The first recipient of the Mandela Bay Entrepreneur Fellowship – provided by non-profit company Happimo and underwritten by successful South African businessman and serial entrepreneur Alan Knott-Craig Jr – will be announced on May 3.
Knott-Craig, an NMMU Chartered Accountancy alumnus, with a passion for computer science, launched the fellowship to incentivise computer sciences and ICT students to complete their masters or PhD degrees – and then launch their own businesses.
The winner will receive R100 000 to be used for their start-up venture. The fellowship will be awarded to 10 winners over 10 years.
“I believe we need more postgrads in computer science, and that these individuals should start businesses rather than get jobs,” said Knott-Craig, the founder of Project Isizwe and chairman of Hero Telecoms.
The fellowship is only available to masters and PhD graduates from NMMU’s Department of Computing Sciences and School of ICT, who commit to joining or launching a start-up initiative.
Knott-Craig said the money could be used either to invest in the start-up or to pay off study debt. “What they do with the money is up to them, as long as they commit at least 12 months to a start-up … Most entrepreneurs just need 12 months’ breathing room so they can get on their feet and pay the bills. Hopefully the fellowship helps with this.”
Knott-Craig’s links to NMMU are both personal and strategic. Although he studied Chartered Accountancy, he completed two years of computer science as voluntary courses at NMMU.
“It’s my alma mater, but more importantly it has the most diverse postgrad student body of any computer science department in the country … The future of technology entrepreneurship in Africa can’t be white and male. We need more black and female tech entrepreneurs. I believe NMMU can produce them.”
The fellowship is managed by NMMU and Happimo, a non-profit company that focuses on promoting entrepreneurship and implementing software that helps government departments solve technology-related problems in education, housing and security. Neither organisation will have any financial stake in the venture at a later stage, irrespective of its success.
Happimo CEO Craig Rivett said: “We are proud to be able to work with NMMU to support entrepreneurs using their skills and knowledge in computer science to solve problems, create jobs and grow the South African economy.”
NMMU Computing Sciences Professor Jean Greyling says the South African economy is in need of more masters and doctoral ICT graduates. “Combining this drive with a focus on entrepreneurship is a win-win combination which we fully support.”
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