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400 applicants for Cape Town accelerator

Applications have closed for a new accelerator programme for financial technology start-ups based in Cape Town and backed by Barclays Africa and US accelerator Techstars, with nearly 400 companies from around the world applying to take part. By Duncan McLeod.

Yossi Hasson

Yossi Hasson

Applications have closed for a new accelerator programme for financial technology start-ups based in Cape Town and backed by Barclays Africa and US accelerator Techstars, with nearly 400 companies from around the world applying to take part.

The Cape Town-based Barclays Accelerator, which joins similar Barclays-backed programmes in New York, London and Tel Aviv, hopes to find 10 innovative businesses that are either based in Africa or focused on Africa to take part in an intensive 13-week programme.

Former Synaq MD Yossi Hasson is heading up the Cape Town accelerator as MD. He says it is hoping to sign on three or four companies from outside Africa, three or four from Africa outside South Africa and two or three from South Africa itself.

The focus will specifically be on fintech start-ups, says Hasson. Barclays hopes to use the programme to work with technologists who could end up disrupting the financial services industry. Businesses that are accepted into the accelerator will have access to senior Barclays executives, have early access to the bank’s technology and systems, and be given access to its global networks.

Those accepted into the programme will have access to any of the Barclays accelerators and can raise funding in any of those networks.

Applications, which opened in mid-November 2015, closed on 17 January. Hasson says almost 400 applications have been received from around the world. The number is over 400 if one includes those who applied to participate in both the Tel Aviv and Cape Town programmes, he says.

These applications will now be filtered, with an interview process to follow soon. “We have received some very interesting applications from a wide range of countries,” says Hasson.

Successful applicants will go through the same programme as Techstars in the US, with the only difference being the added involvement of Barclays in the selection process and in mentoring the start-ups.

Techstars, which describes itself as a mentorship-driven start-up accelerator, was founded in 2006 by David Cohen, Brad Feld, David Brow and Jared Polis and has to date taken 762 companies through its programme. The business has overseen more than US$2bn in funding to start-ups, with 90% of them still operationally active.

The Techstar founders realised that entrepreneurs needed more than just capital to be successful, says Hasson. “They built the idea of taking 10 start-ups and putting them through an intensive three-month programme where they get access to seasoned entrepreneurs as mentors and industry experts.”

Successful applicants must relocate to Cape Town for the duration of the 13-week programme

Successful applicants must relocate to Cape Town for the duration of the 13-week programme

The first month of the programme involves intensive mentorship, while the second month focuses on taking feedback and advice received and building traction by adapting strategy and, where necessary, changing the product or service being developed.

The final month is about raising capital — focusing, for example, on how to pitch to venture capitalists. This leads to a “demo day”, where the start-ups pitch their business to a large audience made up of, among others, venture capitalists and angel investors.

Those who go through the programme successfully become part of the broader Techstars network. “You become an alumnus for life,” says Hasson. “You can raise capital in any of the countries [where it operates] and have access to a network of more than 5 000 mentors.”

Techstars will invest US$20 000 (about R330 000 at the time of writing) in successful applicants. This money will help pay for start-up teams to be physically present in Cape Town for the duration of the programme, which is one of the requirements of acceptance. In return, Techstars takes 6% equity in the start-up.

A further $100 000 in the form of a convertible note (short-term debt that converts into equity) is also available from the Barclays Seeker Fund.

Who is likely to be chosen to join the programme?

“The main thing we are looking for is a strong team,” says Hasson. “We do want to see you have some traction, too — having a prototype, or having some customers, for example, not just coming in with an idea. We can’t accelerate just the start of an idea; you need some momentum already. We are also looking for businesses where having access to Barclays can really unlock tremendous value.”

The idea, Hasson says, is to use the programme as an opportunity to “raise real money and globalise African-focused fintech businesses”.  – © 2016 NewsCentral Media