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How technology can boost small business growth


Technology can boost small business growth if owners use it in the right way. Recent years saw the growth of artificial intelligence (AI) and tech-driven tools geared towards improving operational efficiencies and key metrics such as profitability.

In this environment, where so many options are available, small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs have the tough choice to select the very best technologies for their specific needs and objectives. To get this right, they will need to lean on the principles of doing good business.

One of these principles involves asking the question: How will this technology enable the delivery of my strategic initiatives?

“The decision about which technologies to invest in and the right kind of capabilities for your business, must take its lead from which tools will drive the best commercial benefit downstream,” Paul Nel, Innovation Studio Lead at LevelUp, an initiative aimed at empowering entrepreneurs to grow their start-ups, says. LevelUp is supported by consumer credit provider RCS.

This was one of the insights Nel took from this year’s Africa Tech Week conference where over 350 in-person attendees watched over 60 speakers and panellists present their opinions on what the technology ecosystem has to offer African businesses.

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Technology not an end in itself

For Nel, the use of technology in business is not an end in and of itself but rather an enabler of that business’ unique objectives. To futureproof a business, entrepreneurs must perfect the basics and answer pivotal questions such as: Who is my customer? How does my business service my target audience’s needs? Which channels can enable the best customer experience? How will I build and nurture the relationships that will drive growth?

The answers to these questions will define a business’ value proposition, a core component that Nel believes is central to achieving success in business.

“Futureproofing a business should not involve chasing after the latest technological developments but rather focus on how to create and deliver value consistently and as circumstances change. Once entrepreneurs decide how they will do this, they will have a clearer perspective on which resources to invest in and which partnerships to form,” he says.

For many local entrepreneurs who were called upon to adapt to challenges such as the ongoing energy crisis, the answer to surviving and thriving lies in defining and redefining their business models.

Nel says he was particularly impressed by the ways start-ups and other business owners at Africa Tech Week use technology to diversify their product and service offerings and expand on their traditional business models.

“This year’s Africa Tech Week conference showcased many examples of how companies are taking their core expertise and find ways to reshape their business models according to the changing state of the market and the prevailing trends.

“To do this, many entrepreneurs lean on the now more accessible means of research and development and investing in innovative solutions. Together, these are empowering business owners to challenge themselves to improve and grow.”

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Fintech for the win

This has been nowhere more apparent that in the realm of fintech. The past few years saw a flurry of Fintech innovators entering the South African market. Nel says he saw many of these emerging businesses executing on one of the most fundamental functions of entrepreneurship: providing a solution to a problem.

Nel attended this year’s conference along with a group of delegates, selected from the group of businesses that are part of the LevelUp initiative. Founded by RCS in collaboration with the TSIBA Ignition Academy (TIA), LevelUp takes on a group of entrepreneurs who get free training, mentorship and exposure to a network of local small businesses and suppliers.

One of LevelUp’s community members, which is a prime example of South African Fintech in action, is Paymenow, a market-leading earned wage access platform. Paymenow makes it possible for wage-earners to access a portion of their monthly salary on demand.

Nel says platforms like these provide much-needed relief for cash-strapped consumers and form part of the broader solution to South African challenges, like the need for financial inclusion.

Another LevelUp alumni, Rentoza, started a platform that makes it possible for consumers to rent electronic equipment and appliances using a subscription service. Nel says this is another example of tech-enabled problem-solving and a clear example of the interplay between digital capability and the physical goods market.

“Here, the wider problem involves the need to provide more consumers with access to goods and devices that can add real value to their lives.”

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More small businesses use technology

More up-and-coming businesses are leveraging the power of technology to solve challenges in multiple sectors, such as Efficacy Payments and Ubiquity AI, which form part of the current Level Up group.

Efficacy Payments aims to drive the electronification of payments and displace cash in formal and informal retail environments, while Ubiquity AI uses artificial intelligence, national language processing, process automation and blockchain registry to help financial service providers manage consumer credit.

“All of these businesses are fine examples of the innovation that can be found on the continent. By using technology as an enabler, these start-ups can bring new levels of efficiency to service provision and develop products based on robust data. Even in the face of many systemic challenges, South African entrepreneurs continue to prove that they are resilient and have what it takes to complete in the global arena.”

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