Student entrepreneurs pitch for R50 000 in prizes

The University of Cape Town (UCT) The Pitch finals took place on Wednesday 21 September at the UCT Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB). Eight business ideas were presented to the jury over the course of the evening, with the top three finalists taking home prizes designed to help them grow their businesses.

The Pitch is a student-run competition that encourages undergraduate and graduate students to get involved in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Launched in 2016, the program has grown from humble beginnings in the Baxter Hall Residence dining room to a full-fledged incubator.

The competition is administered by the Academic Representative Council (ARC) in cooperation with the Office of the Vice Chancellor and is designed to encourage entrepreneurial thinking among students by inviting them to enter the competition and giving them the opportunity to use their academic skills.

“Entrepreneurship provides a very important platform to unleash this human potential.”

Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Transformation, Student Affairs and Social Responsibility, Professor Elelwani Ramugondo, stressed that The Pitch and the entrepreneurial spirit it fosters among students are essential for the university to achieve the goals set out in its Vision 2030.

“The Pitch is one of the programs we offer at UCT that really helps us live one of the principles of our Vision 2030, which is financial sustainability. It’s an incredibly important part of our vision, which is expressed in unlocking the potential for a fair and just society,” she said.

“Entrepreneurship provides a very important platform to unleash this human potential. The applicants and finalists all had to think carefully about the challenges we face in society, what it means to be a community activist, and how we can bring some entrepreneurial spirit to reassessing these issues.”

Grit for growth

Underpinned by the grit learning outcomes, adapted from American author, psychologist and science writer Angela Duckworth’s Grit Framework, The Pitch focuses on encouraging the development of grit and a growth mindset. In this sense, the program aims to improve students’ skills:

  • stay consistently focused
  • process setbacks
  • maintain a long-term interest in an entrepreneurial idea or a start-up project
  • put more effort into developing an entrepreneurial idea or start-up
  • Set a business goal and stick to it.

By focusing on these outcomes, the competition has inspired hundreds of students to develop novel entrepreneurial ideas and solutions. It has also been the launch pad for a host of successful startups, including food supply chain monitoring platform FoodPrint and programmer training program Zaio.

This year’s competition attracted 100 entries, which were reduced to 15 semi-finalists and only eight finalists. As with previous iterations of The Pitch, the 2022 contestants brought with them an outstanding level of enthusiasm and commitment to the competition. This well-known Residence Life Division coordinator, Frank Karigambe, demonstrates the outstanding innovative and entrepreneurial spirit that reigns at UCT.

“The noticeable innovative strength of the workshops cannot be found anywhere else. It is a testament to the commitment of the students, staff and partners in the entrepreneurship ecosystem.”

“In 2022 we held face-to-face workshops with a large number of participants. Nowhere else can you find the noticeable innovative strength of workshops. It’s a testament to the commitment of the students, staff and entrepreneurial ecosystem partners that this remains an enduring feature of The Pitch seven years later,” he said.

The business ideas of the finalists were not only judged according to market needs and feasibility of the individual business projects, but also according to the skills and experience of the team members. Judges Iain Williamson, Ellen Fischat and Dr. Siri Chinook heard suggestions from a range of disciplines including healthcare, education, technology, arts and construction.

The top three pitches were awarded cash prizes (R25,000 for first place, R15,000 for second place and R10,000 for third place), a six-month mentorship from the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, and transport and accommodation to attend the annual event the Foundation awarded Jamboree.

Build the future

Matimba Mabonda, the founder of sustainable building products company LolaGreen, took first place for his plan to use plastic waste to mass-produce eco-friendly refractory bricks. Runners-up Keegan White from iNethi and Tshepang Raseobi from Sokett, who both focus on cost-effective wireless connectivity solutions, took second and third place respectively.

For Mabonda, who is pursuing his Masters in Chemical Engineering, participating in The Pitch has pushed him to pursue entrepreneurship and helped him reach his full potential. “I was [working on this idea] since college and I just didn’t seem to get it right.

“What helped was the preparation. Participating in online incubation centers has really improved my business acumen because you learn the whole business chain, business model and so on. To top it off, the workshops on offer were helpful – especially on the topic of design thinking,” he said.

“My superiors also gave me a lot of support. If she hadn’t given me the freedom to develop my potential and created a great environment for me, I don’t think I would have gotten this far. You really made me blossom. The UKT [Research Contracts and Innovation] The department has also been very supportive.”

The future of LolaGreen looks bright. Mabonda said he will use profits from The Pitch to perfect the product.

“Next we want to refine our Minimum Viable Product. The brick is very strong, but we want to improve the aesthetics. Once we have the perfect product, we can get more funds to get the business started. So things are looking good in that direction,” he explained.

Supporting the entrepreneurs of tomorrow

Williamson, an innovator and entrepreneur – and UCT GSB graduate – with a background in telecoms and technology, pointed out that the support provided throughout The Pitch’s process is what makes the program truly great. He noted that this was part of what motivated him to become a judge.

“Long-term development and investment in young people at university level is exactly what we want to do to have entrepreneurs for the future.”

“When I was growing up and just starting out, I didn’t have those opportunities. Over time, I’ve developed the skills needed to give back and help entrepreneurs grow. We desperately need business people and we need entrepreneurs to set up businesses in Africa. So if I can help one person here, it’s incredible,” he said.

In addition, Williamson emphasized that the quality of the ideas presented was outstanding. “Some go-to-market items still need some work. In general though, from an idea generation perspective, it’s incredible to see what the participants have come up with.”

Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Fellowship Manager, Kyle Bailey, echoed this view, stressing that the program aligns perfectly with the Foundation’s mission and vision.

“The word ‘impact’ is probably the most important one here. We attach great importance to responsible, effective entrepreneurship. Many of the pitches we heard revolved around social impact, community service and solving real problems, which is evident in the winning pitch, the Ecobrick.

“Long term development and investment in young people at university level is exactly what we want to do to have entrepreneurs for the future. What we saw tonight is the perfect example of how well that can work,” he said.

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