys for my Annual Toy Drive.
VA: You have picked up some useful accolades along the way. Paint a pragmatic picture for aspiring female entrepreneurs out there on what type of work-rate goes into achieving such success?
SK: I am humbled at the term accolades. It has taken many years of hard work, social sacrifices, including moving away from my beautiful Cape Town, and many sleepless nights to get to where I am and it will not stop anytime soon.
Success (and I never think I am close) is not an overnight success. My first company was co-founded with two partners, while finishing my degree (which also started later in life). Studying and working fulltime is a juggling act of note. I would attend a lecture, then meet a client, then run back to a lecture.
After graduation, my days and weeks started blurring into each other. Weekends were typically not time off and typical work days were anything between 12 and 14 hours a day. Entrepreneurship is a road that is full of opportunity and full of challenge which can take any form. The key is to know when and how to pick your battles and have a mentor who can keep you on the path to success.
VA: what are some of the innovative products the company has slithered into the market?
SK: Our first product, the Infointeg Trust Seal, launched and was short lived when Verisign (the number one leader in SSLs) brought a competing product onto the market. We could not compete head-on with marketing against this global giant due to lack of financial resources and parked the product. Since then we built on and transformed this technology into a White Label product called IntelliCred.
VA: What is Infointeg working on at the moment?
SK: We’re working on a product called IntelliCred, an online brand risk management tool, which allows companies with memberships (such as the Cape Chamber of Commerce, BEESA, Softline, SABS etc.) to protect their brands, control their members and grow their revenues, by means of a visible trust seal, controlled by the company and displayed on the members website. Visit www.intellicred.com for more information.
VA: What is shaping the technology market at the moment?
SK: Mobile and application development, social media and online trust. Rachel Botsman presents a Ted talk on the economy of trust and how social connections and trust is driving business. I see more and more security-related and trust products entering the market. I also see social media embedding itself more and more into products to bring centralisation and convenience together. Mobile and application development is being shaped by the plethora of tablet and smart devices entering the market. Companies are starting to move away from fancy websites and pushing their users to their applications instead, saving more features for mobile.
VA: Let’s bring Marc in here. Marc welcome! What is Seed Engine?
ME: Howzit! Seed Engine is a business accelerator. We are the bridge between business incubation and venture capital. We accelerate a maximum of 10 ventures per programme, 3 times per year, over a 13 week programme that we’ve designed to explode high growth businesses into both local and international markets. We provide seed capital, intense mentorship and coaching, office space, meeting rooms, basically everything entrepreneurs need, as well as direct access to investor and distribution networks to join in on each explosion. We don’t take any fees, simply equity. That means that our skin is in the game with our ventures. If they succeed so do we. That way the relationship can only be win win.
VA: What is your role or place in the market at the moment?
ME: Seed Engine’s role is quite simple. In many ways the brand is positioned as the epicentre of South African entrepreneurship. Over the next few years we obviously plan to venture up north to the rest of the continent, but we still have a little while to wait. Seed Engine is the elite enabler of growth, success and best startup practice.
VA: Identifying new markets and companies can be complicated. What attracted you to Infointeg?
ME: It’s quite simple: a concept that we hadn’t seen before, and thus represents an opportunity that we are proud to have under our portfolio. We looked at the nature of the opportunity together with its leader of course, Shana. Her ambition, experience and drive was the selling point, over and above her business idea. We bring on the champions’ champions and Shana is just that – she’s got the potential to be the real deal.
VA: Based on current market shifts and patterns of technology development, what makes Infointeg stand out, from a South African perspective?
ME: From a South African perspective, there’s nothing like it. That makes it unique and defensible. The product development is also designed and developed in such a way that it will cater for seemless innovation, enabling us to keep ahead of the market and avoid complacency. That being said, the marriage between the founder and the tech is key. No single element can work and progress without the other. It makes the business a gem.
VA: If you feel there is a global perspective, please elaborate?
ME: Absolutely! That’s why she’s here. The scalability and scope of the venture. The value proposition is vital in this analysis, and we are confident we’ve got it, if not getting it right and ready to bring national pride to Shana, a South African FEMALE entrepreneur.
VA: We have had the social platforms developed like Facebook, Myspace etc. What is next from an Angel Funder perspective? What you looking for from fledgling ICT companies, going forward?
ME: This is always a tough one to predict. From a B2C perspective, there’s been a lot of keen interest in innovative file storage solutions, bio-medical and process innovations and education methodologies. That being said, angel investors can be as unpredictable as the general consumer base. The truth is they often don’t know exactly what they are looking for. The trick is to monitor investment market movements and innovate upon the analyses. From a B2B perspective, like IntelliCred, they have taken a fairly static and one sided offer and created a 2 sided market – something nearly impossible to come up with if we’re stuck in traditional and unproductive business practices and decision making processes. IntelliCred is well ahead of the curve and it’s our intention to build it into a market leader and retain that position.
VA: Briefly, what process is followed if Seed Engine is approached by a start-up ICT company?
ME: Thanks for asking that, just go onto www.seedengine.co.za and click apply. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter (Seed_Engine). Once we’ve seen the application and researched the potential opportunity, we conduct a series of interviews with the teams of founders and make a decision and/or offer from there.
VA: Does South Africa innovate on a scale that is globally competitive?
ME: Without doubt. The concept of Prepaid, the companies like Thawte, and entrepreneurs like Shana tell me that there is room in the international market for South African innovations. What we lack are large pools of talent that are supported by a national culture of entrepreneurship. I’m not saying there’s no talent, I’m saying that the good ones are going to work for corporates. And I’m not saying South Africa doesn’t have entrepreneurs, I’m saying that the market doesn’t seem to go out of its way to support local innovations until they have undergone supernormal growth. Adoption of new solutions is key. Once we’ve got that as a unified national celebration, then we’ll be able to regularly make global headlines for reasons other than political. We need to build a few wins for the country, that what we’re doing every day – starting with Shana’s IntelliCred and her 5 fellow Seed Engine ventures.
VA: Why not?
ME: As I said there’s a cultural issue. Moreso, there’s a dependency and entitlement mentality that has become a national epidemic due to many things, but obviously centred around historical politics and economics. We need to focus on skills development that can compete globally, it’s not about giving someone something to do, and it’s about being better than the rest of the world at doing it. Let’s start with education.
VA: What is key to innovative ICT development in the SADC region?
ME: Differentiation, innovation and market disruption. But an idea is not a business without execution. The key is getting started. The future of each of the ideas is dynamic and depends the on the skill and determination of the founders as well as the defensibility of the core business.
VA: For you both: What roles will ICT and innovation play in economic development over the next five years and are we geared for this?
SK: Attending a business event last year, the CEO of the company rattled of stats in terms of revenue made and where the money was being spent. It was made clear that companies generating large revenues directly contribute to economic development in terms of tax and salaries paid and most importantly supporting local suppliers. An important aspect to note about these large firms is that they were once start-ups. Entrepreneurs creating businesses and employing local talent will play a crucial role and technology allows business to do so much more. Creating new and innovative products to solve local problems first, with an international growth plan, should be more of a focus even at the start-up phase.
Are we geared for this? The initiatives that exist, in my opinion, could do with more marketing and as South African entrepreneurs, our tendency is to not give entrepreneurs who have failed, a second chance. The entrepreneurial support eco-system exists, it needs more support.
ME: I strongly believe that companies like Seed Engine are changing the landscape for years to come. We can boast skills and ideas so there’s plenty room to grow and pioneer new solutions and innovative companies. Are we geared for it? From an educational perspective we haven’t even started to make a dent in the raw talent out there. From an infrastructural perspective, we are far behind where we need to be regarding connectivity etc. And finally, from an investment perspective, the funds are there, but we need to apply a non-banking approach to venture capital and build the start-up ecosystem from the inside out rather than the outside in in order to create something sustainable and conducive to organic growth. At some point, we also need to get passed the idea of being led by political circumstances and start to lead it instead. That’s when the culture will be celebrated and supported.
Thanks for chatting with Ventures Africa!