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The Business of Creativity: Whoosh Innovations

Handling large amounts of money comes with many concerns for businesses. As we become more of a cashless society, payment gateway Whoosh offers local solutions that ensure businesses are at ease with digitisation
Fri, May 07, 2021

This is the fourth in The Business of Creativity, a tagged! series profiling beneficiaries of the 2021 MultiChoice Innovation Fund (MIF). The MIF is sponsoring eight media, tech and innovation companies which are led by young people and more than 50% are women-owned.

Supporting your friend's hustle isn't a new phenomenon.

Most of us (well, those who are good friends) cross bridges and oceans to make sure we honour our invites to friends' events. In many cases, the reward of being a good friend has always been a massive hangover or a "thank you for your support" message.

But, for Lebeko Mphelo attending a friend's event in 2013 was an eye opener and the beginning of his journey as an innovator in the Payment Card Industry. "We were at a friend's mobile event, in a remote area, and in order to buy booze, we needed to pay cash," Mphelo says. "We had to drive 40 minutes just to withdraw cash."

Mphelo says having to drive all the way out to make payment was a tedious exercise, but the good friend in him went ahead and withdrew the money. But he says he needed to understand why his friend didn't have a card reader or some form of mobile payment system. "I promised him that I would look into it, research and find out more."

From there, Mphelo conducted extensive research on mobile payment systems. He says as he dug deeper, he realised Europe already had wide use of mobile card readers. "There was a need for mobile card readers in South Africa at the time," he says.

In 2014, Mphelo launched Whoosh Innovations but for a while, the company struggled with funding, some compliance and regulations. Mphelo says by the time they had raised enough funds and had gotten regulatory approval, and were ready to come into the market, companies like ZipZap and Yoco had already emerged. "We had to go back to the drawing board," Mphelo says.

After many iterations of the business model, Whoosh became a payment gateway. Payment gateways are used by merchants to accept debit or credit card purchases from customers. They are similar to bridges or third-party facilitators – for the consumer to be able to buy items online, they need a payment gateway to facilitate the money to the business they are buying from.

Whoosh is hoping to be at the forefront of South Africa's Fourth Industrial Revolution, and the digitalisation of many business. "At the centre of any Fourth Industrial Revolution solution, there's payments. People are going to need to transact."

The innovator of Whoosh says many of the already existing clients are businesses that were intimidated by going digital and online.

"We want to put businesses at ease when it comes to the payment side of their online business," Mphelo says. The company hopes to grow its payment solution advisory side of the business and become a leading technology solutions and investment company in Africa's payments systems.

Whoosh is one of the beneficiaries of the MultiChoice Innovation Fund. Mphelo says the fund is not just about the money for him and the team. "The fund has enabled us to think beyond survival, but to also think about growth and strategies," he says.

He says there are other opportunities that come with being part of the fund. "There are also plans for MultiChoice and some of their partners to use our company as a payment gateway… and that is a great example of how enterprise development in South Africa should work."

He says many enterprise development programmes and funds inject money into small business and let you go. "But the MultiChoice Fund is just different."

The Whoosh team is led by Mphelo, who is currently the chief executive officer and head of product development and his business partner, Thabang Wessie who is the company's chief operations officer and head of business development.

It employs 15 people, including developers, designers, account managers and commercial specialists.