Standard Bank making waves with innovation for public benefit

Standard Bank is putting their money where their heart is, with the launch and growth of two “public good” programmes: the Standard Bank Incubator, and Feenix. Head of the Incubator, Jayshree Naidoo, showcased the work of these projects in one of the opening sessions at the Finance Indaba 2017, held on 12 October.

“This might be a finance presentation at the Finance Indaba but today I am not going to be giving you a lot of statistics and numbers. I’m going to take you on a journey of how we’ve used innovation and innovative models to work for two initiatives,” she told the packed venue. “Come into our world and experience what we experience every day.”

The visual-heavy presentation delivered on this promise, featuring videos and testimonies of the entrepreneurs and student beneficiaries, all linked to the presentation theme – Innovative Models to Build a Better Future.

The incubator is now approaching its third year of operation and has helped develop several successful businesses with young local entrepreneurs – including fashion house Burgundy Fly, and coffee shop-in-a-container concept Roast Republic.

This focus on people over function is core to the approach of the incubator, which provides incubation and mentoring services to both independent entrepreneurs and Standard Bank employees. “We know that individuals are more than what they do in their day-to-day jobs,” said Jayshree.

It is an intentional move away from the “stuffy” or “corporate” approach to entrepreneurship so often taken by traditional big banks. This refreshing attitude even extends to the design of the incubator spaces, which are bright and colourful and use moveable furniture to lend themselves to collaboration and co-working. “Designed by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs,” said Jayshree. The main incubator space is in Rosebank, Johannesburg, and has an open-door policy. They’re also piloting an in-branch co-working space on a whole floor of the Hatfield, Pretoria branch. After this proof-of-concept phase, this will be rolled out to other branches across the country.

Promoting market access and unlocking funding are big drivers for the incubator, which hosts demo days and showcases that bring the incubator businesses into direct engagement with the bank’s corporate clients, in addition to the training they provide.

“It’s theory matched with networking,” said Jayshree – all with a view to creating employment. “It’s putting entrepreneurship at the centre of what we do.”

To date, the 50 entrepreneurs who have come through the incubator have created an additional 136 new jobs (over and above the core staff of the incubated company itself). They’ve also helped start-ups access millions in seed and development funding, directly and through competitions. Local employment-focused startup iDWork even took home the top title at the Seedstars World event in Switzerland in 2016, netting themselves a further $500,000 in funding.

Standard Bank’s Feenix programme is the other initiative harnessing innovation for the greater good by crowdfunding to pay tertiary fees for needy students. The platform lets qualified students create a profile for themselves and list their financial needs. Standard Bank then facilitates the donation process directly with the university in question. To date, the fund has raised over R2 million, with almost R600,000 of that coming directly from Standard Bank employees.