SME Fund and gov’s tech partner to invest in three venture capital funds

The SA SME Fund and the government’s Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) announced a first of its kind partnership in the national system of innovation - a public-private partnership to co-invest R350 million across three venture capital funds, the two entities said in a joint statement on Sunday.

The funds are: OneBio Seed Investment Fund, a biotechnology dedicated fund; Savant Venture Fund, a hardware technology incubator and fund manager (in which two deals have already been pre-funded by TIA’s Seed Fund); and the newly established University Technology Fund (UTF), the statement said.

These fund managers would invest in a portfolio of early stage businesses and provide capital, as well as other support, to entrepreneurs to help them commercialise technologies and grow their businesses. The SA SME Fund’s mandate to the three fund managers included a requirement that they invest at least 50 percent of the fund into businesses owned by black entrepreneurs.

The parties signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) at the Innovation Summit in Cape Town on Friday, the statement said.

“We are hugely excited and energised by this partnership to support and invest in innovation, especially in black-owned start-ups and scale-ups in this space. This forms part of our commitment to support government, together with TIA, in stimulating and intensifying technological innovation to improve economic growth, create jobs, and impact on the quality of life of all South Africans,” SA SME Fund CEO Ketso Gordhan said. 

Reaffirming the fund managers’ combined focus on bio-innovation and technology, Gordhan said, “We foresee that the intersection of biology and technology will be a critical component in positioning countries, communities, industries, and people to harness the opportunities of the future and we see these funds as a key to unlocking those opportunities.”

“This new investment partnership is the result of the synergies and commitment that exist between government and the private sector," TIA interim CEO Fuzlin Levy-Hassen said.

"We are aligned in our vision of turning bright young minds into viable and sustainable business founders whose successes will create jobs and drive economic growth. The sophistication and creativity already evident in these businesses should make us proud as a country, and encourage us to further support innovation,” Levy-Hassen said.

The current value of the fund commitments were R83.5 million to the OneBio Seed Investment Fund, R111.5 million to Savant Venture Fund, and an anticipated commitment of R152.5 million into the University Technology Fund (UTF) (for which the SA SME Fund anticipated receiving formal approval by the end of September).

The SA SME Fund and TIA also signed the legal agreements for the OneBio Seed Investment Fund, officially launching the only biotech dedicated investment fund in South Africa.

Michael Fichardt, co-founder of OneBio, said, “We are thrilled to be partnering with the SA SME Fund and TIA in launching this biotech investment fund. The fund will provide investment capital to seed early stage start-up companies. It will help to develop the country’s emerging biotech ecosystem and place South Africa at the front of this new age where we will see engineered biology disrupt many of the globe’s traditional industries.” 

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