Big problems require tech muscle to resolve at scale

Anyone who visits Riversands Incubation Hub for the first time is blown away by the sheer scale at which the organisation operates. And the fact that we have over 150 businesses based on the campus at any given time, across different industries and stages of maturity, means that there is a huge amount going on, and data to track. Also exciting, is that with proper collection and management of this data, it soon becomes possible to spot trends and identify potential multipliers to business growth.

Any project with social impact at its core needs to have metrics and data to shape decision-making. Without this information, how do you know if you’re making an impact? What should you be doing more of, and sometimes more importantly, what should you be doing less?

The Hub has developed a powerful technology solution to enable our entrepreneurs to get relevant support, targeted at their most immediate opportunities and needs. Called Lynx, the online system connects the SME Development team to the entrepreneurs based on the campus and Hub alumni still receiving services.

Our team offers a range of support services to our entrepreneurs, provides oversight and impact reporting to our sponsors and management team, and positions us to identify the patterns emerging from businesses of different sizes and industries. In the hurly burly of a young business’s life, having data at your fingers is powerful, and we keep extending it.  We are currently co-creating a “monthly mini-strat sessions” with input from Hub entrepreneurs to help provide the vital drumbeat of stepping out of your business to work on it and navigate direction each month.

Beyond our operational data and reporting are the insights of analysis. We have begun building our datamart and data analysis tools to provide that. We keep evolving in terms of reporting and analysis at each level of an individual business, a portfolio or across our whole programme.

For sponsors, Lynx allows us to give them a real-time view into the impact of their funds and how we are applying them. Sponsors can log-in directly for a view of their portfolios while having sight of the businesses’ needs and challenges. At their discretion, sponsors are able to become more deeply involved with the entrepreneurs they’re supporting.

Any sophisticated system relies on a sound IT infrastructure which adheres to the rules of good governance and IT security.

These platforms would not have been possible without contributions from high-level volunteers such as Galina Kroucheva, our current Head: Tech Advisory Council and an extremely productive partnership with the technology superstars at Ironwave. BBD CIO, Tony van der Linden also provided valuable input in the early stages of our datamart design.

The greater the amount of technology a business uses, the more vital it is to maintain empathetic, human relationships – nothing replaces the human touch. Having a strong, committed SME Development team and a designated Service Co-ordinator for each business means that we get to know the entrepreneurs and their businesses on a very deep level. High trust and understanding make it easier for the entrepreneur to provide a true reflection of the issues at play. 

This human touch is balanced and supported by 
Lynx, ensuring the strong relationships don’t equate to emotive decision-making. It’s proving to be a powerful combination.