South African tech start-ups breaking ground locally and abroad

Webinar reveals why Kalon Venture Partners has invested in Sendmarc and Ozow.

At least 95.5 percent of South Africa’s top 500 companies are vulnerable to phishing attacks. That’s according to start-up email security company Sendmarc.

During a webinar on innovation and entrepreneurship in times of crisis, hosted by CFO South Africa and Kalon Venture Partners, Sendmarc co-founder Sacha Matulovich ran a simulation on webinar participants’ email servers. The simulation found that at least 88.7 percent of participants’ servers were vulnerable to email impersonation or phishing attacks.

One of the most significant phishing attacks in the world took place at an Austrian-based aerospace company, where some €40 million was paid to bank accounts in Hong Kong using the company CEO Walter Stephan’s email address as payment authorisations.

Sendmarc, which is one of Kalon’s brightest tech stars, deploys anti-phishing software designed by the world’s largest technology consortium including Google, PayPal and LinkedIn. “We are absolutely standing on the shoulders of giants. The technology is just difficult to deploy, so we have created the software that helps you navigate and enable the policies, and helps you discover how to get through the process,” said Sacha.

Online payment processing solutions and Kalon backed start-up Ozow, said the company began using Sendmarc software after a similar simulation revealed that their company was also vulnerable to phishing attacks. Ozow CEO Thomas Pays not only backed the software, but said it would have been extremely irresponsible to ignore a cyber security warning of this nature.

Ozow prides itself on being able to offer payment options to people who have bank accounts but do not own credit cards. Thomas said their zero-rated payment solutions have empowered and allowed nearly 49 million people to be included in the digital economy. “For us it was about solving a problem. What is the problem? Access to data. So Ozow partnered with every single network to provide zero-rated payment at points of sale.”

Both tech companies have big plans for the future. Sendmarc said it is meeting with global internet group Naspers about creating jobs in the cyber security space by exporting its software globally. “We can service the product from South Africa, using staff and local talent, creating jobs for software engineers,” said Sacha.

Ozow said it wants to take its product into more South African townships as part of its aim to decash the local economy. “We’ve done a lot of solidarity work with the Brian Habana Foundation. We went to the township and we had people coming up to us with Ozow masks saying they used our product and that they could shop online for the first time thanks to our product,” said Thomas.

These start-ups could not have experienced the level of success they have now, if it were not for having the right investment partner. Both these ventures have been funded and guided by the well-practised hand of Kalon Venture Partners CEO Clive Butkow. Clive said that South Africa is not short of digital innovation, but emphasised that the country is extremely constrained in terms of capital. He called on CFOs to invest in emerging technologies. “We have great entrepreneurs, we have fantastic innovation, but what we lack is the capital to marry the innovation and the capital.”