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SA’s top 5 most exciting start-ups for 2021

by Justin

SMEs are the lifeblood of South Africa’s economy and also the most at risk. This sector represents more than 98% of businesses, employs between 50 to 60% of the country’s workforce across all industries, and is responsible for a quarter of job growth in the private sector.

According to the World Bank, SMEs represent about 90% of businesses and more than 50% of employment worldwide. According to our estimates, 600 million jobs will be needed by 2030 to absorb the growing global workforce, which makes SME development a high priority for governments around the world. In emerging markets, most formal jobs are generated by SMEs, which create 7 out of 10 jobs.

“In Africa, SMEs make up around two-thirds of the continent’s formally employed workforce. While in South Africa, SMEs provide employment to roughly 47% of the workforce, with their total economic output accounting for around 20% of GDP,” says the Johannesburg Business School.

SA is highly ranked in terms of new start-ups coming online. Stats just in show 59% of e-commerce stores were started in the past 18 months – not by choice but out of necessity.

A new entrepreneur education report, the first of its kind to research and map out the learning needs of e-commerce entrepreneurs – funded by a non-profit entrepreneurial education company Heavy Chef – identifies the challenges and skill gaps for micro SA e-commerce entrepreneurs that play a vital role in growing our economy. 

In addition, According to Forbes, women drive 80% of consumer purchases and these online purchases, in turn, have a positive impact on the economy. The report reveals the growth of e-commerce in South Africa has been accelerated by five years since the Covid-19 pandemic began. Interestingly, it is women leading the charge.

SA’s top five most exciting start-ups hold the key to job creation & economic growth

As a critical business sector, these were all reasons to host an award ceremony to celebrate the achievements of SA’s top five most exciting start-ups as they hold the key to job creation and economic growth and have largely been left to fend for themselves. And these entrepreneurs have been known to learn on the fly for doing things their way.

This year, the campaign attracted 517 unique nominations, a massive increase from the previous edition in 2019 and a sure sign of the fighting spirit embodied by our business communities in times of harrowing challenges like the kind the last couple of years have presented.

CEO Fred Roed has indicated that after a brutal 24 months for many businesses, this year’s entries were packed with social impact organisations that are making a marked impact in the entrepreneur sector. These are not only businesses that are doing well in the ecosystem; they’re businesses that are doing good for our society.

Speaks volumes for South Africa’s diversity of talent

“The top 12 shortlisted companies in 2021 represented an extraordinary array of sectors, more so than any previous year. South Africa has consistently been strong in fintech, with companies such as Yoco, JUMO, Mama Money and Easy Equities amongst the winning start-ups in previous years,” comments Roed.

“The five winners were well deserved, but it must be stressed that judging was tight. In the end, to see a company such as Walk Fresh lining up next to FCB.ai and Valenture speaks volumes for South Africa’s diversity of talent. In a year of darkness, thanks to load shedding, lockdowns, and gloomy news, the spread of entrepreneurial strength is a beam of brightness.”

The 2021 top 5 finalists

  1. Livestock Wealth, a tech crowd farming startup that connects investors with farmers that require funding by using cattle as a type of investment. Founded in 2015.

“Creating Livestock Wealth has been a difficult endeavour that has consumed an entire six years of research and development, with hardly any funding. The singular goal is to ask, how can agricultural assets be used to store and trade value in the 21st Century, as they did for centuries in the past?,” explains its founder, Ntuthuko Shezi.

  • Valenture Institute, a private high school offering a rich academic learning experience online and on-campus. The curriculum is designed to enable students with the skills required to build a sustainable future. Founded in 2019.

“There’s the old adage that talent is equally distributed but opportunity is not. When we think about our country and our continent and the fact that 45% of the world’s youth population will be on this continent by 2030, if we’re not thinking of innovative ways to enable the intellectual capacity of this incredible youth population, our prospects are rather dire,” says founder, Robert Paddock.

  • Kusini Water, a social enterprise whose nanotechnology and macadamia nut innovation aim to provide safe drinking water to communities in need. Founded in 2016.

“This is beyond imagination for me,” says founder, Murendi Mafumo. “This award is amazing! Thanks for believing in us and our mission to increase access to safe drinking water on our continent.”

  • FCB.ai, an AI-powered chatbot to help financial service providers acquire and retain customers. Founded in 2016.

“We have a beautiful team based in South Africa that services our European customers – so it’s not only Europe that can solve Africa’s problems but Africa can solve Europe’s problems, and we’re so excited about that,” comments Antoine Paillusseau, founder.

  • Walk Fresh, a boutique sneaker cleaning and shoe-care startup that offers refurbishing, maintenance, shoe shining, and repairing services for all kinds of footwear. Founded in 2015.

“This is for all the kids in the township who are cleaning sneakers for a living. I don’t think South Africa needs jobs, South Africa needs more employers. It’s our responsibility to train more employers, which is why Heavy Chef is so important in the ecosystem,” says Lethabo Mokoena, founder.

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