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Info Trade’s proof of staying power secures R250k seed grant to scale.


Pictured Above: Simphiwe Nkula founder of Info Trade

The Tyler Perry-produced movie Acrimony, which was released this year, received mixed reactions. Many questioned the script and some just blew it off as a bloated drama. However, I’m not here to give my two cents worth as a movie critic. Rather, I’d like to lift a lesson out of the movie’s premise, regarding the start-up entrepreneurship ecosystem. And this is adversity, which every start-up is guaranteed to face.

Although Lyriq Bent was unfaithful to his wife, played by Taraji Henson, he remained passionate about his idea of creating a self-charging battery. Yes, his concept was great, but not many people believed in him. After a period of total financial frustration, during which he lost lots of money, his wife also lost faith in him and his business idea. Yet, he persevered, soon banked a big investor and became a multimillionaire.

The major adversity faced by start-ups remains access to both funding and markets. Even though there is an abundance of solid and potentially sustainable business ideas out there, only a few will ever make it to market. There are also numerous processes that need to be undertaken to get an idea to commercialization, these include testing, validation and prototyping.

Start-ups face many financial challenges in their initial phase of existence, such as using money from friends and/or family. This can often lead to broken relationships because the funds may soon dry up without immediate and tangible returns.

Another is explaining to investors why they should invest in the start-up and then to convince them that they will get their money back. Always difficult, as most want (if not demand) a quick ROI. Last, is accessing markets, which at most times depends on a lucky break or being in the right place at the right time.

Info Trade is a start-up founded by Simphiwe Nkula, which offers cashless payments, order management and retail audits. It was selected by GEN Africa’s 22 on Sloane start-up campus to join its residency programme. Recently, Info Trade finalized the research on its initiative and did an initial proof of concept (POC). This has just resulted in the start-up receiving a R250 000 grant from the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) to re-validate its pre POC and get ready for commercialization, scheduled for early 2019.

The lesson here is simple. It’s all about belief, in both yourself and your idea. One cannot succeed without the other and it’s never going to be easy. I recall that after Uber became a global brand, one of my friends pitched an idea similar to Uber to a few investors on the continent in 2013. They dismissed the idea immediately, saying Uber is already doing it.

Now very importantly, the key thing here is not about Uber doing it first, it’s about if there’s a market that needs the product (albeit it a similar one), what are the chances of accessing this market?

Later on, beep-beep, coming through! Taxify launched, now worth millions of dollars and Ola India based, now worth over US$3 billion.

Many funding entities are quick to dismiss start-up concepts, based on the fact that some US or European company is already doing it. Yet, I believe that there is an opportunity to support start-ups, fund and launch them to compete in the market towards global reach. The key here is startups should not always be subjected to invent but rather be innovative coupled with a business minded, savvy entrepreneurial skill. Seed grants are a fundamental foundation to support many young people to test their concepts and give them the chance to see the light of day.

Let’s not be our own worst enemy and remember, as the classic rock song goes by Journey, “Don’t stop believin”…

Kizito Okechukwu is the co-chair of Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) Africa; 22 on Sloane is Africa’s largest startup campus.