Vincent Van Wyk has had a tremendously successful year. With his PEBL innovation being picked up by international investors and endorsed by government the sky seems to be the limit for him. With a passion for relationships and skills sharing, he offers an overview of what and how he is making his way to the top.
Vincent what was the initial response from partners to your tech innovation, PEBL?
Africa and Namibia are quickly becoming hotbeds for innovation, both locally and internationally smart investors are taking notice. PEBL was fortunate enough to partner with a big telecommunications operator in Namibia right off the bat, during our market entry phase in 2016. However, we were quickly met with frustration as most corporates in Namibia have binding agreements with international brands. Suffice to say the initial response was one of hostility. However, we kept pushing back, and we have recently made significant strides in that of our government pledging their support to PEBL. Support from corporates were minimal. Public enterprises and NGOs have recently started backing us. They are current drivers of tech innovation and digital transformation in Namibia. These are, among others, Paratus, KOLOK Namibia, Letshego Bank, GIZ Namibia, NUST FABlab Namibia and NCRST. SAIS is definitely playing a big role in nurturing the local and SADC start-up ecosystems. The support from the Ministry of Public Enterprises has been massive and the commitment has been pivotal in our recent successes. Additionally we have recently enjoyed backing by big players in South Africa, Zambia, Botswana and Germany. Previously public sector focus was on lowest price, but it has now shifted to “Made in Namibia". Now the future looks bright. I am happy to announce that our local batch production plant will be opening in March 2019.
So what type of support did you need in order to develop your product and business?
At the beginning of our voyage we needed guidance in product development and business operations. We also needed financial support and assistance in how to present our business and product to the right people in the right way. To me, money comes last because I believe that if your business is just about the money, you do not have a business. So we got the necessary support to get everything else right first, and then we got the funding. Right now we are no longer looking for capital but we need global distribution partners, strategic partnerships such as software (e-education, e-health, AI) and hardware partnerships (IoT and peripheral devices) from both local and international avenues. We need global corporate clients such as NGOs and Telecommunications Operators to come on board.
How did the exposure to Slush change your approach to PEBL and entrepreneurship? At Slush I explored every opportunity to further the PEBL cause. As an African start-up it is extremely difficult to attract international investment at such a global event. However, I did manage to set up numerous meetings with key players in the industry. I met with CEOs and representatives of trade and investment agencies among others. Although I did not secure investment then, I did establish lasting relationships with numerous players within the global start-up eco-system such as GreenTech Capital Partners, Berlin Partner for Business and Technology, IndieGogo and a few angel investors whom I am still in discussions with. I managed to initiate relationships, create a network of people that offer advice, guidance and can listen. Slush definitely made a positive contribution to my entrepreneurial journey. People you meet along the way on your journey are your greatest assets. Every person you meet leads to a different opportunity. My biggest gain however was perspective. I quickly realized that as Africans we must solve African problems, our own problems. No one will solve our problems for us. This inspired me to work a 100 times harder. I made a decision then to never give up. That was a vital take away for me. It changed my approach to entrepreneurship completely.
What do you think is the level of understanding of tech innovations in the local start up scene and what should be done to increase it?
The fact that tech and innovation can play a big role in making Namibia richer is not in question. Countries that encourage their firms to innovate, and that invest in educating their people and pushing the boundaries of science generally grow richer than those that do not. Unfortunately there is very little support from corporates towards driving local tech innovation and the start-up ecosystem. This needs to change and as part of their social responsibility corporates need to take risks – invest and believe in tech start-ups. Only then can we realize the enormous gains from innovation.
Watch how Vincent proudly presented his PEBL product to in Namibia's National Assembly