Candice Shunmoogam

Virtual FO

What does your company do?

Today Virtual FO operates as a Financial Strategy Consultant to SMEs that creates Access to Finance by getting them “Funding Ready”. The decision to start as a consulting service stems from a lack of capital and developer experience, but more importantly, an opportunity to understand the market for funding readiness amongst SMEs. The vision has always been to create a Financial EduTech platform that will solve the same need but could scale beyond consulting. In this manner, the platform can reach more individuals facing unemployment and that want to start or grow their businesses. The Department of Small Business Development has emphasized the need to solve for Access to Finance for SMEs, highlighting that it is primarily due to the lack of accessibility to and knowledge about the various funding options available to the small business community, further exasperated by a lack of funding readiness. Our App will create Access to Finance for SMES by bridging the funding readiness gap between them and Funders who indicate that the reason why SMEs fail to access finance in South Africa “is primarily due to the lack of accessibility to and knowledge about the various funding options available to the small business community, as well as a lack of funding readiness.” While there is an abundance of financing available in South Africa to SMEs, about 94% of SMEs cannot access financing and 80% of businesses fail due to poor financial management habits. This has been a consequence of poor financial literacy levels. There are about 5.4 million SMEs in South Africa, of which 1.8 million are Micro Enterprises. At 94%, the overwhelming majority of SMEs do not have access to the key resource it needs to grow – Funding. This means that our economy is unable to expand and grow competitively as the ecosystem depends on SMEs to grow and mature over time to facilitate innovation, competitiveness, productivity and employment. Furthermore, Women, Youth and Disabled persons still represent the larger demographic of unemployed individuals in South Africa - many of whom are now opting to start their own businesses to sustain themselves. With the lack of business survival and growth in our economy, it threatens the future of our economy. This will be further amplified by the rise of AI and the displacement of jobs foreseen as many more South Africans will need to consider self-employment or to start businesses to earn a living. This will put a great strain on our economy if there is a significant amount of failed ventures depending on Grant funding that never sees its value recycled in our economy through business tax collection once successful. We believe that this will have an impact beyond South Africa and assist economies across Africa to become competitive in the new digital age. We are currently applying to programs to get the much needed support to transition from a consultancy based business, to the desired Financial EdTech Platform business.

What is your biggest success?

Prior to establishing Virtual FO, she was the first Cape-coloured female to occupy a Corporate & Investment Banking role at J.P. Morgan South Africa. This saw her raising more than R100 billion in debt capital and bringing the latest Cash management technologies and solutions to the largest corporates and state-owned entities across Africa. With a profession focused on relationship, risk management & cash management, her career spanned nearly five years, covering multiple industries - earning her a seat at the table with Africa’s most respected businesses. In 2023, just prior to her departure, her team won the Adam Smith Award for Best-in-Class Treasury Solution in Africa. She has also served as a Public Speaker & Financial Industry mentor in South Africa and the UK. Through establishing Virtual FO and the carrying forth its mission to empower small businesses across Africa, she has been proactive in meeting with stakeholders that help stimulate business ecosystems in the Western Cape. In doing so, Candice was approached to consider an appointment to serve as the Chairperson for the South Peninsula of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry. In November 2023 the appointment was made official by the board of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry, making Candice the youngest appointment to leadership at age 28. In this capacity, she is responsible for mobilising all key stakeholders (including government, large corporates and SMMEs) of the business ecosystem in the South Peninsula region to create a better business environment - stimulating the Western Cape economy.

What has been your biggest hurdle?

Today Virtual FO operates at a Financial Strategy Consultant to SMEs with clientele still ramping up. The main challenges faced by the business are that SMEs are not aware that such intermediary services exist and if they are aware, SMEs are not always prepared to pay the consulting fees given the state and size of their venture and the belief that they should “DIY” the process as much as they can. The business also does not have much capital to invest at this stage so growth is being done through organic measures such as attending networking events and using social media marketing. The intent behind starting as a consultancy was to understand the market and the specific needs that SMEs have. There are a few things that has been extremely valuable to learn: - While SMEs desperately need the service, they are not always prepared to pay consulting rates and it was through this experience that validated the need for an application based EduTech platform. - Trusting financial consultants at an SME level is really broken down. Often times, SMEs pursue Virtual FO to assist them but do not pull the trigger in fears of paying too much for a service that may not materialise. For this reason, the platform will provide the necessary information to the SME in a manner that they feel that they can control and trust. This will be further reinforced by the collaboration with government stakeholders and funders as established players in the market that support them. - The business also engaged with funders as a partner in the value chain and recognized that they also had a need for funding ready SMEs which were far and few in the market – this further validated the idea and need to bridge the gap between funders and SMEs with funding readiness. Beyond these challenges, the business is also still actively seeking assistance to get the development of the platform underway. This has been challenging to navigate given the lack of technical expertise from a developer/coding perspective and we are dependent on guidance from external sources to navigate the process. Nonetheless, we remain proactive in our efforts to bring this platform to life as we know the impact it will have on our economies.