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Maven Solutions, founded by husband and wife team Bertram Richards and Beverley Knoesen in 2017, was a culmination of 24 years of experience in the ICT Sector. The Maven Solutions team has both witnessed and participated in the evolution of technology from a focus on enterprise-wide planning systems through the dot com era to now, the era of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR), cloud and automation – a data and security hungry era. Matching this evolution has been the parallel development of ICT skills. Today, Maven Solutions is an incubator partner for the Innovator Trust, mentoring beneficiaries to be successful entrepreneurs and grow their business.

While all beneficiaries and their industries are different, Richards says they tend to see the same categories of applicants: mature entrepreneurs who require assistance with business systems and processes (what Richards calls “the boring things that can cause a business to break”), and younger participants, who have great ideas but lack the business acumen to take them out of the concept phase, and who need to convert their processes and business culture to standard ‘best practice’ commerce systems. “And then we see a lot of growth phase companies that have hit glass ceilings and plateaued,” says Richards.

To meet the diverse needs of these applicants, Maven Solutions offers specific programmes, tailored to the growth phase of the beneficiary business. According to Richards, some companies are typically struggling to move beyond the R5 million mark.

“The smaller the business, the more hats the entrepreneur needs to wear. These businesses can get by with one or two people, maybe three, because everybody is wearing multiple hats, so the focus on skills is quite broad” says Richards. “Once they capacitate themselves with staff that are very focused, they’ll start developing an organisational structure.”

Then there are those who have made it to the next level, between R5 million and R10 million, who already have an organisational structure in place and are operating in teams. “For these companies we look at team efficiencies and team dynamics.”

Different industries face different challenges too, which is why the Maven Solutions team has Sector Mentors. “A web and design mentor may guide individuals on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), User Experience (UX) or as basic a guide on how to design a digital strategy for your client, a mentor focusing on Apps may focus on commercialisation strategies and the infrastructure mentor would be talking cabling, towers, safety, costing, Fiber Optic Technician (FOA) certification and Fiber To The X (FTTX).”

As for advice for young entrepreneurs, Richards says that learning to work with a team is key. “We often see that the entrepreneur is the bottleneck, especially when an opportunity comes along and he/she has to juggle everything,” he says. “Business is about teams.”

Additionally, he advises start-ups to understand their market; to understand the geographic region in which they wish to trade in and scale their business expectations accordingly.

Richards encourages more businesses to partner with incubators to give young graduates and entrepreneurs’ exposure to business dynamics in a safe but realistic environment by introducing them to the “commercial world” without breaking their motivation.

“We at the Innovator Trust partner with incubators such as Maven Solutions so that the beneficiaries are mentored and guided by business that have succeeded amidst various challenges and with real life exposure in business, so that a holistic and personable approach is provided to each of our beneficiaries,” concludes Tashline Jooste, CEO of the Innovator Trust.