Schalk Burger’s love for socio-economic upliftment and his passion for innovation combined to form Xhuma − a technology start-up focused on solving the last-mile contextual challenges faced by many talented individuals during their educational journey
Schalk Burger CA(SA) can still vividly remember when they started the Xhuma journey and how they kept going from funder to funder, sharing their vision. They kept getting responses along the lines of, ‘we love what you are doing but we do not see the short-term financial potential in it. You cannot be a business and do it in a manner where you benefit society. You need to be one or the other.’
Today, Xhuma has disrupted the talent management industry by connecting top talent with many of Africa’s largest corporate funders and has equipped thousands of scholars to find their true career fit through their revolutionary Artificial Intelligence-driven career guidance ecosystem.
Schalk has featured as one of the CEO of the Year finalists at Africa Tech Week 2020 and the Entrepreneur of the Year Award at Startup School Africa 2020. Xhuma was also recognised on several other fronts, winning AppsAfrica Innovation Week 2020 (Edtech) and being ranked as a global finalist at the Global Edtech Startup Awards (2020).
Tell us more about your career as an investment banker and how it was significant to your career?
My banking journey started straight out of varsity when I was fortunate to join the Investec CA(SA) programme. At that stage I had very limited knowledge of the underlying operations found in banking, but I quickly learned that banks are the facilitators of capital in the business world. For any aspiring entrepreneur it is critical to learn more about banks and to grow a network in the banking world, as they will most likely be one of the most important puzzle pieces in your business growth cycle, either as a provider of debt or a facilitator of equity.
The relationships I built during my time there were phenomenal, and I had the chance to learn about the intricacies of different types of businesses and why some of them worked while others didn’t. And I have to thank so many leaders within the organisation who took a vested interest in my development and mentored me during my time there. I think that’s what added by far the most value to my journey.
You describe yourself as an entrepreneurial CA(SA) with a passion for technology and innovation? Tell us more?
Since my teenage years I had a keen interest in technology and spent a lot of time reading up about the latest technological developments. There were just so many inspirational leaders within the tech space at that time, including the likes of Steve Jobs. After he got on stage to introduce the iPhone in 2007 my interest grew into a habit of learning more about the tech sector. His overarching vision to truly innovate and push the boundaries to make our everyday lives easier through the medium of tech resonated strongly with me. After this, I started finding out more about technology businesses that were truly disrupting the status quo of how business had been done for decades and I was drawn to the ability of tech to help humanity address problems that were previously just too impractical to solve.
That’s where the passion for technology and innovation came from. But my desire to become an entrepreneur arose at a young age after seeing how my dad, an entrepreneur himself, built his business from the ground up − that was truly inspirational to me. It got me hooked and I knew I wanted to be able to walk my own entrepreneurial journey one day.
Tell us more about founding Xhuma and the mission behind it? What are you achieving through it?
Xhuma started off with the dream of building world-class technology to solve real-world practical problems experienced by people in non-first-world countries. At the time, Fees Must Fall had reached its peak and with Xhuma, Sicelo (my co-founder) and I were looking for problems to address. Not only was there immense dissatisfaction with the government-funded opportunities, the corporate ones were all decentralised and the systems and processes that existed weren’t allowing students from rural backgrounds to be given a fair shot during the recruitment process, due to contextual problems. We saw this as an opportunity to centralise the corporate funding opportunities and built a turnkey digital recruitment and screening technology ecosystem to solve the practical issues experienced by the companies in question while offering it in a manner and using technologies that would increase accessibility as far as possible to the students.
We then took it a step further by building an AI-driven career guidance product that allows us to ensure that the talent in our network pursue careers and opportunities that match them and are based on clinical psychometrics. This has helped us revolutionise how we help companies screen and identify deserving previously disadvantaged talent. It has since also evolved into a standalone product to help scholars make more informed subject and career decisions at high school level.
How would you say your CA(SA) qualification has benefited you to get where you are today?
The CA(SA) designation has taught me so many fundamental business concepts on an academic level, but most importantly, the rigorous qualification and training journey helped to nurture a discipline around delayed gratification. The journey is not an easy one and takes several years to end with the designation but it’s worth it as it develops you as a human being. The value of CAs(SA) to society is not confined to our ability to assist the evaluation, execution and advisory of business transactions, but also lies in our ability to use those skills to see and take the necessary action to build businesses that can change our society’s landscape.
What was your experience as a Top 35 finalist? Why would you encourage more CAs(SA) to enter?
The Top 35 experience was phenomenal. Being able to meet like-minded disruptors within the CA profession who all have such unique stories and journeys was the highlight for me. There is so much to learn from all of them and being able to grow your network in that way is a privilege.
Your advice to youngsters out there?
Find what you are passionate about and create a way to live out that passion every day. Do not listen to people constantly telling you something cannot work or that it’s not worthwhile – if you have a vision, make it worthwhile. Furthermore, keep learning from every situation and circumstance and give yourself the space to fail, but develop the resilience to quickly learn and grow from your failures.