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New school for entrepreneurs levels the playing field

Read time 2min 20sec
Sandras Phiri, founder of Startup Circles.
Sandras Phiri, founder of Startup Circles.

Data from the “The Better Africa: Tracing the Success and Failure of African Start-ups” report shows African start-ups have a failure rate of 54.2%.

With this in mind, business strategist and start-up coach Sandras Phiri recently launched an online accelerator and start-up school, Startup Circles. The Pan-African platform is geared towards helping entrepreneurs across the continent build successful, commercially-viable businesses.

Phiri feels access to investors and mentors should not be restricted by an entrepreneur’s location or connections.

“For a long time, getting access to investors or mentors meant entrepreneurs had to be in certain geographical locations or know certain people.”

Startup Circles connects “like-minded game-changers”, and offers monthly webinars and coaching sessions, as well as $10 000 in Amazon Web Services cloud credits. Among others, the platform currently offers the following courses:

  • Idea Phase One, made free to registered users, covers business models and ideation.
  • The SMB Accelerate Programme for small or medium-sized businesses.
  • The Investor Readiness Programme.
  • The Startup Launch Programme, which takes entrepreneurs through their value proposition development.

Startup Circles also offers full scholarships to entrepreneurs in need and is open to receiving funding to continue supporting the scholarship programme.

Backed by heavy-hitters

Phiri recently left his position as director of Startup Grind South Africa, a start-up community with a global footprint, to focus on Startup Circles.

The accelerator has partnered with a number of global investors, who are providing investment to the entrepreneurs.

“Those who don’t get investment receive the feedback they need to get investor-ready,” says Phiri. “So it's like having a teacher who marks the exam, but who also gives you the cheat sheet.”

The students are mentored by international experts, including Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor Steve Blank, investor and bestselling author Nir Eyal, and Sriram Krishnan, who has served as head of new markets at Spotify and international growth at Tinder.

Phiri adds that mentors are selected based on their alignment to Startup Circles’ methodology. Their areas of expertise range from behavioural engineering and customer development, to building billion-dollar businesses.

“Entrepreneurs have access to mentors on a weekly basis and those who have advanced enough are given access to more specialised mentors. Entrepreneurs get to pitch their concepts in our monthly pitch days with external investors.”

He says the Startup Circles model can be adapted to offer the same learning programmes for other private entities and governments.

“Small start-ups that succeed today become the big companies that employ hundreds of people, impacting thousands more and contributing to the economies of cities and countries.”

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