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A Silver Lining Emerges For Technology Entrepreneurs

As the National Innovation Fund Committee Takes Office

Entrepreneur Larry Alton says entrepreneurs face many challenges in today’s ultra-competitive business world. “Entrepreneurship comes with a host of challenges, rewarding challenges, but harsh challenges nonetheless.” He says although the potential rewards for entrepreneurship are great, starting a new business at a young age is especially fraught with risk. For younger people, the challenges are unique, multiplied and particularly difficult to overcome. Lack of experience, inadequate financial resources, and a lack of self-confidence all contribute in one way or another to make it tougher for a young entrepreneur than an older counterpart.

Almost all new ventures require seed capital to support the business through the first rocky months or even years until it can generate cash and turn a profit. This initial investment may come from several sources such as personal savings, love money or soft loans from family and friends, venture capital and angel investors as well as government grants and subsidies.

In small developing economies like Botswana, innovative and talented entrepreneurs struggle to find seed funding from local investors. The Bloomberg U.S. Startup Barometer points to rigid regulations, lagging economies and the high risks of doing business in Africa as factors responsible for the low appetite of venture capitalists and angel investors in these markets. Botswana’s appeal for backup and risk capital for startups is no different.

To close this gap, the government of Botswana in line with the country’s key national priorities of spearheading the drive to using innovation as a lever for economic growth, established Botswana Innovation Hub to coordinate the establishment of a functional and integrated national innovation ecosystem. Key to this development is the creation of a National Innovation Fund that promotes innovation through technology, products and business development in the private sector by providing cash grants to companies and organisations registered with Botswana Innovation Hub.

Established under the Finance Management Act. Statutory Instrument Number 93 of 2017, the National Innovation Fund was created to close the existing gap in early stage financing for key projects of national relevance in the private sector. The fund will specifically, provide cash grants to companies or organisations registered with the Botswana Innovation Hub which may subcontract part of the development work to universities and research organisations.

In addition, the National Innovation Fund serves to encourage companies and organisations awarded funds to transfer skills to citizen employees by providing cash grants to be utilised for institutional training and on the job training programmes.
To this end, a governance structure for the administration of the National Innovation Fund has been set up with Botswana Innovation Hub assuming the secretarial role and administrative office of the Fund and a National Innovation Fund Committee has been appointed to provide crucial oversight role in the Funds establishment and implementation.   

Speaking at the announcement of the Committee members, the Minister of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology, Dr Alfred Madigele said, “Government is spearheading the drive to use innovation as a trajectory for economic growth. To this end the establishment of the National Innovation Fund would assist to close a gap in early stage financing for key projects of national importance.”

“Government has set aside P12 million pula to be used for funding projects in the current financial year and we have put in place a robust governance framework to allow evaluation and awards from this fund,” he announced. The National Innovation Fund Committee consists of five independent members of the public as well as representation from the private sector and the business community.

Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology, Dr Kekgonne Baipoledi assumes the Chairmanship of the committee. With a career spanning over 25 years, Dr Baipoledi has previously held various senior positions within government, specifically at the Ministry of Agriculture where he has held the posts of Head of National Veterinary Laboratories, Deputy Director, Veterinary Services and Deputy Permanent Secretary responsible for Technical Services.

General Manager of Botswana Vaccine Institute, Dr. George Matlho has been roped in from industry. Dr Matlho possesses vast experience spanning over many years within the veterinary sector with emphasis on research and business development.  He has previously held a number of senior positions at Botswana Vaccine Institute and Department of Animal Health and Production.

Dr Thapelo Matsheka has been appointed to the Committee from the private sector. Dr Matsheka is currently Managing Director at Fiducia Services Limited. He is an economist and an academic with vast experience from the University of Botswana before pioneering the establishment of the government-funded Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA) as Chief Executive Officer. He later moved from CEDA to Aon Botswana as the Managing Director prior assuming his current position.

Representing academia is Vice Chancellor of the University of Botswana, Prof David Norris. Previous to his appointment at UB, Professor Norris was Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research and Innovation at BIUST.  Prof Norris has more than 20 years in Research and Innovation where he has published extensively and attracted much research funding. Before his appointment to BIUST, Prof Norris worked in different positions in Botswana, South Africa and the USA.

Also representing the private sector on the Committee is Oteng Sebonego. Sebonego is currently Investment Principal at NORSAD Finance and Founder at CabIT Africa an innovative venture. He bring on board, broad experience in assessment of project investments portfolio to ascertain their commercial level readiness. His experience in business enterprise development spans from both a local and regional perspective.

Heading the National Innovation Fund secretariat as Innovation Fund Coordinator is Sithembile Dingake. Dingake is trained in financial management and has worked extensively in the banking industry, development and enterprise finance and in fund management in Botswana and South Africa. Her experience straddles organizations such as Enablis Finance Corporation, Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa and Barclays Bank.     

 
Among the Innovation Fund Committees roles and responsibilities is the approval of the fund guidelines, procedures for operation of the Fund, approval of grant application processes and subsequent applications. The Committee will also be responsible for appointment of special experts, auditors and receiving and approving of reports from audits, programme evaluation reports and reports on grant applications and approvals.

Hon. Dr Madigela said, “The Fund’s grant scheme shall follow an annual plan approved for implementation each year with agreed set targets. The criteria for funding shall take into consideration several factors which include Intellectual Property (IP), sustainability, social impact and scalability among others. He emphasized that the Fund is intended to provide grant funding to deserving projects which promote innovation through technology, product and business development in the private sector.”

Botswana Innovation Hub target sectors are Mining Technologies, Clean Technologies, BioTechnologies, Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Knowledge Intensive Business Services.
Hon. Dr Madigele urged the Committee to, “Hit the ground running to ensure that the first grants are disbursed during the current financial year to give financial support to eligible entrepreneurs in the technology and innovation space.” 

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Business

Pula smiles at COVID-19 vaccine

25th November 2020
COVID-19 vaccine

A squeaky and glittering metaphoric smile was the look reflected from the Pula against the greenback this week and money market researchers lean this on optimism following Monday’s announcement of another Covid-19 vaccine which is said to have boosted emerging market economies.

With other emerging market currencies, the Pula too reacted to optimism and fanfare on the new Covid-19 vaccine against the weakening US dollar which has been losing its shine since the uncertainty laden US elections.

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Business

Choppies high on JSE rollercoaster volatility

25th November 2020
CHOPPIES

After bouncing back into the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) last week Friday, following a year of being in the freezer, the Choppies stock started this week with much fluidity.

Choppies was suspended in both the Botswana Stock Exchange and its secondary listing at the JSE for failure to publish financial results. Choppies suspension on Botswana Stock Exchange was lifted on 27 July 2020. On Friday last week, when suspension was being lifted, Choppies explained that this came into fruition “following extensive engagement with the JSE.”

Choppies stock, prior to suspension, hit a mammoth decline in value of more than 60 percent, especially in September 2018. Waking from a 24 month freezer, last week the Choppies share price was at R0.64 and the stock did not make any movement.

However, Monday was the day when Choppies stock moved vibrantly, albeit volatile. Choppies’ value was on a high volatile mood on Monday, reaching highs of 200 percent. At noon, the same Monday, the Choppies share had reached R1.05. Before taking an uphill movement, Choppies stock slightly slipped by 2 cents. But the Choppies share rode up high and by lunch time the stock had reached the day’s summit of R2.00 and that was at 13:30 when investors were buying the stock for lunch.

The same eventful Monday saw gloom on the faces of Choppies rivals, when Choppies gained by 220.31 percent around lunch time its rivals in the JSE Food & Drug Retailers sector were licking wounds. Spar lost 2.94 percent, Pick Pay fell by 2.43 percent, Shoprite 7.52 percent and Dis-Chem 1.98 percent. The only gainer was Clicks by a paltry 0.51 percent.

In an interview with BusinessPost, Choppies sponsors at the JSE PSG Capital Managing Director Johan Holtzhausen explained that the retailer’s stock was in high demand after a long suspension. He said when a company list or a suspension is lifted the market needs to find itself on the pricing of the share.

“Initially when the suspension was lifted there were more buyers than sellers. As far as we could see this created a shortage of shares so to speak and resulted in the price at which the shares traded going to R1.20 and eventually R2.05 before finding its level around R0.80 sent from a JSE perspective.

This is marked dynamics and reflect that there are investors that are positive about the stock in the long run. This is a snapshot over a short period and one requires a longer period to draw further conclusions,” said Holtzhausen in an interview talking about the Choppies stock.

On Monday this week where the Choppies value grew by 200 percent, the stock took a turn looking down, closing the day at R0.87 from a high of R2.00. According to local stockbroker Motswedi Securities on Monday while there was no movement by Choppies in the local stock exchange as the retailer appeared on the board as 141,000 shares traded at P0.60 each.

However in Choppies’ secondary listing the stock price rallied to over 200 percent during intraday trading on Monday before losing steam and declining to around R0.87 share.

Before press yesterday Choppies opened the market with the stock starting the day at R0.80 then went flat for few hours before taking a slide downward, dropping 5 cents in 30 minutes. Choppies then went flat at R0.75 for 50 minutes yesterday before going up at 10:20 am where it nearly recovered the open day price of 80 cents, but was shy of 1 cent. From 79 cents the price went flat until noon.

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Foschini-Jet merger, a class and rivalry conundrum dissection

25th November 2020
Foschini

Competition and Consumer Authority (CCA) has revealed that in its assessment of the Jet take over by Foschini, there were considerations on possible market rivalry and a clash in targeted classes.

According to a merger decision notice seen by this publication this week, high considerations were made to ensure that Foschini’s takeover of Jet is not anyhow an elimination of rivalry or competition or if the two entities; the targeted and the acquiring enterprise serves the same class of customers or offer the same products, to elude the anti-trust issues or a stretch of monopoly.

The two entities are South African retailers whose services stretched to Botswana shores.  Last month local anti-trust body, CCA, received an acquisition proposal from South African clothing retailer, Foschini, stating their intentions to take-over Jet.

South African government’s Business Rescue Practitioners earlier this year after finding out that Jet’s mother company, Edcon, is falling apart, made a decision that Foschini can buy Jet for R480 million. This means that Foschini will add Jet to its portfolio of 30 retail brands that trade in clothing, footwear, jewellery, sportswear, homeware, cell phones, and technology products from value to upper market segments throughout more than 4085 outlets in 32 countries on five continents.

However the main headache for the CCA decision which was released this week, is distinguishing the targeted and the acquiring entity businesses and services.

When doing a ‘Competitive Analysis and Public Interest’ assessment, CCA is said to have discovered that Foschini is classified as a “standard retailer” which targets middle-to-upper income consumers and it competes with stores such as; Truworths and Woolworths. The targeted entity, Jet, is on the lower league when compared to its acquirer, it serves customers of lower classes and is regarded as a discount/value retailer targeting lower income consumers or a mass market. This makes Jet to be in direct competition with Ackermans, Pepkor, Cash Bazaar and Mr Price.

“Therefore, a narrower view of the market is that Foschini through its stores trading in Botswana is not a close competitor to Jet. Additionally, there exist other major rivals who will continue to exercise competitive constraints on the merged enterprise post-merger,” concluded CCA this month.

The anti-trust body continued to explain that in terms of the Acquisition of a Dominant Position, the analysis shows that the acquisition of the target business by Foschini Botswana will result in an insignificant combined market share in the relevant market.

This made CCA reach to a conclusion that there is no case of an acquisition of a dominant position in the market under consideration or any other market on the account of the proposed transaction.

What supports the merger according to CCA is that it is in compliance with regards to ‘Public Interest Considerations’ because the findings of the assessment revealed that the transaction is as a result of the need for a Business Rescue by the target enterprise. This is so because in the event that the proposed transaction fails, it will translate into the loss of the employment positions at the target business.

“On that note the Authority (CCA) found it necessary to ensure that the proposed merger does not result in any retrenchments or redundancies. In light of this, the assessment revealed the critical need to protect the employees of the merged entity from possible merger specific retrenchments/ redundancies,” said CCA.

Before making a determination that the recently proposed transaction is not likely to result in the prevention or substantial lessening of competition or endanger the continuity of the services offered in the relevant market, CCA said it then moved into a concern for public interest which is a protection enshrined in the Competition Act of 2018.

CCA’s concern was mostly loss of livelihood or employment by 126 Batswana workers at Jet stores, stating that possible retrenchments or redundancies may arise as a result of implementation of the proposed merger.

Much to the desire of trade union or labour movements in Botswana and across Southern Africa where the Jet stores are stemmed-who also raised concerns about the retail’s workers job security- CCA subjects Foschini to keep the target entity 126 workers.

“There shall be no merger specific retrenchments or redundancies that may affect the employees of the merged enterprises. For clarity, merger specific retrenchments or redundancies do not include (the list is not exhaustive): i. voluntary retrenchment and/or voluntary separation arrangements; ii. Voluntary early retirement packages; iii. Unreasonable refusals to be redeployed; iv. Resignations or retirements in the ordinary course of business; v. retrenchments lawfully effected for operational requirements unrelated to the Merger; and vi. Terminations in the ordinary course of business, including but not limited to, dismissals as a result of misconduct or poor performance,” said CCA.

CCA also orders that Foschini informs it about all the details of 126 Jet employees within thirty (30) days of the merger approval date. CCA should also know information of when Foschini is implementing the merger, within 30 days of the approval date.

Other conditions include Foschini sharing a copy of the conditions of approval to all employees of the Jet or their respective representatives within ten (10) days of the approval date.

“Should vacancies arise in the target, the merged enterprise shall consider previous employment at one of the non-transferring Jet stores to be a positive factor to be taken into account in the consideration of offering potential employment,” said CCA.

According to CCA, in cases of any job losses, for the Authority to assess whether the retrenchments or redundancies are merger specific, at least three months before (to the extent that this deadline can be practically achieved and in terms of the prevailing and legally required employment practices) any retrenchments or redundancies are to take place, inform the Authority of:  i. The intended retrenchments; ii. The reasons for the retrenchments; iii. The number and categories of employees affected; iv. The expected date of the retrenchments.

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