To succeed, innovators with new ideas and start-up companies need passion, commitment and optimism. “Technologies are not made by doubters, cynics or sceptics,” highlighted US venture capitalist Roman Kikta at the recent Innovation Bridge event, in Pretoria. “Technology and innovation and entrepreneurship raises the quality of life not just for local people but also for people around the world,” he pointed out. “There are also transformative innovations coming out of South Africa.
“I believe that we are living in the most exciting period in history,” he affirmed. “Not everything is going to be easy. Not everything is going to happen as we predicted and expected.” But technology is going to continue to transform the world, including rapidly growing Africa. South Africa is well placed to meet the emerging needs of the continent.
“Venture capital has had a colossal effect in the US,” he reported. “Entrepreneurs and their start-ups create jobs. In South Africa, funding innovative start-ups can create a strong economy.”
Innovators needed a dream and needed to sell that dream, he argued. While the details mattered, building a successful business was not, in fact, a logical process. “[I]t’s about selling a dream. Learning to sell a dream takes a lot of practice. . . . It’s a love story. And everyone wants to fall in love. We investors want to be swept off our feet. Customers are no different.”
However, this takes time. “Should you sell the dream or the details? It’s easier to start with the details. It’s much more difficult to sell the dream,” he said. But the most successful innovators, such as Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, sold the dream, not the details. “Convincing someone is infinitely more difficult than captivating them.”
What people want today are products and services that make their lives easier and more productive. They want functionality. “There are four things everyone in technology has to do: simplify, standardise, modularise and integrate,” he asserted. “This is about evolution, not revolution.”
Of fundamental importance in developing a culture of innovation is education. “Nations need to make continuing investments in equal education for boys and girls, men and women.” Education was central to the transformation of South Korea from a war-devastated land in 1953 to one of the most advanced economies in the world today
“I don’t invest in a technology, I don’t invest in a product or service – I invest in people,” stressed Kikta. “I invest in management teams that know how to execute.”