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GIBS Festival of Ideas: Ideas to change the world

Staying true to the call, the pitches at this year’s Festival of Ideas responded directly to the issues society is currently grappling with such as climate change, the fourth industrial revolution, education, and the inclusion of the differently-abled.    

Every November, the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Entrepreneurship Development Academy (EDA) in partnership with the SAB Foundation, challenges entrepreneurs with business ideas that address social or environmental problems, to enter the Festival of Ideas for a chance to pitch to a panel of experts and audience for a share of the cash prize.

The Festival of Ideas is an entrepreneurial event celebrated annually in November to mark Global Entrepreneurship Month and aims to connect entrepreneurs, investors, and other players in the ecosystem. 

Aspirant social entrepreneurs are afforded the opportunity to pitch their innovative social or environmental business ideas to a panel of experts and audience; the intention is that winners use the cash prize to actualise their idea.

The overall goal of the Festival of Ideas, however, is not only to provide cash to aspirant entrepreneurs but to stimulate the spirit of social entrepreneurship in South Africa by encouraging people to develop ideas that can generate income while benefiting society and to implement them.

Figures released by Statistics SA in August this year show that the country’s unemployment rate increased to 34.4% in the second quarter of 2021. Taking into account those who have given up looking for employment, the figure rises to a staggering 44.4%. Analysts have long maintained that entrepreneurship is what will boost the country’s ailing economy and create much-needed jobs. However, GIBS EDA Associate Director, Deirdre Steeneveldt, believes a lot can be done if South Africa is to reap the benefits of entrepreneurship. 

“We have high start-up failure rates and inadequate early-stage support for entrepreneurs because the risk of investment at this stage is incredibly high. With economic growth stagnating, there is an urgent need to stimulate an entrepreneurial spirit, and encourage people to pursue entrepreneurship as a means of earning income and driving economic growth. There are multiple business plan competitions and award ceremonies for people with registered organisations. What we need is a celebration of idea generation and for entrepreneurs to take their ideas and implement them. The objective of the competition is to encourage people to take the leap, to present their idea to a panel, for a pot of money that will help them take the next step to make their idea happen. This is one way to build the spirit of entrepreneurship in South Africa,” she said.

Addressing the finalists on-site at the GIBS campus and on Zoom on November 25, Steeneveldt said a total of 220 entries were shortlisted; and from those 50 entrepreneurs were selected to attend a one-day online masterclass that covered topics including design thinking, social entrepreneurship, and its development in South Africa, perfecting your pitch and unique value proposition, and how to pitch for funding. 

Ultimately 12 out of the 50 entrepreneurs who attended the masterclass were chosen to pitch to a panel of judges that included Steeneveldt, SAB Foundation Social Innovation Specialist Itumeleng Dhlamini, CEO of Profitshare Partners Andrew Maren, and Founder and Chairman of Sidingulwazi Holdings, Jabulani Dlamini. 

The finalists were given two minutes each to pitch, after which the judges asked questions to gain clarity on their ideas; for instance, how the finalists intended to monetise their ideas, in particular, the technological applications and platforms for which revenue streams were not immediately apparent.

The pitched ideas were as diverse as they were brilliant; Claybourne Appies of Deaftouch pitched a call centre solution for the deaf; Apiwe Hotele’s Grooming Grads platform assists unemployed graduates to identify their strengths over and above their qualification and thereafter connects them to prospective employers; Joash Govindsamy’s Organic Composter app provides specific knowledge on how to reduce and reuse waste and then generate income from it; TNK Greenhouse Technology’s Given Ngwamba pitched long-burning charcoal briquettes made from agricultural waste.

Former Festival of Ideas winner and panel judge Dlamini was also a guest speaker on the day. He told finalists how winning the pitching competition in 2018 had taken his business to greater heights. “In 2018 when I entered our turnover per month was R15 000, but after winning the competition turnover in January 2019 increased to R125 000 per month. Now in 2021 turnover per month is R250 000 and we have grown from having two employees in 2018 to 11 now,” Dlamini said.

Dlamini runs a waste management company and has attained success converting recycled glass to countertops and cufflinks. He urged prospective winners to plough the prize money into their businesses and encouraged all the finalists to enter the upcoming SAB Foundation Social Innovation Awards, for which he was a finalist in 2019. Dlamini also emerged as one of the top five in the FNB Business Innovation Awards 2020, and African Diaspora Network's Builders of Africa's Future and Innovation Award 2020, which was bestowed in Silicon Valley, United States.     

In the end, only three social entrepreneurs were awarded a share of the R70 000 cash prize. 

  • First place: Tshepiso Malema of Gamers Territory was awarded R35 000. Gamers Territory is a digital gaming facility in Tembisa; a second facility is set to open in Alexandra in December. Malema founded the entertainment business in high school with a laptop he won in a school competition. The CSI arm of the business bridges the digital divide by teaching youngsters in townships computer literacy, coding and robotics.  
  •  Second place: Lwandile Ngendane of storytellAZ was awarded R20 000 for his idea to convert audio and text communication to animated video to ensure 20% of South Africans who are hearing impaired are not left behind.
  • Third place: Pikolomzi Qaba of LMP Stove was awarded R15 000 for his flameless paraffin stove. The heating and cooking device is set to alleviate the problem of informal settlement fires, bringing peace of mind to the 17.7% of South Africans who make up these communities.
Steeneveldt and Dhlamini presented the prizes to the winners. Dhlamini urged the finalists to enter the SAB Foundation Social Innovation Awards when applications open in February 2022. She told finalists she would be expecting their entries because their ideas were excellent. The SAB Foundation offers a continuum of mentorship, coaching, and funding spanning the entrepreneurial journey from start-up to growth and scaling phase, she added.      

Closing the event, emcee and seasoned communicator Alexander Leibner said, “To the winners to put the money to good use, invest in the business and exercise fiscal prudence.” He advised those who did not win not to quit and apply for the SAB Foundation Innovation Awards next year.  

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