Transforming Africa into an economic powerhouse of the future requires ingenuity, innovative business ideas, and passion. And student entrepreneurs at Cape Town’s universities are on the right track to achieve this monumental goal.
And they set the wheels in motion on Tuesday, 19 September, at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Hasso Plattner School of Design Thinking Afrika (d-school). The d-school Afrika was a hive of activity as budding student entrepreneurs from UCT, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Stellenbosch University, and the University of the Western Cape pitched their business ideas during the regional round of the 2023 Entrepreneurship Intervarsity competition. The competition is an initiative of the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) programme and is presented by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and Universities South Africa (USAf). The annual event aims to identify the top student entrepreneurs at South Africa’s 26 public universities, and provides students with a platform to showcase their businesses and to attract investors to their enterprises. It also gives students whose businesses are in ideas phase an opportunity to pitch their concepts.
Nadia Waggie, UCT’s intervarsity competition coordinator and the head of sustainability and impact at Careers Service, said the regional finalists beat their peers at their respective universities to go head-to-head during the regional round of the competition. And a great deal of preparation went into ensuring that the students were pitch ready. Waggie said each contestant participated in interactive workshops, critical feedback sessions and one-on-one sittings with mentors and communicators to refine their presentations.
“Let us embark on this incredible journey to build a community that thrives on innovation, resilience and the pursuit of social awareness.”
“Now, we get to hear the fruits of your work, as each student takes a bold step towards realising their entrepreneurial ambitions. Whether you’re a seasoned business enthusiast, or just starting to explore the world of entrepreneurship, this intervarsity competition is designed to inspire, educate and connect. It’s an opportunity to network with likeminded individuals who share your passion for innovation and have the potential to become future collaborators or even mentors,” Waggie told participants ahead of the pitch. “Let us embark on this incredible journey to build a community that thrives on innovation, resilience and the pursuit of social awareness.”
A win for UCT
The nail-biting regional round, held ahead of the highly anticipated national event in November, saw 32 students pitch their ideas to a panel of judges during a three-minute pitch. Thereafter, judges facilitated a question-and-answer session to gain a more in-depth understanding of each student’s concept. UCT student, Vuyolwethu Mpetshwa’s business, Hair for Royals, topped the existing business – general category. The business is considered a prominent player in the hair and beauty industry and provides a comprehensive list of goods and services to cater for diverse beauty needs. One of Hair for Royals’s signature products is the waterproof wig glue recognised for its “exceptional” quality and durability that caters to clients who need a reliable wig attachment.
According to Dr Norah Clarke, the director of entrepreneurship at USAf, since the competition’s inception five years ago, universities across the country have been committed to growing the entrepreneurial ecosystem among their students. And the connection, growth, support and sharing of good practice has been overwhelming. While at the podium, Dr Clark also announced a new competition category that spotlights research-based businesses. This category, she said, has been included to offer postgraduates an opportunity to think of the commercial value of their research undertakings.
“This is seriously exciting because postgraduates should be thinking of the commercial potential of their research. We should be long past the days when research is purely theoretical and seldom referenced and looked at in the day-to-day improvement of our country and our world,” Clarke said.
During his address, Emeritus Professor Daya Reddy, UCT’s vice-chancellor interim, told student entrepreneurs that reaching the regional round of the competition is an outstanding achievement. He said the accomplishment demonstrates that they are original, creative thinkers who perceive problems as opportunities, and who have invested a great amount of time and energy into developing solutions to these problems; solutions that others may have overlooked in the past.
“In this sense, you are explorers, navigating new territory in the world of ideas of business and technology,” Emeritus Professor Reddy said. “Young, budding entrepreneurs, the world needs you; our continent needs you. We need your creative minds.”
“Only so many will make it to the national round, but the opportunities are there, and they remain there.”
He said by developing an entrepreneurial mindset while pursuing a university degree increases students’ scope for success because they have the opportunity to engage with their peers, experts among academic staff, as well as support services at their institutions. And while it remains inevitable that not all participating entrepreneurs will make it to the next round, Reddy encouraged the cohort to pursue their successes in other ways.
“By being here, you have already succeeded. Only so many will make it to the national round, but the opportunities are there, and they remain there. I do want you to regard this particular engagement as an opportunity to hone your potential, to test ideas and to hear from the judges. Don’t be disheartened if you’re not selected for the next round. It is but one aspect of the whole business,” he said.
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