Face to Face – Endeavor

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Summit TV speaks to Endeavor managing director Greg Durst about the role the organisation is playing in fostering entrepreneurs and job creation in South Africa

DAVID WILLIAMS: Welcome to Face to Face. We are talking about entrepreneurship, and with me is Greg Durst managing director of the Endeavor organisation that encourages entrepreneurs. Greg, you?ve had a big event in Stellenbosch – a selection panel for a range of entrepreneurs – but before we talk about that event let?s talk about what Endeavor does?

GREG DURST: Endeavor is an entrepreneurship accelerator – we look for very high impact companies and we hope to grow them to make a significant difference both here in South Africa and hopefully worldwide. So we look for companies that have something that?s truly innovative – something that can really put South Africa on the map – and then we use our network of outstanding mentors which we call our “venture core” to help them to accelerate their businesses whether that?s through strategy advice, capital raising, commercial introductions, etcetera.

DAVID WILLIAMS: So are you a venture capitalist?

GREG DURST: In theory yes – we?re a VC without the fund. In fact we?re not a fund because the people who help us wouldn?t help us out if we were for a profit – they help us out because they?re excited about entrepreneurship, and they?re excited that entrepreneurship can really drive a sustainable middle class in emerging markets here in South Africa in particular.

DAVID WILLIAMS: So you?re a facilitator?

GREG DURST: Very much so. We say ?it?s the network, stupid? and that?s the network of senior people from the Paul Harrises of the world to Adrian Gore who is our chairman and David Frankel – people who are very successful in their own right who want to use entrepreneurship to build an economy here in South Africa that will serve more, frankly. They believe that entrepreneurship is the most important way that we can do that here in South Africa.

DAVID WILLIAMS: Let?s talk about this – at the end of November you had this event in Stellenbosch – a selection of finalists who then get quizzed by your panel?

GREG DURST: Correct. We scanned South Africa for high impact companies over the course of the year – we went through basically 100 different companies and narrowed that down through a series of interviews, typically anywhere between four and eight interviews – to narrow the group down to 12 South African companies, and we then put them through another series of interviews with our panellists. Our panellists are a really interesting mix – we had a guy named Brian Swette who is the chairman of Burger King International, we had some very capable VCs from Silicon Valley, plus we had as I mentioned the likes of Adrian Gore, David Frankel and Sheldon Cohen is the chief executive of Amalgamated Appliances. Those kinds of people then put these entrepreneurs through their paces. After the interviews they sit down the following day and debate the merits of those companies – they debate the merits of the entrepreneur, they debate the merits of the company itself and how they fit with Endeavor. The fit with Endeavor is very important because we want to have people in the Endeavor network that are excited about entrepreneurship and want to put themselves on the map – we use these entrepreneurs as role models, and we use them to inspire other entrepreneurs to really take that leap of faith that they?ve got something that?s worth taking a risk on.

DAVID WILLIAMS: What strikes me is a lot of these projects tend to take people with a good idea and give them some money – you?re taking mostly people who?ve already started a business, in other words they?ve proved themselves to some extent but you want to take them to another level?

GREG DURST: Yes, we want them to have a massive impact in terms of job creation and wealth creation – we want to find what we consider the gold standard of entrepreneurs?

DAVID WILLIAMS: A couple of examples of the South African names that are immediately familiar – Taste Holdings is a listed company, Milkworx is another one, Stoned Cherrie which is a clothing company that?s six or seven years old?

GREG DURST: Correct. Those are great examples because they are so well known, but what we?re trying to do with each one of those – even though they?re already listed on the JSE Alternative Exchange (AltX) for example with the exception of Stone Cherry is we want to actually help them grow to substantially bigger than their current revenues.

DAVID WILLIAMS: What do you actually do? In theory you give them some money and you say acquire other businesses? What do you do?

GREG DURST: We don?t actually give them money – we provide them access to financiers, but we don?t give them money per se. We give them assistance with strategy, we give them assistance with coaching and mentoring – we bring MBAs down from the likes of Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Kellogg – that come and work on very specific projects for the companies. We take these entrepreneurs to other Endeavor countries where we expose them to great entrepreneurs to inspire them – also for new business opportunities.

DAVID WILLIAMS: How do you make your money?

GREG DURST: We?re currently funded by our board of directors – over time we?re going to shift that to more funding from the entrepreneurs themselves, but also continue to seek out additional corporate sponsorships. In fact it?s important to note that we?ve secured strategic partnerships with FNB in their commercial bank, and also with Horizon Private Equity which is one of the most successful smaller private equity firms here in South Africa.

DAVID WILLIAMS: It?s a world where failure isn?t necessarily failure – failure can be a badge of having tried, of having learnt and having moved on – but you do need to show successes. How do you measure your successes?

GREG DURST: We measure it in terms of the portfolio growth. I mentioned earlier we?re a kind of venture capital firm – we have a portfolio, and we take a portfolio approach. We want to accelerate the growth of that portfolio between 25% and 35% beyond its current growth trajectory – that?s how we measure whether or not we?re being successful.

DAVID WILLIAMS: What was your route to this?

GREG DURST: I am a banker and management consultant by training, but I ran a software joint venture between Dimension Data and Tata Consultancy Services. On the back of that I became an entrepreneur. That time with Dimension Data and running my own company I got involved with Endeavor as a venture core member – as one of the executives that seek out and nurture the companies we work on. Then about 18 months ago I was asked to take over as managing director – it?s been probably the most fulfilling role I?ve ever had professionally.

DAVID WILLIAMS: Looking at what you do – do people apply or are they noticed?

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Source: BusinessDay (link opens in a new window)