“I believe every business should have a social conscience”, says newly appointed Chief Executive Officer of the Nedbank Stellenbosch University LaunchLab, Joshua Romisher.
LaunchLab is Stellenbosch University’s start-up incubator, founded for university spin-outs and other start-ups from the local entrepreneurial ecosystem. However, Romisher plans to open up LaunchLab to companies across Africa in 2020. No wonder his personal mission is “impact at scale”. Innovus, the innovation division of the University, founded LaunchLab.
Romisher brings with him a decade of experience primarily in Debt Capital Markets at Credit Suisse Securities in New York and San Francisco. He also helped build Braver Stearn, an innovative start-up trading platform, during the 2008 Financial Crisis. His banking career led him to San Francisco where he helped grow a profitable unit of the bank. Trips to Silicon Valley peaked his interest in utilising capitalism to solve critical global issues.
“Silicon Valley is a big melting pot of things you need to start a business. It has an ecosystem of experts and technical resources – a place of innovation.”
Romisher left the bank in 2012 to complete a Master of Science degree in Management at Stanford University where he acquired the skills needed to build businesses that have the potential to positively impact millions of people. He focused on clean energy as he believes environmental impact is the critical challenge of our time. It is also a problem that can be solved by an innovative, private sector. Romisher has spent the last six years launching businesses across ten Sub-Saharan African countries. During this time, he raised more than $250 million from numerous investor’s groups to fund start-ups.
“Most people in Africa will never be connected to the grid. They will go with solar energy from the start. In the same way as most people in Africa never experienced a landline. Instead, their first and only means of communication was a mobile phone.”
Romisher says millions of people in Africa are still relying on kerosene and candles for cooking and light, inhaling toxic smoke daily. He served as Chief Financial Officer of a start-up company that provided distributed solar energy to over 500,000 customers rural, low income customers across six countries. They were mostly farmers. But this was just the start.
“The customer was offered a loan to install solar energy to his or her home. With the loan comes a credit history, so we could also offer the customer a financial product that could help pay for school fees or a funeral and help the person solve his or her liquidity problems,” says Romisher. “Our mission was to provide life-changing services and products.”
For Romisher social and business are one and the same thing. “Good business needs to be social and social companies need to be a business. And it should be for-profit – to be sustainable.”
Romisher believes amidst disruption there is always opportunity. He sees the challenges South Africa faces as opportunities for entrepreneurs to rethink business.
For him, the role of LaunchLab is to set the stage for entrepreneurs to bring their ideas where they can be moulded into a sustainable, life-changing business. “LaunchLab will be a place where entrepreneurs can work with our dedicated team to make creative mistakes. Then fundraising come in to play where investors and entrepreneurs meet. The Lab will also offer critical services to companies such as fundraising and talent sourcing so those entrepreneurs can focus efforts on their product and customer.”
Romisher believes that LaunchLab is the platform which has to provide the vital services and important connections (local and international) needed to create the start-ups of tomorrow. “These companies will solve critical social issues, drive employment and launch the next generation of African leaders,” says Romisher
Romisher chose Stellenbosch as “it is at the nexus of a world class University, excellent blue chip companies, entrepreneurial innovation and a wonderful setting in which to raise a healthy, happy family.” He commented that this is incredibly similar to the six years he spent in San Francisco and specifically Silicon Valley. “That is a place that attracts the best and brightest in the world that want to innovate by day, surf in the afternoon then collaborate in the evening amidst a beautiful setting.” The opportunity as CEO of SU LaunchLab offers him an opportunity to be deep in this community while helping to move it forward.