Catalysing the spirit of innovation

Michael Vacy-Lyle, FNB Business chief executive

Michael Vacy-Lyle, FNB Business chief executive

Innovation is one of those terms often bandied about in boardrooms without a proper appreciation of what is required to truly innovate — to disrupt traditional models and ways of thinking and doing. When it is done correctly, however, the results can be transformative, profitable and impactful.

This is the reason that FNB Business decided to introduce the FNB Business Innovation Awards.

In many respects, this initiative is an extension of our commitment to address modern business and economic challenges. Innovation is a theme that remains central to our business philosophy as we believe it is a key driver of business growth and scalability. 

On the one hand it contributes to our philosophy of creating a better world through high-quality job creation, which is possible through businesses being able to grow and sustain such jobs, which is why scalability was one of the key criteria we were looking for in companies entering the awards.

We view this aspect of entrepreneurship, and recognition through the awards, as an innovative way to create a platform and provide support for high-growth businesses that will contribute significantly to changing South Africa’s economy for the better.

Obviously, we view our own track record in sustainability, growth and innovation as a model that other businesses can follow. We continue to lead the South African banking sector through innovation. This was confirmed by FNB being the first local bank to be named the World’s Most Innovative Bank of the Year at the BAI-Finacle Global Banking Innovation Awards in 2012.

Through the FNB Business Innovation Awards, we challenge established businesses to enter in order to inspire them to think bigger. We were fortunate to have found a partner in Endeavor SA that shares our values and focus on high-impact, innovative business ideas.

Endeavor is renowned globally for the work it has done to recognise and support high-impact entrepreneurs who demonstrate the ability to create companies that matter and grow, and have the highest likelihood to inspire others.

Globally, it supports 1 051 high-impact entrepreneurs from 666 companies in 22 countries, and in little more than a decade it has identified and supported more than 60 high-growth entrepreneurs in South Africa.

One of the most exciting aspects of the FNB Business Innovation Awards is that the winners will be given the opportunity to participate in the coveted three-day Endeavor International Selection Panel (ISP). This brings together high-impact entrepreneurs to have their business evaluated by world-class business leaders and provides them an opportunity to become part of an exclusive global network.

Only 2% of entrepreneurs who enter the selection process are selected, so participation at this level is by no means a guarantee of success — a challenge we are sure our winners will gladly take on.

This selection process is acknowledged as rigorous but also inspiring, as the participants are exposed to insights and business wisdom from world-class panellists. The entrepreneurs are put through their paces for the duration of the event when they have to pitch their businesses to a panel, which then interrogates the entrepreneurs on all aspects of their businesses. The panellists then use the information gleaned from these interviews to identify the best entrants. 

While our own process for evaluating entrants in the awards scheme is not nearly as demanding, we were clear from the outset that we wanted to find entrepreneurs who demonstrate some basic qualities.

Our selection criteria, therefore, was based on finding entrepreneurs whose businesses display:

• Development impact: exhibit high growth potential and the capacity to add substantial economic impact as well as strong potential to create a number of high-value jobs;

• Business Innovation: demonstrate real innovation that has the potential to change the way an industry operates locally and/or internationally; and

• Fit with FNB and Endeavor: be interested in accepting advice and support from FNB and Endeavor as well as contributing to the Endeavor network.

Other factors such as brand and reputation, stakeholder relations and goodwill, environmental sustainability, social responsibility, and quality of governance were also taken into account.

These qualities are difficult to find in start-up organisations, which is why we narrowed entry to established businesses. Start-ups also do not yet have the momentum to support high job numbers. According to research, it takes 751 new micro enterprise, or 37 new SMMEs to create 1 000 jobs. By contrast five SMEs can achieve the same number of jobs. 

To say that this process has been invigorating would be an understatement. We have been overwhelmed by the number and quality of entries and the support provided by Endeavor SA and our panel of judges. We also congratulate and wish the very best success to our finalists, who are:

• Sam Hutchison: co-founder and chief technical officer of Everlytic, a firm that uses advanced software to automate digital communication — from newsletters to invoices — across email, mobile and social channels;

• Petar Soldo and Tim Matthis: co-founders of market research company Genex Holdings. Genex couples traditional research methodologies with contemporary survey technologies to help companies develop products and enter new markets;

• Bruce Morgan: Bruce became the chief executive of GreatSoft CRM in 2014, after providing leadership and mentorship to the managing director from 2000. GreatSoft CRM specialises in the development and implementation of profit improvement systems for high performance firms in Africa;

• Mike Renzon and Trent Rossini: co-founders of InQuba, a company that offers real-time monitoring and management of customer experiences for organisations; 

• Dov Girnum: chief executive and founder of Merchant Capital, a company that provides working capital (in the form of cash advances) to small and medium enterprises;

• Andrew Cook and Andrew Burns: entrepreneurs behind the success of Smoke Customer Care Solutions, a company that enables continuous monitoring of service levels delivered in call centres, retail environments, online as well as every other customer touch point; and

• Stacey Brewer and Ryan Harrison: co-founded Spark Schools, which offers a blended education model by loosening the constraints found in traditional schools.

Michael Vacy-Lyle is FNB Business chief executive