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Unlocking the secret sauce of venture capitalism

May 26 2017 20:10
Carin Smith

Cape Town - Deon Lewis is the co-founder and CEO of Futureneers.

He is passionate about the venture capital (VC) industry, not only in South Africa, but in Africa and globally. He has also been very vocal about how Africa is a market that remains unknown to most VCs and the big opportunities that are available for tech start-ups on the African continent.

He shared his views with Fin24.

Tell a bit about yourself

I am the co-founder of Futureneers™. I put a significant emphasis on attention to detail and pride myself on an instinct for spotting innovative business solutions that suit market needs.
My most recent exit and successful venture was Cipla Nutrition, which I co-founded in 2010. Prior to that, I co-founded X/Procure® Software, which I headed up for eight years.

My responsibilities at both organisations were focused on developing the businesses and product offerings into prominent market positions in their segments.

Tell a bit about your business

Futureneers™ is an early stage venture capital investment holding company and start-up accelerator that enables investors to benefit from a diversified mix of opportunities, predominantly in emerging market start-ups.

Within the South African investment landscape, one of our key differentiators is the possibility of international growth – facilitated through our unique Global Bridge.
With the aid of key service providers, we not only offer post-investment incubation and acceleration to our portfolio start-up companies, but we deliver essential growth support services that ensure streamlined sustainability.

These service providers specialise in sales, brand, social media, digital and influence marketing that extend far beyond the standard back-office support offerings.

What gap did you see in the market?

We started Futureneers™ Investments in June 2016, after we identified an opportunity in South Africa's entrepreneurial ecosystem and the challenges faced by early stage start-ups. These included, among others, access to funding, but more importantly mentorship and access to subsidised operational support services.

Futureneers’ secret sauce is the way in which we find, support, fund and grow these opportunities as well as our ability to facilitate international growth through our unique Global Bridge advisory network and team.

How did you become an entrepreneur?

Being an entrepreneur is like jumping off a cliff without a parachute and then assembling the plane on the way down. It’s an unexplainable drive to innovate, create, build and then find the next opportunity to repeat the cycle all over again.

After about five years at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where I held the position of associate director in the micro computer services subsidiary, I co-founded Finstruct Investment Group in 1999. Finstruct, which was formed as a result of the sale of telecoms infrastructure developer Infracom to CCH, was also where I served in the executive position of chief information officer while also serving on the board of BCSGroup as business development director.

I also co-founded Cipla Nutrition in 2010 and prior to that, I co-founded X/Procure® Software, which I headed up for eight years.

What are the challenges of entrepreneurship?

Start-ups often face the challenge of not knowing whether there is market demand for their unique product or service as well as the opportune time to finally launch. This is also coupled to the struggle to gain access to funding, which is a major distraction from running the business, but more importantly mentorship and access to subsidised operational support services.

We fully understand the limitations that entrepreneurs face when it comes to venture capital, because we’ve been there – having personally dealt with, and overcome, many of the challenges and frustrations of early-stage start-ups.

However, to ensure we truly deliver optimal value for both our start-ups and investors, we have defined a clear investment focus.

We offer three essential elements to these entrepreneurs namely, support, leadership, understanding and access to a global business network.
How do you see entrepreneurship and its role in South Africa - and maybe even in the rest of Africa?

The role of the local entrepreneur seems both underrated and burdened by colonial-rooted preconceptions, yet entrepreneurs play a critical role in the economic development of the African continent. Emerging market problems calls for emerging market solutions that if successful, could be easier replicated in first world markets.

Any future plans?

We are in the process of finalising the launch of an Asset Finance 12J VCC that will focus of asset finance solutions in selected industries.
Furthermore, we will soon be launching our first corporate tech R&D fund that will focus on finding, screening, funding and incubating innovative solutions to problems corporates are facing.

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