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Winning in order to give back – GIBS EDA celebrates Festival of Ideas

Everyone can draw. Having said that, while most people can draw stick figures, it takes someone remarkable to create a masterpiece. The same can be said for entrepreneurship. Anyone can start a business, but it takes someone remarkable to create and grow a sustainable and profitable company. This is even more true when it comes to social entrepreneurship. 

Entrepreneurship and the creation of sustainable SMMEs have regularly been heralded as the holy grail for South Africa’s ailing economy and dire unemployment problem. No one believes this more than Miranda Simrie, Director of the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Entrepreneurship Development Academy (EDA). “With economic growth stagnating and intractable unemployment, there is an urgent need to stimulate entrepreneurial spirit and encourage people to explore entrepreneurship and self-employment as an alternative to seeking formal employment. Given the historically low rate of entrepreneurial activity in South Africa it may be an unattractive option for most, but the state of the economy compels us all to highlight the necessity for young people especially to start new entrepreneurial ventures and create opportunities for themselves and others to be employed,” she said when chatting about the finals of the Festival of Ideas 2019 on 21 November 2019. 

Social entrepreneurship is one area where a real difference can be made to both the country’s economic and social landscapes. As Simrie observed: “Social entrepreneurship encourages people to spot opportunities that bring benefit to their communities, whilst generating income for themselves. Unlike traditional entrepreneurship which focuses on profit, social entrepreneurs balance both profit and social progress, stimulating socio-economic development.” For this reason, the EDA’s Festival of Ideas has specifically been aimed at social entrepreneurs. 

In its sixth year, the Festival of Ideas is more than just about offering social entrepreneurs yet another business plan competition. Simrie outlined why this competition is so different: “What we are missing is a celebration of the early phase thinking. The idea generation that is associated with taking risk and exploring the feasibility of a new business concept.” She said the programme was trying to encourage people to act on their ideas without the fear of failure, and when they do fail, to embrace it.

The Festival of Ideas, a partnership between the EDA and the SAB Foundation, encourages entrepreneurs to critically reflect on their ideas and interrogate their business models. Through an open call for applications, entrepreneurs are invited to submit short voice-note pitches of their ideas.  

After a stringent selection process, approximately 50 entrepreneurs are invited to attend a one-day workshop aimed at assisting them to develop their idea pitch further. The 2019 edition gave participants pointers on how to better pitch for funding, how to move from the idea phase to execution, ways to gain exposure to the funding landscape and also offered them a stage on which to practice pitching their ideas. Of the 50 entrepreneurs who attended the workshop on 15 November, 12 made it to the finals. 

The final round saw the 12 finalists deliver a two-minute pitch on their idea to the four judges, including Simrie; the SAB Foundation’s Social Innovation Project Manager, Ntandokazi Ndoda; Richard Mabaso, a social entrepreneur and founder of Imbumba Projects, and Sithembiso Mpungose, Managing Director and Chief Information Officer of IDF Capital. 

After giving their pitch, each contestant was asked a few questions. What stood out was the judges’ interest in how contestants aimed to make money from their ideas, and whether contestants had thought about how to scale their businesses. What became apparent for these entrepreneurs was that the judges were not in the business of charity. If money was going to be awarded, entrepreneurs needed to have a strategy in mind and display this during their pitch. 

Entry into the competition required entrepreneurs to show that their business would have a substantial impact on society or the environment. As such, the pitches had a heavy slant on tech and education. Other ideas involved tackling issues of gender-based violence, environmental and health issues, organic agriculture, and access to technology. Although not everyone could walk away with the R50 000  prize money, they all had ideas that offered real solutions in a country beset by poverty and inequality. Critically, each entrepreneur was providing African solutions for African problems. 

Mabaso, the guest speaker at the event, urged contestants to stay true to their ideas. He said that along the way that there would be a lot of naysayers and related how, when he started out in the sanitary pad business, people told him he was the wrong person for the job because he was a man. “There will always be hurdles, so if you believe in your dream, you have to keep going.” And kept going he did. To date, his organisation has supported more than 950 000   girls since 2012.  

He then urged the contestants to learn to speak the language of corporates. “When you have an idea, people get excited, but getting excited is different to getting money. You have to speak the language of corporates, you need to understand their priorities, you have to mold your story to each individual pitch.” And that is exactly what the Festival of Ideas is all about. Demystifying the funding arena, educating delegates on how to pitch and ultimately getting them ready to stand in front of investors and say: This is my idea, this is how it is going to work, and this is how I am going to make me, and you, a handsome profit. 

Of the 12 finalists, three walked away with the prize money. The winners on the day were:  

Third place: Mzokhona Maxase whose business is currently being run out of his dorm room. He makes shoe polish from the waste produced in the tyre recycling process. He was awarded R10 000. 

Second place: Mamkhele Msongelwa took home the second price of R15 000. He has created an eco-cooler for the agricultural and restaurant sector. He is awaiting SABS approval but needs to conduct industrial tests of his prototype before that can happen. 

First place: Nomahlubi Nazo, who is trialling her range of skincare products for use in hospitals around the country. Her products are made from derivatives of fish scales and local ingredients including herbs. Nazo was awarded R25 000  to continue her trials before officially launching her approved product. 

What stood out amongst the winners was their ability to communicate a sound business model within their allotted two minutes. They were all confident and extremely well prepared. But, in addition to that, they had distinguished their business concept from others in the market and were able to show the progress they had made. They knew exactly where their prize money would be spent, and what the next step within their business would be. They had a sound understanding of costs and their competitive advantage. This is ultimately what the judges were looking for. Entrepreneurs with a clear picture of the next step in their journey to entrepreneurial success. 

Malusi Malaza walked away with a GIBS Scholarship to complete the Entrepreneurship Development Academy’s flagship programme, the Social Entrepreneurship Programme that is currently in its tenth year running. Malaza’s business produces high-end sanitary pads that are fully biodegradable in less than two weeks. In addition to the environmental impact his business would have, the corporate social responsibility side of the business would donate pads to girls in need. 

As the day wrapped up, MC and radio personality, Hulisani Ravele urged contestants to never give up and said: “Be stubborn about your goals but be flexible in your method.” In other words, never give up, but do listen to advice from those whose footsteps you are sure to follow. 


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