Entrepreneur In Residence To Partner: Exploring The Journey

Savant is a high technology business incubator and Venture Capital Fund. Our incubation track record dates back to 2004, when the team started working with the likes of Snuza and Leatt Corp.

Savant’s VC journey was accelerated in 2019  with the launch of our first fund. Since then the group has grown, all while maintaining a nimble, flat team structure. Our ethos has always been to learn from our new recruits, as they learn from us. Maintaining a flat structure enabled us to weave new employees into the group in mutually beneficial ways, and implement our new learnings into our operations fairly quickly.

As Savant is now recruiting for new talent to join as Entrepreneurs in Residence, we felt that the time was right to ask our newest Partner, Thaheer Mullins – who was once an Entrepreneur in Residence himself, to share his insights on his journey as an Entrepreneur in Residence at Savant.

Thaheer started working at Savant in 2017. We sat down to chat with him:

Why did you first join Savant?

Coming fresh out of a full-time MBA, I wanted to find a place where I could really put my bolstered skillset into use. Savant was at the UCT GSB career day, and I was intrigued when I saw that they had some high technology collateral at the stand. They were just a ‘bit different’ from all the other employers.

I was most excited when I saw that working at Savant would give me the opportunity to work with early-stage entrepreneurs and use my skillset to help them progress. There’s usually a gap between what you learn and what you do, but early-stage businesses often require assistance in all aspects. It just made sense to get this experience.

Was the journey from EIR intern to Partner easy?

My journey from EIR to Partner has taken 6 years. It has been a long but rewarding process.  To be honest, I didn’t join the organisation to embed myself in the venture fund. I joined so that I would be able to get my hands dirty all while learning how things really tick. I had to graft pretty hard alongside the entrepreneurs to help raise funding and then get them to market. Entrepreneurship is a land of absolute uncertainty, until that moment when a company makes its first sale. And even then, the first sale doesn’t guarantee a sustainable or high growth business.

During my third year at Savant, the team raised their first fund. In 2021 I was able to move into the fund. I spent four years in the incubator, progressing from EIR intern to Commercialisation Manager. Using the knowledge and experience that I had accumulated, I then joined the venture fund team as a senior associate. From there, it was an uphill battle to prove my worth. It means a lot for someone to make space for you at the table. It’s a decision that you’ve got to justify and fight for – and having been through the process it has given me even more respect for my fellow partners; Francois, Kate and Nick.

When did you decide that you would stay for an extended period?

When I started, my only plan was to not leave until I had completed a reasonable number of decent-sized projects. After completing a few technical and commercial projects with start-ups, I found myself taking a lead position in fundraising for them. What made the experience all the better was that senior members in the team supported my efforts and never questioned my ability. That’s roundabout when I started realising that I’d be hard pressed to find similar growth opportunities elsewhere. The unpredictability of a growing organisation such as Savant became quite alluring.

What made the experience all the better was that senior members in the team supported my efforts and never questioned my ability. That’s roundabout when I started realising that I’d be hard pressed to find such amazing growth opportunities elsewhere.

When there is a disagreement between two of your partners about whether or not to invest in a company. How do you handle it?

This is an interesting point. We’re pretty rational about our decisions. We try to avoid ‘group thinking’, so that there is always a devil’s advocate. We find ourselves adopting that role when it’s absent. When someone plays devil’s advocate, they tend to seek out holes to poke in your thesis. The only way to defend against that is sound logic and cold, hard facts. This creates a tug of war in opinion, creating a more robust pathway to getting everyone over the line.

What has changed now that you are a Partner?

Truth be told, I’m still doing what I was doing as an associate. The team is really small and everyone across the organisation remains accessible. Sourcing, analysing, structuring and executing is still a big part of my day.

I believe this is the same for most resources across the organisation. Everybody gets involved in the full lifecycle – on either the dealmaking or incubation support part of the organisation, either by leading or supporting a lead. I’d say the key difference for me as a partner is that I’m now 100% vested in every decision we make.


How has the EIR role changed over time and can new recruits expect a similar journey?

The role has changed, but it also hasn’t. When I started, the portfolio of start-ups we managed was smaller. We also didn’t have the Sibanye Stillwater iXS programme, TIA seed fund grant or a venture fund.

In the past, we would pretty much build out robust investment and business cases and help the entrepreneurs chase revenue and investment. Having these additional opportunities in place means we have more human resources, but also more opportunities to fund and help companies get access to market. New recruits still have to sweat, but we now have some opportunities closer to home that can help accelerate the process. There’s also a lot more opportunity to do more with the multiple entities and programmes in play.

What advice do you have for those looking to join Savant?

Be honest and be prepared to work hard. There’s a lot to learn for both parties. We try to be adept to a changing environment, so having an entrepreneurial mindset is great. Above all else, we like working with people, from start-ups to investors to colleagues. If you meet the criteria and you’re a great human being, we’d be honoured to have you.

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