Nurturing young entrepreneurs

17 February 2015 | Story by Newsroom
Students gather for the first Entrepreneurship Olympiad, held at UCT in December 2014.
Students gather for the first Entrepreneurship Olympiad, held at UCT in December 2014.

Kevin Rabotapi is a grade 11 student at Oaklands High School with a passion for business. Last year his business teacher approached him with an invitation: would he like to participate in a new kind of olympiad, one that would involve learning about being an entrepreneur and end with the chance to pitch for funding for an original business idea?

Rabotapi jumped at the chance and, along with a friend, he came up with the idea of mobile shopping app that shows deals and promotions specific to a shopper's location. "How it works," he explains, "is that if you use the app, you will be notified about promotions going on in a shop near you. For example, if you find yourself outside of an Edgars store, the app might send you a notification to say that that store has a special on jeans or a promotion on footwear."

This idea eventually won second place and R7 000 at the pilot School Entrepreneurship Olympiad that ran from 2 to 4 December last year at the University of Cape Town. Students from Garlandale High School won third place (and R3 000) for a school stationery accounting system, and Rustenberg Girls High School won first place and an amount of R10 000 for Upcode, a mobile app that consolidates all loyalty cards and discount vouchers into one application.

"The School Entrepreneurship Olympiad is similar in format to a maths or science olympiad except in this case, the participants are not sitting down and writing tests," says Alexander MacLeod, the olympiad convener and founder of the School Entrepreneurship Trust (SET) . "We are not testing theoretical knowledge with this initiative. Instead, the school students have to spot real-world problems and business opportunities, and present solutions."

The foundation of the olympiad was laid in conversations between McLeod and Associate Professor David Priilaid, convener of UCT's Postgraduate Diploma in Entrepreneurship (PDE). McLeod, himself a product of the PDE, left his management consulting job in 2010 to start a business encouraging entrepreneurship at Cape Town schools: "I struck out on my own because I recognised a gap for a company that encouraged entrepreneurial activity at the school level."

In 2012, as part of a further effort to include all schools across the socio-political spectrum, the School Entrepreneurship Trust was established. It was then, through a collaboration between the trust and UCT that the School Entrepreneurship Olympiad was born.

According to McLeod, the level of innovation and entrepreneurial spirit shown by learners who participated in the pilot olympiad exceeded all expectations. "The private sector and government need to pay attention to the work we are doing because we are unearthing the future innovators and industry leaders through such an initiative."

The olympiad itself was composed of workshops and speeches, after which the students each had five minutes to present their business ideas to a panel of judges which included Keagan Carr from the Department of Economic Development and Tourism, Karlind Govender, a creative industry entrepreneur and micro-venture capitalist, and Associate Professor David Priilaid.

In Prillaid's opinion, the olympiad is one way to answer the need for high school students to gain an understanding of what it means to be an entrepreneur while they're still at school. "I see kids arrive at university all the time who have no experience with entrepreneurship and precious little time to catch up. We need to extend the pipeline to school-age students so as to provide them with a grounding in business ideas on which they can then build further knowledge at the tertiary level."

For Rabotapi, attending the olympiad provided a chance to meet like-minded young entrepreneurs and share experiences. "Being a part of something like this just confirmed my decision to be both a student and an entrepreneur after I finish school," he said.

The School Entrepreneurship Trust also provided all participating schools with a guide on how to set up their own entrepreneurship societies, aimed at providing continued support for entrepreneurial activity. McLeod hopes that next year the olympiad will be open to high schools in all four of the metropolitan education districts in Cape Town.

  • For more information on the School Entrepreneurship Olympiad, please contact Alexander McLeod on

Story by Ambre Nicolson. Photo supplied

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