Ten tips for taking your app from idea to start-up

Hackathon winner Tsitsi Marote shares her tips for building a startup.
Read time 5min 00sec
Tsitsi Marote, Guardian Health (Photo: Karolina Komendera)
Tsitsi Marote, Guardian Health (Photo: Karolina Komendera)

The first Student Build Conference took place last weekend, bringing young techies together to learn from each other and strengthen the local ICT pipeline.

The two-day event was organised by Geekulcha Student Society (GKSS) members and Microsoft Student Ambassadors between Gauteng and KZN.

One of the event organisers, Yolanda Mabusela, previously told ITWeb, “We’ve been hit hard by the pandemic. It’s impacting our education, so one of our goals is to learn together instead of everyone organising their own initiatives.”

Conference presentations covered topics such as entrepreneurial leadership, advanced Web development, how-to talks on building platforms such as chat bots.

Tsitsi Marote, a data scientist, and one of Brainstorm’s Rising Stars of 2020, took the audience through her experience of building a solution ‘from ideation to start-up’.

Marote is one half of the health app start-up called Guardian Health. The app was created earlier this year during ITWeb's Business Intelligence hackathon, and has gone on to win three other hackathons.

The idea for the app was born during Marote’s masters research in maternal health where she learned that foetal abnormalities can only be detected at 22 weeks of pregnancy, which, she says, ‘wasn’t cool’.

Marote has been co-developing the app with fellow data scientist, Tino Manhema.

Guardian Health offers services to healthcare workers and patients such as resource planning, virtual consultations and being able to book appointments to avoid visiting over-crowded hospitals. "We’re shifting our focus back to our legacy, maternal health, because the health professionals mentoring us see a lot of potential there - detecting foetal abnormalities sooner than 22 weeks and using a pregnant woman’s health profile to predict if she’s likely to need a c-section", says Marote.

She went on to share the 10 lessons she’s learned while building Guardian Health:

1. Start now
Marote and a friend came up with an idea for a start-up last year, “but it didn’t work out because we kept delaying our start. It sucks thinking about it now because it could have thrived in these [COVID-19] times.”

2. Build for your users
“As much as we thought we understood public sector healthcare challenges, we didn’t know the granular details. The things you learn by talking to your users are amazing, so let them test the solution. You’d be surprised how many people want to help you.”

3. Fail quickly

Don’t spend too much time building a MVP. “Build the solution and get it out there for feedback. Some of the original things in our app had to go because they wouldn’t make the difference we thought they would for users.”

4. Narrow down your features
When you try to do too much, it will take longer to get the product out there, narrowing your offering helps you find the value you’re bringing.

5. Find alternative ways to raise funds
“We used hackathons. Take advantage of other opportunities like free trials or applying for cloud credits just to get started, and use the cash you win from hackathons to pay for what you need.”

6. Networking
“The greatest value from hackathons comes from networking. Let people know what you’re working on -- Guardian Health’s patient referral system came as a suggestion from a previous hack.”

7. Do your research
“We didn’t know how many regulations there are in the health sector. But we’re getting used to how things work. If you can’t answer questions around your app’s sectoral regulations, you won’t know what value to add.”

8. Upskill
“I’m a techie, but thankfully we’ve been upskilled as part of our incubation [one of her and Manhema’s prizes from the Ayoba hack]. For your business to work, you need to know the tech and business sides.”

9. Encourage diversity
“I’ve learnt from pitching that skills and background diversity are crucial. Find people who complement your skills.”

10. Don't fall in love with your idea
“The concept we started with for Guardian Health is very different from what we have today. Solve problems you're passionate about and don’t be discouraged if you lose the urge to keep working on your solution, just take a step back.”

Red Bull Basement University challenge

Geekulcha’s CEO Mixo Ngoveni also spoke at the event, announcing this year’s Red Bull Basement University challenge.

The initiative will see university students from nearly 40 countries in a four-month contest to win "Best Idea of 2020” and earn a tailored prize package to scale their idea.

The competition opened on 1 September and will remain open for applications until 25 October. Solution ideas are ‘limited only by your imagination’, according to the challenge’s Web site and technology can be the whole solution or only part of it.

A three-day public voting period, from 26 to 29 October, will be followed by regional judges selecting the best idea from each country based on the solution's impact, feasibility and creativity. Red Bull Basement is open to all students who will be enrolled at a university through the competition’s duration.

The challenge's Global Workshop will take place from 10 to 13 December in a yet to be unveiled format. Final pitches will take place on 13 December in front of an international panel of judges.

Participants can enter individually or in teams of two:

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