It seems as if the career path less traveled in South Africa is that of the tech startup CEO who can pilot a company to dazzling paydays, sell it and do it all over again in a next venture: The mythical creature known as the South African Serial CEO.
Israel claims to have more serial entrepreneurs per capita than any other country in the world. You definitely also find them in America, the UK, and Sweden where there are vibrant startup cultures. They create success and action and have the impact that amazes and inspires other people, leaving behind them a trail of profitable companies.
But where are they in South Africa?
One of the most celebrated serial startup CEO’s is Elon Musk, a South African-born superstar in Silicon Valley. His first company, Zip2’s successful sale to Compaq was followed by X.com that became PayPal and was sold to eBay for $1.5 bn. Musk pocketed a modest $165 m from this transaction alone. Musk, often cited as the inspiration for the Iron Man movies, is currently occupied by his ventures, SpaceX and Tesla and his quest to colonise Mars.
He is joined by other South Africans like Willem van Biljon, who started Mosaic Software, sold it, then built Amazon.com’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), sold it and started Nimbula, sold it and became the co-CEO of Takealot.com before stepping down in 2018 and changed his role to Advisor.
Patrick Soon-Shiong is a South African-born Chinese surgeon and businessman. He has built fortune from founding and selling companies with a focus in the healthcare industry (now well known for his “Covid pill”). Patrice Motsepe founded Future Mining, in the 90s. His venture later acquired six mines from AngloGold. He is well known in the mining sector.
We can also talk about Hertzy Kabeya, Mark Shuttleworth, Paul Kim, Vinny Lingham, Pieter de Villiers, many others.
At their Executive of the Year awards a few years ago, the Silicon Valley Business Journal commented on four of their top five winners in a surprising manner: “Here’s something interesting about our executive of the year awards, something that hadn’t occurred to us at the time that these four executives were selected – they are all originally from South Africa.”
So, we know that South Africans are doing it and that they are somewhere out there.
In the Western Cape, we have made impressive progress towards delivering the booming startup activity observed around university towns like Cambridge, Leuven, Boston and, of course, the Silicon Valley region. These areas have become the innovation capitals of the world, with companies spinning out of universities into a whirlpool of collaboration between academia, industry and government. A highly developed ecosystem for technology transfer springs from this interaction that sees investors, multinational companies and entrepreneurs from outside the university flocking to the area. As a result, business incubators, accelerators, science parks, jobs, acquisitions and all the other elements of a successful entrepreneurial ecosystem naturally arise. Within this wonderful mixture of activity you’ll find a pool of brilliant CEO’s who want to do it over and over again. Bring the challenge and they will do the rest.
Our local universities have been producing world-class technologies for years, and more and more of these innovations have spawned new companies. Just look at how startup activity has mushroomed on our spin-out company timeline at Stellenbosch University since we established the SU LaunchLab business incubator:
Currently, we have a pipeline of potential spin-out companies built on world-class research and exceptionally talented and passionate students and recent graduates eager to learn through working in start-ups. A key ingredient that is missing is the experienced Serial CEO with an adventurous side who wants to do it again.
We know you are out there.
We are looking for you. There are amazing opportunities in our project stable at Stellenbosch University, but we find it difficult to marry these with the right CEO’s. Entrepreneurial CEO’s are needed to start, raise funding for and run our companies, or mentor and raise our young and inexperienced CEO’s to become the Serial CEO’s.
Innovus is the technology transfer office of Stellenbosch University. We work in collaboration with the SU LaunchLab and US Enterprises (Pty) Ltd as well as funders like the University Technology Fund to make Stellenbosch University innovation matter. Some examples of our innovations can be found on the Innovus website. Currently, we have opportunities in the fields of Biotech, Precision Agriculture, Mobility, Off Grid Energy Solutions, Plant based Foods, Alternative Protein, SaaS (in manufacturing, mining, healthcare, audio, coaching, AI), Consentrated Solar Power and Concentrated Solar Thermal services, medical devices
We want to hear from you if you have:
Been a CEO of at least one startup before and grew it to more than 15 staff members AND raised significant funding for the business (preferably multiple rounds of funding); OR
Been at executive level in a big corporate AND you have started either a business division or a startup company in addition to holding a C-level title; OR
Spent more than 10 years working within (initially) a pre-Series A environment at a senior level; AND
A professional network that you can leverage to build the purposeful partnerships and open the opportunities required to successfully scale a startup.
If you think you have what it takes and you can tick any of these boxes above, please drop me an email (email@example.com) and tell us the usual stuff: who you are, any special talents you have, your “claim to fame”, experience, management style, fields of expertise, background, what type of challenge you are looking for and why you are interested in working with us. Indicate to us if you have a minimum remuneration expectation.
We aim to match our opportunities with some of the people who show interest in working with us and who have what it takes to do so. You may not hear from us immediately, but if we don’t currently have an opportunity that fits your profile like a glove, please allow us to keep your information on record and as soon as we realise that there may be a perfect match with one of our future projects, you will get a phone call from us!
Innovus, Stellenbosch University
15 De Beer Street
PO Box 3135
t +27 (0) 21 808 3826