Connecting the Dots: From the Big Apple to the Tip of Africa

By Joshua Romisher, CFA

 

It’s been a wild ride. Surviving the front lines of the financial crisis, starting six companies in everything from rural solar to frozen yogurt, reaching millions with life-changing products. Steve Jobs wisely said, “you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”

 

The ‘dot connector’ for me has been my mission of creating impact at scale. At 27, I left Credit Suisse to help start a boutique investment bank in New York City. It was an incredibly lucrative endeavour – within one month I made more money than the rest of my career combined. However, success was ugly. Working 100+ hour weeks, entertaining every night and toeing the line of good business behaviour. That experience forced me to define my own ethics and values. It was cliché but simple – what do I want on my tombstone? Impact at Scale.

 

Thus began the adventure. Making the leap from Banking to Social Entrepreneurship was not easy— but it is possible. For anyone considering a similar pivot: set a goal, seek mentors, let the journey take you and persevere. You can make it happen.

 

More than a decade later, I find myself at Stellenbosch University’s LaunchLab Incubator. How does this opportunity continue connecting the dots in this nontraditional career journey? 

 

Firstly, I love Universities. Successful entrepreneurs must be irrationally optimistic. You must believe that anything and everything is possible and that you have the power to make it happen. I know no place with more unabashed optimism than a University campus. Layer on the incredible history and results of Stellenbosch University and you have the ingredients for transformational success. This town, University, and enclave within South Africa is already an innovation hotbed (TechnoPark), Intellectual Property (see here) and exceptional leaders (Johann Rupert, Michael Jordaan). LaunchLab will stand on the shoulders of giants to move the entire African entrepreneurial ecosystem forward. 

 

Secondly, LaunchLab has the opportunity to transform society’s biggest social challenges into its greatest opportunities. My efforts at ZOLA and Fenix International delivered clean energy and financial services to millions – but LaunchLab can do even more. Impact at scale means providing numerous Pan-African entrepreneurs with the lessons, mentors, and resources they need to change the world. We will be the Co-Founder that every start-up so desperately needs, thereby helping to build the next generation of social, for-profit companies with global impact.

 

Lastly, LaunchLab is able to do what others cannot or will not do. The current startup model is dependent on traditional Venture Capital funding founded on the capital efficiency of software companies. Software may be eating the world but it’s not the cure-all for a healthy society & economy. Climate Action, Agri Solutions, Biomedical devices, Deep Tech – they don’t meet the VC funding model but have the power to change the world on a massive scale. Therefore, we must create an alternate model. University collaborations, alumni donations, partnerships with corporate sponsors, innovative finance – LaunchLab will leverage whatever it takes to ensure that these life-changing technologies find their way out of the laboratory and into the world at large. 

 

There is no better platform than the Stellenbosch University LaunchLab to create impact at scale. That is why I am here and why I will work tirelessly to continue building on the success of Africa’s top University Incubator. The biggest question now is: when will you join us?