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Global expertise, local talent

A recently launched global partnership seeks to nurture South African talent, entrepreneurs and innovation.

Home sweet home

Donovan Neale-May, GlobalFluency, says many South Africans who have left the country still want to help the motherland in some way. Photograph by: Karolina Komendera

Donovan Neale-May is the president of marketing service company GlobalFluency, the founder and executive director of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council (a global affinity network of over 6 000 senior marketing and branding executives), a member of Rhodes University's Board of Governors, and a South African.

Neale-May is on a mission to nurture the talent and potential that has seen South Africans like himself make it to the top of their fields all over the world. He has linked up with other high-flying expats to do so.

The South African Business Link to Experts (Sable) Accelerator was launched in August, and brings together a number of global experts in partnership with government and private sector organisations. What they're doing, as Neale-May puts it, is “building a trusted knowledge network of well-placed and highly connected global South Africans who can make a meaningful difference to the country's brand image and competitive position in world markets”.

The Accelerator is run by a team of three managing partners: Neale-May, (who is also the founder and executive director of the Business Performance Innovation (BPI) Network), Werner Mansfeld, president of NetLine Corporation (a B2B lead generation provider), and Kurt Pakendorf, who has over 20 years' of multinational legal and business experience in operations, regulatory affairs, M&A, software and services across a broad range of industry sectors. The managing partners work in conjunction with a core consulting group of seven advisors, plus any number of other expert partners.

The system works off a cloud-based platform (MentorCloud) that aggregates and hosts LinkedIn profiles, areas of knowledge and expertise, live engagement and networking, interactive chat rooms, as well as monetisation of time and services relative to: new venture funding or financing; donations or contributions; connections/introductions; referrals/recommendations; insights/guidance/contacts; coaching and mentoring; speaking or lecturing; and board membership.

There is no such thing as a free lunch, even if you're doing it for your country! The Accelerator funds itself through fees for services, commissions, revenue share arrangements, options or equity trade-outs, and performance-based compensation.

Leverage

Neale-May's work with GlobalFluency and the CMO Council sees him travelling the world and encountering South Africans in all sorts of places. It was this that started him thinking about leveraging this pool of expertise.

“In 2004, I came up with the notion of Sable,” he says. “I tried to get government funding for it, but with no success.”

Eight years later, the Accelerator has become a reality. “Many South Africans have left the country but still have a strong affinity for it. And many of them have the time, experience, contacts, connections and access that they can leverage to bring FDI to the country. They can also help entrepreneurs, innovators, etc, commercialise their offerings, mainly in the US, a market where South African companies have traditionally struggled,” Neale-May comments.

Well-known entrepreneur Vinny Lingham is one such expat. “In my continuing efforts to give back to South Africa after moving to Silicon Valley in 2008, along with co-founding the Silicon Cape Initiative, I have also been involved with a number of other efforts to help build up the tech and entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region,” says Lingham.” Among them are Endeavor and various other NGOs, including Sable. The Sable team is committed and motivated, and has big ideas for the region. I like big ideas and I love South Africa!”

Clickatell CEO Pieter de Villiers has also gotten involved: “This gives me the opportunity to further South Africa's economic interests and entrepreneurial vitality through being part of a global knowledge transfer and making my experience, expertise and education available to those South Africans wanting to grow their businesses and exploit their intellectual property globally,” he says. “As a member of Sable's Advisory Board, we intend to share some of our own experiences and guide The Sable Accelerator as it grows and expands. I would also like to mentor and support innovators, new venture starts, emerging growth companies and middle-market players, as well as research institutions, universities and property rights holders seeking to commercialise and monetise their IP in new markets.”

In addition to its global South Africans, Sable is partnering with local organisations, including government departments, regional trade and commerce agencies, parastatals, banks, venture capitalists, technology and communications service providers, infrastructure operators, commercial real estate developers, shipping and logistics companies, as well as professional service firms.

No small feat

Expanding a company into new markets is a mammoth task.

Says managing partner Werner Mansfeld: “Sable hopes to collaborate closely with members of the South African Business Schools Association and universities to further entrepreneurship, curriculum development and global knowledge transfer to the benefit of both students and faculty members. In addition, academics and research staff can affiliate, serve on our faculty board, or take part in Sable's thought leadership initiatives. The dean of Stanford University's Graduate School of Business and that pre-eminent business school's professors of finance, management and statistics are all expatriate South Africans and involved in The Sable Accelerator. In addition, leading educators and researchers from the universities of Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Rhodes and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan also serve on the Sable faculty board.”

For local entrepreneurs, Sable aims to plug an all too obvious gap in the resources that are available here.

“One of the critical elements missing from SA is the lack of network density in terms of knowing the right people and companies to work with, and to seek investment from,” comments Lingham. “'Smart money' is also lacking in SA (investment capital that comes along with the right value-add from investors, such as introductions, networks and business development opportunities). Having already built three global companies with offices and employees in multiple countries, I can point out that there are a lot of pitfalls for young South African companies that want to grow quickly in the global market. It's important to have mentors that can guide them in the process.”

Mentors

Devin Drake, CEO of Virtuvent, is one of the first beneficiaries of Sable's network: “Sable provides a global network of connected South Africans who are able to add much value to what we are doing at Virtuvent in the fields of marketing, business development, customer acquisition and finance. Also, since we are a B2B company, getting introductions to the right people, whether they're clients, partners or even service providers, makes a big difference and accelerates our growth as a company.

“Expanding a company into new markets is a mammoth task. Having access to an established network in this new market is invaluable, especially when this network is full of top-tier people who understand your culture and way of approaching business. South Africans do business a little differently to other cultures. There is less 'beat-around-the-bush' and more push. It helps to have a network of people who understand this cultural approach to assist in discussions and provide advice, especially in the beginning. From a legal and immigration perspective, Sable also has the right people to assist during this lengthy and expensive process. Mistakes can be very costly and create long delays. It's important to get this right, and that means working with the right people with a presence on the ground.”

For Sable, success means one thing, says Mansfeld: “Meeting our goals and objectives, which are both qualitative and quantitative. We will do this by initially building a dynamic community of expert global South Africans. Through partnerships and outreach, we'll be able to quickly identify, recognise and bring to market South African innovations that have international appeal.”

Over the longer term, he says: “Our goals are to improve South Africa's brand, image and competitiveness, foster entrepreneurship, and create wealth and jobs. We want to successfully impact social economics and make a difference.”

South Africa has a thriving start-up community, mainly off the back of that typically South African ability to 'maak 'n plan' and innovate in response to the challenges posed by life at the southern tip of the African continent. Maybe this is just the shot in the arm these entrepreneurs and innovators need to really go global.

First published in the September 2012 issue of ITWeb Brainstorm magazine.


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