Viarnaud is currently CEO of tech company Methys Group, a cluster of highly innovative organisations accelerating the innovation efforts of clients across the globe. But he’s also a man who wears many hats, volunteering as co-ordinator of the French Tech community hubs, (one based in Cape Town, the other in Johannesburg) and founding the French South Africa Tech Labs (FSAT Labs) based in Century City. This is a public-private partnership with the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) aimed at incubating early-stage, high growth entrepreneurs for the betterment of Africa. So far, says Viarnaud, FSAT Labs has helped 40 start-ups, (many of whom are UCT alumni from the engineering or business faculty) to grow their businesses, while nurturing ongoing relationships between the French and South African technology ecosystems.
Not content to rest on those mighty laurels, Viarnaud is also founder and CEO of AfricaArena, and it’s here where his vision for growth on the continent is made powerfully tangible. Every year, this African tech accelerator runs what they describe as Corporate Open Innovation challenges in North, South, East and West Africa. At these regional events, the premier tech start-ups in each region are invited to pitch to corporations and investors. These act as a semi-final selection events, culminating in about 25 start-ups being invited to the Grand Summit, which will be held this year in Cape Town in December, in person.
“Through these open innovation challenges, in partnership with corporations, we aim to foster co-investment and collaboration that can move the economies and people of the continent forward,” says Viarnaud.
So where and how did it all begin for Viarnaud in South Africa? He arrived in Cape Town in 2004 through a management buyout of his company, and by 2007 at the age of 35, became CEO. Deciding that a mid-career reset and upskilling was necessary, Viarnaud was aware that the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB) was one of three Triple-crown accredited business schools in Africa, benchmarked with the best in the world. What he wasn’t prepared for was the truly transformational experience it offered him.
“I can only speak for the Executive MBA (EMBA), and back in 2009 it was under the leadership of Prof Tom Ryan. Ryan co-designed this pioneering course and was an incredible leader, teacher and mentor. Studying and learning under him in the EMBA transformed my ethos, my management practice and even personal life.”
Just before the collapse of the Lehmann brothers and 2008 financial crisis, Viarnaud decided to leave his company, in no small part because of the skills and confidence imbued in him from the EMBA. As the time-honoured legend goes in the tech world, he started his new venture, literally out of his garage.
“I’m deeply grateful towards to UCT GSB for giving me the tools to launch what I consider Version 2.0 of my career. It was a rebirth from a professional perspective, completely changing the way I did things - exposing me to ground-breaking new theories but also giving me the capacity to practically implement these new teachings.”
Viarnaud says he has sent many colleagues to this programme and reports that they have all benefitted hugely from the EMBA.
“My fellow students became friends and then later some became business partners. To this day, I consider it one of the finest educational experiences of my life - a very original programme with a real human-centric focus.