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Silicon Valley stalwarts identify start-up CIRT as potential unicorn

Samuel Mungadze
By Samuel Mungadze, Africa editor
Johannesburg, 04 Nov 2021
Ajay Lalu, co-founder and director for CIRT.
Ajay Lalu, co-founder and director for CIRT.

Local internet of things (IOT) start-up Consumption Information Real Time (CIRT) has been identified as a potential unicorn by Gary Fowler and Derek Distenfield of GSD Venture Studios.

The Silicon Valley stalwarts have picked the company to join their accelerator programme.

The term ‘unicorn’ is used in the venture fund industry to indicate a tech start-up with a total market value of over $1 billion. The name was first used and popularised by Aileen Lee, a venture entrepreneur and founder of CowboyVC – a seed-stage investment fund based in Palo Alto, California.

GSD Venture Studios is one of the leading global tech accelerators, focusing on identifying technology companies with the potential to compete in global markets.

The firm has selected SA’s CIRT as one of only 10 companies globally to participate in its fifth cohort.

Participants in the accelerator programme are from Uganda, Switzerland, Singapore, Finland, Estonia, India, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Cyprus and the US.

For CIRT, which recently received honours for its digital payment solution, Q-Hop, the opportunity to become a billion-dollar company (unicorn) will serve as an inspiration to local start-ups.

Q-Hop is a contactless, cashless payment solution that uses a variety of payment platforms, including PayPal, BitCoin, Masterpass, Zapper, SnapScan and mobile wallets.

“CIRT is going to change the way consumers in South Africa and the entire content will shop,” Distenfield, co-founder and chief operating officer of GSD Venture Studios, tells ITWeb.

“However, they are not just a cashier-less company but an IOT company that utilises data to provide a hyper-personalised shopping experience. In five years, CIRT will be globally positioned to be one of the largest retail IOT companies in the world and be the standard for the 1.2 billion shoppers (and growing) in Africa.”

US-based Distenfield has a 15-year career in the start-up scene. He previously acted as COO for 360 Payments, a $2 billion fintech firm, and is a member of the Forbes Business Council.

Distenfield is visiting SA until 16 November, looking for opportunities within the country’s burgeoning tech sector.

Commenting on the selection of CIRT, Ajay Lalu, co-founder of CIRT, says: “This means the world to us, especially since it’s coming from GSD’s co-founders, who see many companies around the world and have themselves been involved in many unicorns. It’s a real feather in our cap that a three-year-old start-up from the southern tip of Africa is being talked about, especially by a Silicon Valley accelerator.

“It gives us a belief that we are building a $1 billion company and that with the support of GSD, we can achieve this and more. Our aim is to have a billion users on our Q-Hop solution.

“I hope CIRT will be an inspiration to other local start-ups (especially black-owned ones) that with a good idea, great team and tonnes of hard work, many more start-ups can also become unicorns. CIRT has attracted Derek Distenfield to SA to look for other potential unicorns, so we are playing a significant role in the start-up ecosystem.”

“I am very impressed with early stage investors and the ecosystem as a whole,” says Distenfield. “Venture Studios is an incredible model, where you can build decentralised teams that are globally diverse and inter-generational talent (connecting old guys with battle scars), all of which is needed to build #GoGlobal companies in a modern world.”

Talking to ITWeb about the technology market generally and where he sees the most start-up opportunity, Distenfield says: “Technology investments used to be vertically-driven around a thesis such as AI or IOT. What we are seeing now is that the most interesting companies are multiple technologies coming together, such as cloud computing, IOT and cashier-less (in CIRT’s case). In other cases, combining AI with blockchain and the cloud is interesting, or connecting quantum with AI and cyber security.”