Entrepreneurship plays a critical role in economic growth and the improved standards of living in many countries including South Africa. Business-owners provide opportunities for innovation and increased employment in addition to the creation of new markets. The Department of Small Business Development and its agencies, SEFA, and SEDA, together with numerous other organizations play important roles in fostering this sector.
As part of its work, SEDA – through the SEDA Technology Programmed (STP) – has aligned with a portfolio of high-impact partners including incubators, accelerators, academic institutions, and other development experts, to support small to medium business interests.
Hardware technology pioneers, Savant Technology Incubator, is SEDA’s latest enterprise development partner. The partnership was established in 2015 to enable Savant NPC to focus on scaling-up operations and broaden the pipeline to include innovators in the broader Cape Town communities.
The partnership was launched as the Savant offices in Cape Town on October 17, 2017, and attended by the following Government and SEDA dignitaries:
*Department of Small Business Development Minister, Honorable Minister Lindiwe Zulu
*Director General of Department of Small Business Development, Dr Edith Vries
*Seda CEO Ms Mandisa Tshikwatamba and other senior government officials from national, provincial, local governments, and entities
Savant – A Unique Take on ‘Incubation’
If you have never heard of Savant, there is a chance that you, or someone you know, have used the products developed by the investors they have propelled from idea to commercial success. Snuza, a graduate of the Savant incubator, developed a new generation of smart baby monitors.
The wearable technology helps parents detect abdominal movement in infants, including irregular breathing and abdominal pain. From humble beginnings in Savant’s incubator, Snuze products now retail both nationally and globally.
A Commercial Road Less Travelled
While software has garnered much of the investment and attention in the tech space, hardware inventors and slowly gaining ground internationally. Instead of looking for the next Mark Zuckerberg, hardware technology incubator like Savant are looking for the creator and ultimately producer of the next rooivlak, kreepy krawly, tesla car and who knows, perhaps even the next Space X.
Savant is a highly specialized and commercially-focused hardware technology incubator founded in 2005 by CEO Nick Allen. The business model, which includes an equity stake in the incubate enterprise, was designed to achieve the goal of nurturing South African startups in science and technology innovation – focusing on projects with global market appeal, strong intellectual property protection, as well as a technology capable of meeting the requirements of the target market.
Prior to founding Savant, Allen, a qualified engineer-turned veteran of South Africa’s post-democracy entrepreneur development ecosystem, worked for both public and private SMME incubators. His experience led him to identify untapped potential in a segment of South African inventors; those who wanted to build businesses around their innovative ideas relating to physical hardware technology, but lacked the necessary know how to start, run & scale enterprises.
Savant further differentiates itself from many traditional incubators in that it is in it for the long-haul; working with very early stage inventors by offering daily, hands-on advisory on everything from product design engineering, prototype manufacturing, testing, intellectual property packaging, supply chain, certifications, documentation, logistics and retail, as well as financial and customer management. Led by experts with first-hand hardware technology commercialization and incubation experience, Savant further draws from a supplementary pool of external subject specialists as required to ensure entrepreneurs incubated are fully supported.
Since taking on its first incubation client, Savant has worked with 18 early-stage technology projects. Of these, only one has not progressed from the R&D stage (due to lack of technical progress). The remaining projects are either successful enterprises, selling products on the local and international markets, or companies that are in the commercialization phase. On average, Savant start-ups graduate to fully-fledged, commercially viable enterprises in 5 years.
Re-Industrializing South Africa
Aside from Allen’s passion for entrepreneurship, he also has an eye on job-creation. Hardware technology, compared to software development, is labor intensive. Contributing to much needed economic growth in South Africa, the ‘start-up’ hardware renaissance is well on its way to cultivating a new breed of job-creating manufacturing businesses that have a bias towards innovation, continuous improvement and exploring new market opportunities.
Savant’s remarkable track record includes these former start-ups turned industry game changers:
*Leatt®: high-performance protective gear for extreme athletes
*Formfoods: patented alginate based food processing systems
*Veggie Crisp: patented snack food processing system
*Balancell: battery management and cell balancing system
*Smartblade: low-cost tech that harnesses video and smartphone technology to provide guided laryngoscopy – a procedure that lets doctors examine the back of a patient’s throat, your voice box (larynx), and vocal cord.
Commenting on the partnership, Seda CEO, Ms Mandisa Tshikwatamba: “Our partnership with SAVANT is based on ensuring the survival and sustainability of new emerging entrepreneurs in the manufacturing sector, specifically technology-driven enterprises. This partnership has allowed Savant to gain value from additional Seda partnerships, including the TIA Seed Fund. Savant is further supported by Seda’s incubation program, with access to well-packaged best practice guidelines and tools. Combined with the practical experience of SAVANT, the partnership seeks to meet the unique needs of the South African economic environment”