The COVID-19 pandemic did not deter student entrepreneurs at the University of Cape Town (UCT). Instead, it sparked off new ideas. Some of these ideas were presented on Tuesday night, when UCT’s top entrepreneurial minds were acknowledged at The Pitch UCT finals.
The competition gives students the chance to pitch their business or business ideas and stand a chance of winning a monetary and mentorship prize. For the first time, this annual event was hosted virtually. Audience members, as well as participants, joined in the excitement via Microsoft Teams. The usual technical glitches faded into the background as the spotlight shone on the enterprising students.
Tipper – the brainchild of Saheel Rajnarain and Petrus du Preez – scooped the first prize of R25 000 in seed funding, six months’ business mentorship from the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation and R10 000 in travel and accommodation expenses so that Rajnarain and Du Preez can attend the 2021 Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Annual Jamboree.
Their secure code-based tipping app allows users to give and receive tips without handling cash – and while observing social distancing protocols.
Second place went to FoodPrint, which was represented by Julian Kanjere. FoodPrint is an agritech start-up that is building a digital and blockchain-enabled food traceability platform for producers, consumers and anyone else involved in food supply chains. The runner-up bagged a cash prize of R20 000 and three months’ mentorship.
RaAzi, a logistics company focused on medicine using drones with the aim of improving medical compliance for patients in hard-to-reach areas of South Africa, was awarded the third prize – R15 000 in cash and three months’ mentorship.
The young entrepreneurs behind Tipper claim that research has shown that 78% of South Africans will continue to use contactless payment methods beyond the pandemic. Taking this into account, Tipper will facilitate generosity without the need to carry cash.
The two students behind this innovation believe that their idea will find particular application in the informal sector. There is already a considerable potential user-market size, since 22 million South Africans use smartphones. Rajnarain and Du Preez aim to partner initially with petrol stations in order to reach the more than 80 000 petrol attendants in the country.
“The potential of the ideas is amazing.”
Because of the high standard of the applications that were received, the judges decided to honour three other ideas and early-stage businesses, with each of them receiving R5 000 in seed funding and a series of mentorship and advisory sessions.
Speaking on behalf of the judges, Vuyolwethu Dubese, the founder of impact design studio InnovTel, said: “The potential of the ideas is amazing, and being a part of this experience affirms how we lack not in young people having the desire to become entrepreneurs or being entrepreneurially minded, but the nuanced support that they receive.”
The Pitch UCT features aspiring entrepreneurs pitching their services or products to a panel of potential investors. It is run by the Academic Representatives’ Council, the Office of the Vice-Chancellor, and the Residence Life Division at the Department of Student Affairs.
The competition is supported by the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, the Hasso Plattner School of Design Thinking at UCT (d-school), the MTN Solution Space at the Graduate School of Business, UCT Careers Service, and the Studentsʼ Representative Council.
A total of 129 applications were received for this year’s competition. The applicants were eventually whittled down to the 10 finalists who pitched their ideas and products to the judges.
Deciding their fates were Melvyn Lubega, the founding executive and director of GO1; Thandeka Xaba, the co-founder and managing partner of Digital Africa Ventures; Eero Tarjanne, the general manager for ecosystem development at the MTN Group; Tsepo Ngwenyama, the project manager for business development at Fetola, and Dubese.
The evening’s proceedings were started by Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng and Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Transformation Professor Loretta Feris.
Professor Phakeng spoke about how COVID-19 had created a new world without the option of returning to the “old normal”. Referring to the challenges that the pandemic presented, she encouraged everyone to think differently and to work on becoming “antifragile”.
“The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better,” she quoted from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Antifragile: Things that gain from disorder.
The evening’s keynote speaker was UCT alumnus and the co-founder and chief executive of Startup School, Christopher Hosken. He spoke passionately about UCT’s central role in his journey as an entrepreneur. Paying tribute to Phakeng, he recalled being capped by the vice-chancellor on the occasion of the conferral of his master’s degree.
Carrying on with the theme of antifragility, he encouraged the entrepreneurs to seek out diversity. He was particularly impressed with UCT’s progress with transformation and greater diversity.
Hosken suggested that one of the ways in which entrepreneurs can build antifragility is to surround themselves with people who have different viewpoints.
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