Introducing the ICollective: Our Startup Acceleration Program to Support & Boost Entrepreneurs

Serendipity: That’s how I got in contact with the Innovation City team last November. Three days later I was meeting with Mikha’il Ernest and Lori Hayley Joffe CA(SA) about becoming the Program Manager for their Startup Acceleration Program to support and boost African entrepreneurs that predominantly came from, and support the lives of, those in the Townships.

I had come from Belgium to see if the professional modelling market in Cape Town was for me. I had quit the startup world in Q3 of 2020, but the startup world didn’t quit me it seems! The possibility to not only build a community but also a program that would potentially improve the lives of at least 20+ entrepreneurs with a bit of ambition and affect thousands of lives was simply irresistible.

A meeting with co-founder stephan ekbergh and MD Michelle Kleu sealed the deal! The sky was not the limit but the start 💓

Flying back to Antwerp, Belgium for the holidays I had to dust off the Johnny G. that lived and breathed startups for 7 years but was put to rest for a career as a commercial model. I had never thought about the numbers but I had coached over 70 startups in a 1 on 1 setting, did community management for hundreds, and the 3 cohorts for which I curated and hosted the academy at Belgium’s largest accelerator “Start It @KBC” an NPS of 4.5+ with over 200 startups going through it.

Looking at my dusty LinkedIn profile, it was easy to decide what the core of the Innovation Collective program had to be:

The three pillars of the applied philosophy are:

– Know and understand your customer (direct customer contact & validation techniques)

– Create value and capture that value (meaning building & selling way more important than fundraising )

– Optimise your performance (mindset, health, leadership and data driven decision making).

For Innovation Collective the Innovation City team, now including me 🥳, added another element : A closely knit, actively supporting and value-focused community, driven by the entrepreneurs themselves through habit building and rituals.

That community is then super-charged by a carefully curated pool of Expert Advisors. These Expert Advisors range from serial entrepreneurs to institutional investors. Of course these elements are carried by 10 unique themes of structured content where they will be inspired, educated, and will be building assets/tools to immediately implement into their business.

But for our Launch Day, the orientation event which happened on Monday the 16th of January 2023, we focused on great inspirational talks from both Stephan and Iain Banner, ranging from networking wisdom to empowerment to words of inspiration to keep going when the going gets tough.

After a nice lunch the startups got into the “Academy” room with me to work on their pitches. Normally I would have this be an adrenaline-fuelled experience, but that day was all about getting to know each other and also to challenge each other.

This is core to our strategy: To train and get the entrepreneurs in the habit of openly, respectively and constructively challenge each other’s work. The group loved this exercise so much that we never got to the other two!

We have 10 more weeks for those! 😏

I was already impressed by the energy, determination, and great progress they had made to be allowed into the program but during the closing drinks I discovered also the humans behind the entrepreneurs, and I have to say I’m glad I left Europe for South Africa. As you follow the journey of our startups you will see wonderful things being achieved, I’m sure.

With this program we are boosting 11 South African startups with knowledge, tools, and most importantly, networking opportunities to grow their business.

Situated in the Innovation City hub our program is automatically surrounded by fellow entrepreneurs who support and inspire each other in the challenging rollercoaster called Startup Entrepreneurship!

Like our paying member entrepreneurs in the hub our #ICollective program startups get access to desk-space, many events, and other benefits.

Startups that wish to be part of the next cohort, please follow our newsletter for the announcement. Click here to sign up!

Our Expert Advisors, all great entrepreneurs, will get to share their knowledge and experience with the upcoming entrepreneurs and network with each other. You will be seeing more of them in the coming weeks so make sure to follow our socials for updates.

Corporates, Government, NGOs, etc that wish to support the economical development of the townships via innovative entrepreneurship, please email me [email protected] to see if we can find a way to help each other.

Next week’s theme is Growth – Sales, because sales solve everything!🧨

Looking forward to sharing this journey with all of you,

Johnny G. Mills

Program Manager, Innovation Collective