HANNA BARRY: Stellenbosch-based start-up Ikubu was bought by the global GPS navigation company Garmin last week because it liked technology that Ikubu developed for cyclists. We are joined now by Franz Struwig, MD of Ikubu.
Franz welcome and firstly congratulations.
FRANZ STRUWIG: Thank you Hanna.
HANNA BARRY: So let’s talk a bit about exactly what this technology does, what’s your best elevator pitch for this bike radar technology that you have now sold to Garmin?
FRANZ STRUWIG: Well Hanna basically, as a cyclist, everybody is afraid of being hit from behind, so we developed a little micro-radar that you clip onto the back of your bicycle and then it notifies you when cars are coming from behind and it gives you an idea of the speed and distance of the approaching car.
HANNA BARRY: Have you tested this out yourself at all?
FRANZ STRUWIG: Yes we are avid testers of our own technologies and it works really well, but yes, the verdict is out whether it will make a success in the world market.
HANNA BARRY: Absolutely and I think that’s what this buyout by Garmin will certainly test as you say. Let’s take a step back and talk a bit about how Ikubu has got to this point. What is the story of your company?
FRANZ STRUWIG: So when you introduced us you started by saying that this start-up company has been bought by Garmin. Well in fact we started in 2006…
HANNA BARRY: Wow…
FRANZ STRUWIG: So this is an eight-year old start-up where we’ve been self-funded throughout so we’ve had to do a lot of project work to fund our product development, and over time we’ve really just evolved towards just doing computer vision and radar work, so what that really means is that our business is to help people see what they can’t. And so on a deep level we’ve always felt that technology should be used to supercharge human sensory abilities. So we’ve done lots of interesting work.
HANNA BARRY: In terms of the funding that Ikubu secured, I know that Knife Capital which has a program known as the Grindstone Accelerated Program was also part of this journey. How did that come about and how did they fit in?
FRANZ STRUWIG: Yeah, well we moved down to the Cape a couple of years back, settled in Stellenbosch, we call it Semigration and started networking in and getting to know the companies down here and Knife Capital was one of the companies that really gave us a lot of mentorship input. And through their Grindstone Accelerator Program we were really inspired to take the business to the next level. I think they forced us to ask a few difficult questions of ourselves and to make a few key strategic choices in 2014. Yes so I think they are adding a lot to the VC eco-system in the Cape.
HANNA BARRY: Let’s talk about that VC eco-system, Venture capital investing which you could argue is one step up even from angel investing and we often hear that there just isn’t enough investment into entrepreneurs, new business ideas, start-ups tech companies, is of course improving…what for you are some of the major bottlenecks facing South African entrepreneurs at the moment?
FRANZ STRUWIG: Yeah I think you’re spot on. I think funding isn’t easy to come by, but it is becoming better and we’re definitely in the Western Cape seeing a big improvement in angel investors and VCs but probably the biggest issue for small businesses is just there’s a lot of risk and failure is not really accepted in this country. I think we’ve got sort of a very bad culture of not accepting failure or sort of not being willing to take a chance of failing. And then I think also there’s lots of red tape for businesses, it’s not a very investor friendly community or investor friendly environment, which I think makes it tough for anyone to start out.
HANNA BARRY: Are you of the view at least that there are good ideas out there? I also hear that there is the money but we can’t find those good ideas, those tech geniuses…are there good ideas out there to invest in?
FRANZ STRUWIG: In my experience there is a crazy amount of great ideas out there. In the area where I’m based, in Stellenbosch there are a lot of companies really on the cusp of greatness and what I’ve seen with Knife Capital through the Grindstone program is that really just a little bit of mentorship and a little bit of opening doors can help a lot of these companies to take it to the next level and it’s not just about having the great idea, it’s really about having the eco system in place to help these companies convert. So yes, definitely, South Africans in general are very resourceful and we don’t have to stand back for anybody in the world. When we visited the US a couple of times last year and every time it was good to see how good our abilities stack up against what the best in the US can offer.
HANNA BARRY: Wow. That’s fantastic and very encouraging. you mentioned Semigration, this hub developing in the Western Cape in Stellenbosch, in particular there is this Silicon Cape initiative which tries to bring together tech-minded people with investor friendly community and try and create a kind of development hub. Would you say that Stellenbosch is where it’s at?
FRANZ STRUWIG: Well for me definitely, so we’re big Stellenbosch fans. But the whole Cape Town community is really – is very involved across the board. It’s not – they always get people backing their specific spots, but there’s a lot of communication and interaction across the board. When we made our deal public we had an incredible amount of support from the whole Silicon Cape side – everyone in Cape Town but also I think across the country. It’s not all just in the Cape, there is a lot of activity in Pretoria and Joburg and the world is getting smaller so people can connect very easily – hop on a plane or write an email. You know, it’s really about a willingness to share information and network and help other people.
HANNA BARRY: Now that Ikubu has had this buy-in or buy-out from Garmin depending on which way you look at it, what is next for you and the team?
FRANZ STRUWIG: So we are now living in ‘geektopia’ where…
HANNA BARRY: What is geektopia?
FRANZ STRUWIG: So we have Garmin’s resources at our disposal and we are based in Stellenbosch, developing technology that we love. So we are able to innovate and apply our creative juices to interesting problems.
HANNA BARRY: So is Ikubu now essentially becoming a business unit of Garmin?
FRANZ STRUWIG: Yes we are now part of Garmin Southern Africa where Garmin South Africa is more focused on marketing and sales and distribution, we are completely focused on engineering so we’re an R&D office.
HANNA BARRY: And is Garmin looking to put more resources into research and development in this area, in South Africa particularly?
FRANZ STRUWIG: I definitely hope so. I think they see the potential here. They rate the quality of our engineers, so there is definitely a prospect of over time, receiving additional funding from Garmin in this region. Ja I think for us that would be a great way of giving back.
HANNA BARRY: Any hints on what technology you might come up with next?
FRANZ STRUWIG: Unfortunately I cannot go into that space but I can assure you there’s a lot to be excited about. Garmin is a quality company, they are very ambitious with the amount of products they roll out every year. They’ve got an incredible brand and a great manufacturing capability so the only thing holding us back is really our imagination.
HANNA BARRY: There you have it. That was Franz Struwig, the MD of Ikubu recently bought out by global gps navigation company, Garmin. Great things look set to happen in Stellenbosch.