South African businesses and startups are aware of the increasing importance of using data effectively, but the demand for data science skills exceeds supply. Explore, a joint initiative launched by The Explore Data Science Academy (EDSA) and Rand Merchant Investments (RMI) fintech division, AlphaCode, aims to plug the gap in the dearth of data science skills and to boost top fintech ideas into viable business models. Twenty candidates have been selected to participate in this 12-month data science and business skills programme sponsored by RMI.
The initiative, described by its creators, as a ‘mini MBA‘ aims to take the candidates’ fintech ideas and turn them into viable business models, while providing their creators with the entrepreneurial skills and business ability to back them. The programme is offered at no cost to the candidates and includes a stipend to cover major living expenses during the year.
Ideas that got candidates selected included a peer-to-peer blockchain-based authentication system for debit orders that protects the interests of all role players including the consumer, respective business and the issuing bank; a medical platform which enables low income individuals to access quality healthcare in the private sector and a mobile payment app that allows parents to pay their children’s school fees while enabling them to save for their eventual tertiary education.
“The calibre of applicants and their ideas was impressive, demonstrating the depth of talent that exists within South Africans of all backgrounds. Data is the new oil and will drive the future of business. Explore aims to produce great fintech entrepreneurs who can provide the necessary momentum to grow our economy,” said Shaun Dippnall, cofounder of the Explore Data Science Academy.
The winning entrepreneurs selected for Explore will go through an intensive six-month data science-training and coaching programme, where they will learn how to design a 10X business (business with exponential growth potential) along with the core digital skills needed to build a fintech organisation. This will be followed by three-months of intense business training, where their fintech ideas will be reviewed, assessed and refined.
“Each participant is matched with a seasoned fintech entrepreneur as a mentor who will assist them with their business pitch,” Dippnall said. “This is so that the entrepreneurs are given access to the best coaching and mentorship available with a view to their idea being accepted into the AlphaCode Incubate programme, which will offer further support.”
Commenting on the quality of those selected for the Explore programme Andile Maseko, Head of Ecosystem Development at AlphaCode says: “Participants are a very impressive mix including self taught developers, an actuarial graduate, a candidate with a masters in science and a junior medical doctor.
“Based on the ideas submitted, the cohort is also very aware of the potential impact of blockchain, data analytics and artificial intelligence and how these technologies can create financial services offerings that will disrupt the industry. The programme will help refine these ideas and we anticipate some will qualify for the AlphaCode Incubate programme, which identifies and supports early stage financial services entrepreneurs with disruptive and scalable business ideas.”