Dear corporate giant: Use startups to kickstart your innovation

Corporates could reap enormous benefit from the startup sector if they tapped into the talent and energy available to them, says Barry Botha, founder of HydraCorp

A tech holding company with IT assets in the US, UK and SA, HydraCorp is a de-risked and distributed portfolio of African startups, that prepares these businesses for international exit by providing long-term, high-touch support.

It currently boasts two startups that are post-revenue, namely TooMuchWifiand Passmarked Inc.

Passmarked Inc is making waves for being the first global web tool to offer a simple, accessible, and single test for developers and site owners to determine how well a website works in terms of security, performance, SEO, and compatibility across devices.

Barry met delegates of the Creative Leadership Collective (CLC) Lean Innovation Safari on a chilly Monday morning, the second day of the Safari, to unpack his extensive experience in the startup space, revealing some key insights into the local ecosystem and urging corporates to wake up to the possibilities of collaboration between the two sectors.

In the industry for almost 20 years, Barry slaked his teeth on startups from the late 1990s and building digitalpro, now rebranded as iO Digital.

His latest offering Passmarked was created with iO lead developer Johann du Toit, the first official Google Development Expert from Africa.

The world’s first community-driven website quality score, Barry hopes that Passmarked will help the www community ‘fix the internet’, using real-time internet best practices and standards. And well-placed sources are seeing the potential for this.

Passmarked was recently named one of the Top 100 Most Innovative Companies in the World by Fast Company magazine and was given a five-star rating on ProductHunt.com when it was flagged as Product of the Day (devs will understand the nod of product viability and reach in this).

With his extensive real-world business acumen – from bare-bones software development to managing teams of software specialists and leading businesses to market – Barry’s take on startup and corporate collaboration is positive and keen.

Startups should be seen as providing the de-risked product-development environment for corporates, he told delegates. It’s a joint venture approach that maximises the best of both worlds: start-up energy and innovation, with corporate money and market reach.

‘When the JV product reaches a point that it shows market fit and it can go further, that’s when the marriage ends. Either the corporate decides to buy it outright or they leave it and the startup builder either takes it further or drops it,’ says Barry.

Big business should start taking these options seriously.

‘Corporates know that they have to innovate, because they’re going to be disrupted at some stage. This gives them the way to do it without risking their own structures.’

Insider tip: Learn from Lego and innovate within the right constraints. Using only ‘the blocks in your box’, you can innovate and build something that will solve your particular problem.


We’d like to thank Barry and his team for taking the time to host one of the events on the CLC’s Lean Innovation Safari. The Safari was held 22–24 April 2018 and provided delegates the opportunity to explore the innovation ecosystem in Cape Town.

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