Ex-DiData CEO Brett Dawson plots R30m 4IR deals

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Brett Dawson, founder of Campan.
Brett Dawson, founder of Campan.

Ex-Dimension Data CEO Brett Dawson’s personal investment platform Campan is looking to invest up to R30 million in local fourth industrial revolution (4IR)-focused start-ups this year.

Dawson established Campan in 2018 to invest and nurture businesses aligned to the 4IR. Campan is an early stage investor in small private equity opportunities. Investments have been made in the UK, Australia and South Africa to date.

This, after he was appointed Altron’s non-executive director in 2017. Less than two years after handing over the reins at Dimension Data, Dawson joined the board of Ubusha Technology, an African ICT company that offers cyber security, identity governance and access management solutions to the private and public sectors.

In an e-mail to ITWeb, Dawson revealed Campan is looking to make new investments in 4IR tech-based companies this year as the investment firm exits other ones.

This year, the firm will probably invest about R20 million to R30 million in these tech start-up companies, said Dawson.

Passion, innovation, disruption

On the criteria used to select these companies, he said: “First and foremost, leadership – do I believe the founder and the key team have the competence, the passion, the values and the grit to succeed? Secondly, do I believe in the business model, could it succeed, does it seem feasible?

“Thirdly – is the business something I am interested in and passionate about? I believe one should stick to opportunities you are passionate about making an impact in. My niche area of investment focus is in business models that are innovative and typically seek to disrupt and substantially improve on existing businesses.

“Fourthly, do they have a working offering? I only invest if they have some customers who are willing to pay for their service. They must have a viable prototype that customers value. Lastly, if the business is successful, will it make a positive impact on society?”

Dawson believes the 4IR is becoming increasingly mainstream as businesses seek to deploy digital solutions to substantially improve their businesses.

“Adoption ranges from improved customer offerings to streamlined internal processes. Examples include new sales channels, such as online selling, improved customer service through online direct customer help, automation of business process, to name a few,” he says.

In a statement, Campan says the R360 million paid by Altron for Ubusha Technologies highlights the accelerated returns on offer to private equity investors that back transformative businesses enabled by the 4IR.

JSE-listed Altron announced on 9 December 2019 that it will merge Ubusha’s identity security business with its cyber technology operations to establish Altron Security Solutions. The deal is effective 1 March 2020, subject to Competition Commission approval.

Campan notes local consumers will be familiar with Altron subsidiaries such as Netstar and Bytes Systems Integration; but few will have heard of Ubusha.

Established in 2003, it says, the firm quickly won acclaim as SA’s leading provider of identity security services to a “who’s who” list of banking, retail and telecommunications clients.

It notes Altron’s decision to snap up the security specialist was motivated by Ubusha’s 30%-plus compound annual growth in revenue delivered over the decade ending 2018, underpinned by R170 million in revenue and R40 million EBITDA in its latest financial year.

Tech transforms for 4IR

Altron was not the first to identify the potential in the firm, the company says.

Dawson invested in Ubusha in 2017 based on his belief that identity-based security would become an enabler for 4IR.

“We are entering an age where technology and business is wholly intertwined, leading to massive changes in efficiency and customer service,” says Dawson.

“The Internet of things, big data and cloud computing are just some of the technologies that are driving the world’s transformative transition into 4IR.”

He observes that tomorrow’s private equity successes will be delivered by companies that are immersed in 4IR.

Dawson has an enviable record in the technology industry, having earned his stripes at businesses like Internet Solutions and Dimension Data, both of which thrived during the third industrial revolution (3IR).

During his 12-year tenure as CEO of Dimension Data, Dawson oversaw a fourfold increase in annual revenue, from $2 billion to $8 billion.

He helped the systems integrator to expand from 30 countries to 58 and grow its local and international employee complement from 8 000 to more than 30 000 over the same period.

“We invest in and nurture businesses that revolutionise customer service through the positive application of technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence, data exchanges and cloud-based solutions,” says Dawson.

Winning with coaching, capital

He adds Campan has a vision to become a leading incubator of transformational 4IR businesses.

The availability of capital will enable start-ups in this space to make a real difference to society and deliver stellar returns to early investors, he says.

Campan is currently a foundation level investor in BrandHubb, which helps consumers interact with brands; Fourex for currency exchange transactions; and Wrapistry for gifting.

It has also invested in NuMobile, a start-up that enables communication, collaboration and productivity in the workplace by providing smartphone and connectivity to the under-serviced, lower-income end of the South African workforce.

NuMobile achieved a 25% growth in its corporate client base in 2019, says Campan.

It notes that each of these businesses is leveraging technology to make fundamental and transformational differences to customer service, business processes, systems, industries and broader society.

Dawson is nurturing these businesses by providing coaching and mentorship to their leadership teams, as well as taking an active role in strategy, while Campan provides the capital needed to accelerate their business plans.

“My journey started during the 3IR when we were radically transforming thinking and challenging accepted norms in the business environment.

“The next stage of the journey – navigating the transformative business environment enabled by the 4IR – will be defined by the investments made through my early stage private equity business, Campan,” he concludes.

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