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SA accelerator gets R25m boost, seals Google start-ups deal

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 17 Mar 2020
Will Green, programme director of Grindstone; and Catherine Young, CEO of Thinkroom and Grindstone Shareholder, at the launch of the global Google for Start-ups Summit in London.
Will Green, programme director of Grindstone; and Catherine Young, CEO of Thinkroom and Grindstone Shareholder, at the launch of the global Google for Start-ups Summit in London.

South Africa’s Grindstone Accelerator has received a R25 million investment from the SA SME Fund and concluded partnership agreements with Google for Start-ups and Deloitte to extend its reach.

The SA SME Fund was established by members of the CEO Initiative – a collaboration between government, labour and business to address some of the most pressing challenges to the country’s economic growth – as an avenue of support for the SME sector.

The accelerator says it will greatly increase activities by doubling 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.

Grindstone is a structured entrepreneurship development programme, jointly owned by venture capital firm Knife Capital and African ecosystem player Thinkroom Consulting, which assists high-growth innovation-driven SMEs to become sustainable and fundable.

Grindstone supplies each cohort in a year-long programme with knowledge, networks and funding readiness through growth measurement, gap analysis and interventions designed to build a foundation for growth, transfer skills, create relevant business networks and enable these companies to take advantage of market access opportunities.

New high-level team member

To manage the programmes and partnerships, Grindstone has appointed a new programme director, Will Green.

According to the accelerator, Green is an emerging market entrepreneur and advisor who brings over 19 years of business experience, networks and first-hand entrepreneurial knowledge to Grindstone and companies in the cohorts.

Green has worked with many start-ups, 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,” says Green.

“With the support of our value-adding partners, it is time to further accelerate the funding, making and growing of innovative South African scale-up companies. I would love to help discover and capitalise the next Discovery Health, Nando’s or Capitec.”

Andrea Bӧhmert,co-managing partner at Knife Capital, expands on the Grindstone growth methodology: “The accelerator programme was created by compressing the VC firm’s venture capital engagement model of aggressively growing a company for three to five years into an intense year-long programme.

“The programme helps entrepreneurs who are navigating their way through the treacherous business scale-up phase by identifying the pitfalls and success metrics of their business strategies while closing growth gaps to execute those strategies.”

The SA SME Fund supported the current Grindstone Five Johannesburg cohort, and confirmed another three-year partnership with its investment.

Ketso Gordhan, CEO of the SA SME Fund, elaborates on the partnership synergies: “The SA SME Fund is committed to developing world-class local entrepreneurs and Grindstone is a good fit as it has shown consistent results in supporting and growing successful South African high-growth SMEs.”

The SA SME Fund is providing funding support to the next 60 Grindstone companies to enable them to close the initial growth gaps identified.

Further growth funding is also available on commercial terms to scale the companies through Knife Capital as well as other funding vehicles backed by the SA SME Fund.

Grindstone also confirmed Google for Start-ups as a technology partner in SA, where it will provide Google for Start-ups programmes to future Grindstone cohorts.

Kevin O’Toole, Google’s global head of accelerator strategy, operations, partnerships and programmes, says: “The ‘Grindstone Google for Start-ups’ initiative will connect Grindstone to an elite group of the world’s top accelerators, allowing it to share information and leverage resources. Grindstone will be able to access Google’s global network, insights from the company’s Silicon Valley-based start-up programmes, and 20 years’ worth of Google research and best practice insights on building businesses, products and teams at massive scale.”

Building on past success

In addition, Deloitte Digital is extending its commitment to the Grindstone programme after a successful 2019 cohort, adding its experience to the scale-ups and the programme overall.

“Deloitte is able to introduce entrepreneurs and businesses to the valuable and credible networks and mentors that it has access to,” says Green.

Successful 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 (recently raised a $7.5 million round from Google and Toyota), Locstat, Granite WMS (funded by Knife Capital) and OneCart.

Grindstone says over the past two years, it has 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.

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

For more information on the programme or to apply, click here. Applications are now open and will close on 24 April.