BizSpark opens doors for entrepreneurs

Devin de Vries and Chris King started the innovative transport business WhereIsMyTransport (WIMT) as students at the University of Cape Town.

Devin de Vries and Chris King started the innovative transport business WhereIsMyTransport (WIMT) as students at the University of Cape Town.

Award-winning transport solutions company, WhereIsMyTransport (WIMT) owes much of its success to Microsoft SA’s BizSpark programme thanks to three years’ worth of free software valued at US$ 360 000.

The programme – recently expanded through a partnership between the software giant and government – offers small technology businesses technical support, business training, incubation and acceleration support, access to mentors as well as exposure to a large network of incubators, investors, hosts, advisors and government agencies.

Devin de Vries of WIMT says the support, network and funded hosting services they have received as participants in the programme “have been invaluable and have opened many doors for us”.

He started WIMT with Chris King after King missed a test at UCT due to the Jammie Shuttle service not arriving at its scheduled stop.

Their initial idea to improve student shuttle services was thus born. Their business is two-fold. It aims to make transport information more accessible and readily available to commuters through an SMS-based technology ,while on the other hand providing transport operators with the ability to monitor their fleets, drivers, schedules, dispatch and payroll through real-time satellite tracking.

The business’ services is cleverly illustrated through two characters, Frank the commuter and Bob the operator, on the pair’s website

It was this kind of clever thinking that won the business the Microsoft/British Telecom Innovation Accelerator Award at the Imagine Cup 2008, a Microsoft-sponsored technology competition for the world’s best student programmers to solve real-world problems.

Having gained much from the programme, De Vries outlines the company’s six-year development from a University of Cape Town Information Systems Honours Project to a business that offers public transport operators, authorities and commuters a real-time store of information.

“Since winning the Imagine Cup, we’ve had brilliant support from Microsoft, and the programme began just when we formalised the company,” says De Vries.

“WIMT approached the problem with all stakeholder needs in mind while addressing the overall vision and scalability of the ecosystem.

This allows WIMT to leverage the power of synergistic systems and derive technological benefits not possible in disparate systems,” says De Vries.

Fifteen operators make use of the service throughout Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban, Pretoria, East London and Port Elizabeth.

BizSpark’s expansion is as a result of a joint funding venture between Microsoft SA and the Development Bank of Southern Africa’s (DBSA) Jobs Fund. The Jobs Fund provides funding with the aim of furthering enterprise development, infra-structure investment, support for work seekers and institutional capacity building.

Recently revealing Africa as the technology giant’s second biggest investment after China, Microsoft South Africa managing director, Mteto Nyati, says BizSpark is an extension of the company’s efforts to reduce unemployment and help entrepreneurs create new businesses.

To be eligible for the local BizSpark programme, a start-up must be developing software for less than five years, have an annual turnover of less than R5 million and be privately owned.

Microsoft SA, , , , UCT, WhereIsMyTransport

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