New business unit assists start-ups

By Jessica Anne Wood

MMI Holdings Limited, an insurance based financial services group, has launched a new business unit, Exponential. This unit focuses on “potentially disruptive innovation opportunities around financial wellness globally and domestically in South Africa,” revealed MMI.

“Entrepreneurship is driving ongoing technological advances and changes in consumer behaviour are making it easier for innovative new business solutions to be brought into the marketplace. Exponential will identify and develop new business models showing the potential to fundamentally disrupt the insurance market space,” explained Jaco Oosthuizen, head of Exponential in the UK.

Jonathan Stewart, managing partner of Africa investments for Exponential, added: “In South Africa, through Exponential, MMI will make a commitment to a fund with a mandate to invest in minority equity stakes in technologically driven early and growth stage start-ups in the general wellness market space, where it is believed that the start-ups concerned have the potential, through their technology and/or unique business models, to scale globally and to disrupt the life insurance industry as we know it. The fund will be managed in partnership with a top SA venture capital investor, which will be announced in due course.”

What does the partnership achieve?

One of the start-ups that received financial assistance from Exponential is TaxTim, an online platform that helps people with their taxes. While TaxTim was already established, it is now at a stage where it is looking to grow. Through Exponential’s investment, TaxTim has been able to locate to permanent premises, as well as expand its team.

Marc Sevitz, director and chief financial officer at TaxTim, noted: “It quickly became apparent how tough building this business was going to be. We are essentially building an offering around helping people with a task they don't want to perform, don't fully understand, which causes stress, anxiety and worry, and one that people generally only want to think about once a year. These are un-ideal conditions. I completely comprehend why it is that death and taxes go together.”

Evan Robinson, director and chief technology officer at TaxTim, added: “The early days are incredibly tough, trying to build traction when you're facing unexpected setbacks, repeated rejection and minimal results, day after day. Psychologically it can be a drain, especially when you are bootstrapping to keep cash in the business and living off minimum wage salaries (sometimes no salary at all) while everyone around you has real jobs earning real salaries.”

Robinson added: “We are incredibly excited about the growth opportunity enabled by Exponential. Their strategic thinking is two steps ahead of most and will prove invaluable as our business heads into a high growth phase this year. In addition to capital, we are also most fortunate to have access to the additional distribution opportunities offered by their existing client base, allowing us to scale faster.”

But what is Exponential?

Exponential is also involved in Enterprise Development and is one of the founding members of Tshimologong, a digital technology hub in Johannesburg’s Braamfontein suburb in partnership with Wits University and other corporates. Tshimologong, which means new beginnings in Sesotho, aims to grow skills, create jobs, encourage the establishment of new businesses and promote the regeneration of Johannesburg’s inner-city area,” explained MMI and Exponential.

There are three areas of focus for Exponential:

  1.        Scaler opportunities: These look at technology-based businesses that will experience impressive growth in revenue and profit when combined with MMI’s assets.
  2.        Optimiser opportunities: Businesses that have the potential to deliver significant savings in expenses for existing MMI business units will be the focus here.
  3.        Venture developer opportunities: Here Exponential is looking to identify and develop “new and disruptive ventures that reach new markets, meet new needs, leverage new business models and show the potential to fundamentally disrupt the insurance market space as we know it over slightly longer time horizons,” explained the website.

The business has partnered with Anthemis Group, a UK based venture investment and advisory firm, to help with the process of identifying and investing in innovative tech-driven start-up companies.

Exponential looks forward to uncovering and supporting those start-ups and initiatives that have the potential to be scaled up not only in the local SA market but also in other African countries where MMI operates. Together with our investment partners, we shall work closely with entrepreneurs to create maximum value, sustainability and thriving businesses that drive the creation of a portfolio of options, some of which we hope may turn out to be the dominant financial wellness players of the future,” stated Stewart.

The focus is on technology-based businesses that, when combined with MMI’s assets, shows the potential for impressive growth in revenue and profit. “It will also look for optimiser opportunities where technology-based businesses have the potential to deliver significant efficiencies for MMI’s existing business.”


For more information on Exponential, click here.

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