Bongani Sithole and Wayne Zwiers. Picture: SUPPLIED
Bongani Sithole and Wayne Zwiers. Picture: SUPPLIED

Black Beard, the technology start-up behind SA’s first "robo-advisory" platform, has set its sights on global expansion just two years after its launch.

"There was an itch that needed a scratch," Black Beard CEO and co-founder Wayne Zwiers, Black Beard’s CEO and co-founder, says of his decision to launch the company in 2016.

"We saw a massive huge opportunity to bridge the gap between business and technology and deliver quality technology … it’s an extremely exciting time seeing the amount of tech start-ups that are solving real problems."

Black Beard was launched only a few months before it built Bizank, a robo-advisory platform backed by Anchor Capital. Bizank uses Anchor Capital’s active asset manager to manage its investments. Robo-advisers are automated — typically web or app based — and are associated with lower costs.

Over the past two years, Black Beard has added Outsurance, Investec, Discovery and Merchant Capital to its list of clients, and has also started building its own businesses and products, rather than developing platforms for corporate clients.

At the same time, its international expansion is under way, with the firm recently opening an office in the tech hub of Dublin, Ireland.

"Dublin is well known as a tech hot spot in Europe," says Zwiers. "Ireland has a booming economy and is ripe with opportunity, the Irish are the friendliest people to work with, and it’s a great access point to the rest of Europe … there is also Guinness."

Zwiers and his co-founders, including technical director Bongani Sithole, operate from the Johannesburg suburb of Parktown North. The company also has offices in Cape Town and Pretoria.

"Since we were young boys, we aspired to be entrepreneurs," says Zwiers, an outgoing personality who is responsible for steering the business.

"Bongani has been taking computers apart since he was a child and is a ‘technical futurist’, so the synergy and symbiosis of our business partnership has created something dynamic and successful," he adds.

But while Black Beard is coming into its own, the duo are aware that it’s not always easy for start-ups in SA.

The government and corporate sector alike need to give more focus to small and medium-sized businesses, which desperately need funding, says Sithole, a developer turned tech entrepreneur.

"I believe a lot of business incubators have failed SA entrepreneurs — in this day and age, it doesn’t make sense that it still takes three to five years for a start-up to [reach] scale," he says.

"Clearly there’s lack of support for newcomers.

" In fact, most financial institutions only look at your business once you have been in operation for at least 36 months.

"The question is: how much money will I need as an entrepreneur to keep the lights on for 36 months before I get funded?"

Sithole says SA’s nascent venture capital industry, unlike those in Silicon Valley or other start-up hubs, still focuses on ideas and projects rather than on the best people.

"[Venture capital funds] need to start focusing a lot on the entrepreneurs — to back the team as opposed to the ideas."

What’s next for Black Beard? Sithole says the company is looking at Eastern Europe, where there is a gap in the market, a good amount of skills and a "tech-receptive environment and economy".

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