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Mobiflock app on its way to making worldwide mark

Date Released: Mon, 3 June 2013 12:59 +0200

One of the handful of South African entrepreneurs vying for a chance to win the Dragon's Den competition was Rhodes University B Journ graduate Vanessa Clark.

She pitched her cellphone safety app to five judges and a packed auditorium of international delegates at the 5th Global Forum on Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship at the East London International Convention Centre. Clark, 38, and her ingenious app called Mobiflock, which is already being used in 160 countries, was shortlisted from 50 invited entrants to one of the Top 20 entrepreneurs in the competition.

The dynamic entrepreneur jumped at the chance to become part of the Dragon's Den competition which she described as far "kinder" than its BBC counterpart. "Last year, I pitched at a competition in Kenya and on the back of that I got invited to this. "It was very exciting to be whittled down to the top 20.

"It is a great validation of the hard work we put in. I have seen some very, very cool ideas presented here that can solve real problems in the world and this was an amazing opportunity for me to present my company. "Having three minutes to present your product forces you to focus. I really enjoyed doing it."

Having graduated from Rhodes in 1996, Clark spent her 20s in London, which at the time was one of the centres of the dotcom boom. "It was very exciting. The mobile industry was exploding and I ended up in the tech industry before moving to PR where I expanded a startup to eight or nine countries all over the world," said Clark.

She now divides her time between her entrepreneurial venture and freelance business writing. Back in South Africa, Clark — whose property developer grandfather has a street in East London named after him — became a co-founder of Mobiflock. It is a mobile app that allows parents to keep their children safe when using their smartphones.

The idea was hatched by one of Clark's two business partners, Capetonian Patrick Lawson, who realised his young children would soon be faced with the cyber dangers all parents fear — sexual predators, bullies, pornography and the ability to spend vast amounts of money on their parents' credit cards.

Clark, together with Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University graduate and computer science boffin Donald Jackson, formed a team and Mobiflock was born. "The three of us had worked together at Clickatell in Cape Town before it moved to Silicon Valley and we complement each other's skills very well."

Having already been featured in Time Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and on the BBC, Mobiflock enables parents to monitor and control what children are using their mobile devices for. "It gives parents control over their children's smartphones and tablets and keeps children protected without spoiling their fun.

It monitors what websites they visit, which apps they are downloading and alerts parents by SMS or e-mail if something dangerous is happening," explained Clark. "We're in app stores and spent a lot on online marketing, but now people are looking for us, and there is a lot of interest from schools globally."

Clark said Mobiflock's success hinged on supporting parents who feel "disempowered" by the rapidly changing world of technology. "When we were growing up there was one phone in the lounge or the passage — it's staggering how things have changed."