Johannesburg-Based Startup Represents Africa at World Startup Contest in San Francisco exposed to global startup ecosystem at the Startup World Cup Grand Finale


Johannesburg-based startup carried the hopes of Africa in San Francisco on Friday at the inaugural Startup World Cup Grand Finale.

The winner of this event, which is run by Fenox Venture Capital, a Silicon Valley-based global venture capital firm, was UniFa, a Japanese IoT solution for tracking kindergarteners’ physical and mental growth, who were awarded U.S.$1,000,000 in investment. founders Remon Geyser and Trevor Wolfe competed against finalists from 15 other regional startup competitions around the world after winning the Ventureburn Pitching Den at the South African Innovation Summit in September 2016.

Along with the other finalists benefited from incredible exposure. More than 2,500 people from the global startup ecosystem were expected at the event in San Francisco.

Guests and speakers included prominent Silicon Valley figures such as Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple; Daymond John, founder of Fubu and well-known investor from the ABC TV show Shark Tank; Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit; and Phil Libin, co-founder of Evernote and managing director of General Catalyst.

Creatives for hire

The team at knows the value of professional feedback more than most. Their platform specialises in providing professional feedback for creative concepts. Its biggest use case today is for getting feedback on advertising campaigns.

If a client, a bank for example, wants to launch a media campaign for a new product across various countries in Africa assembles panels of experts with specific expertise in particular countries to review the product and/or campaign and give constructive feedback relevant to that market. That feedback is packaged and sent back to the client.

The concept is inspired and informed by various others but is unique in its combination of creativity, research and feedback. It enables the testing of a concept anywhere in the world by tapping into local marketing, advertising and creative professionals. Technology is important too since most of the process is automated.

Long road

In 2016, became an Endeavor company and were finalists of the FNB Business Innovation Awards. They also won financial backing from British investor Kevin Gaskell and local VC fund Havaic. And, in September, they won the Startup World Cup Africa regionals at the Innovation Summit, the springboard for their next big leap, to Friday’s world finals in San Francisco.

A year ago they had just two employees and a great idea. Now they have 12 employees working with 17 active clients in 10 countries, including Unilever, Barclays, Pernod Ricard, GSK, Edelman, FNB, Outsurance and British American Tobacco.

"Research talent here has been amazing, it’s world class research talent. We have been able to staff up with some of the most amazing researchers here,” he told African News Agency (ANA) in a recent interview.

Also, he said, "Africa is kind of untapped in the market research industry."

"In America, Europe, Asia even, there are thousands of firms doing consumer research and providing insights. There are very few outside of South Africa in Africa. This is a good opportunity for us," Wolfe added.

Another sign of changing times is the fall from grace of old established ideas and processes, such as taking ‘square’ ideas and campaigns from elsewhere in the world and trying to force them into ‘round’ holes in Africa, a continent with a plethora of rich and vibrant cultures of its own.

"People used to say we will just station someone there but we will follow all the rules from London, New York, Berlin or Paris … But we will at least have someone on the ground. If they follow our rules we will be able to tackle Africa," Wolfe explained.

But now there was a lot more autonomy, he said.

"The creative work is not just being thrown down from Europe or North America.

"They are saying, 'Okay we know it needs to look and feel a little different. We will give you some extra budget to find your own agency down there, do a little of your own research and come up with your own insights and your own campaign'.

See also: How this startup is hoping to disrupt a R620 billion industry with the power of the crowd


"We have seen that shift where South Africans are becoming more empowered and more appreciated by their global counterparts."

And that appreciation of diversity and how local cultures actually work and resonate is filtering through to the rest of the continent too, he said.

Wolfe added that a lot of’s South African clients were also now being forced to not just take what they were building in South Africa, which "used to be a breath of fresh air because they didn’t have to take an American piece of work."

“But now they are realising that they can’t just take a South African piece of work and throw it into Nigeria. You can’t even take a piece of work from Nigeria and expect it to work across West Africa.

"The more appreciation of diversity and how local cultures actually work and resonate, the better for our business."

The story is the focus of the South African Innovation Summit’s recently launched Wall of Fame, which will profile African startups with the aim to inspire others and build the ecosystem of innovation. - African News Agency

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