The culmination of Diageo Empowerment Trust SA Social Tech Start-Up Challenge saw South Africa’s top five tech-enabled start-ups battle fiercely for a share of R5 million in seed funding last Thursday. In a shark tank-style event, each entrepreneur pitched their ideas in front of a panel of judges in an entertaining but intense selection process that originated with thousands of applicants. Judges spent the weekend deliberating on the top five pitches to determine how much of the total available funds each finalist would receive.
The aspiring finalists included bursary and scholarship platform Foonda, home security start-up Jonga, sales force and market research firm iSpani, on-demand recruitment platform SkillShift and youth-focused sport talent platform BallTalent.
Sales force and market research firm iSpani made the strongest impression on the judges and received R2.5m towards their business. Foonda, the first runner up was awarded R2.1m, Jonga was awarded R200 000 and Balltalent and Skillshift both received R100 000.00 each.
“Our central driving force in this Challenge has been to stimulate meaningful, strategic growth and innovation in a key industry of our economy,” says Diageo SA Empowerment Trust general manager, Sinethemba Mafanya. “We strive to help pave the way for South Africa’s transition from a resource-based economy to a knowledge market that is truly part of the fourth industrial revolution. We were stunned at the quality of the innovations, as each one of the thousands of participants offered a unique solution to major social and economic challenges affecting millions of South Africans and the continent as a whole.”
The top five presented their fine-tuned strategies to adjudicators made up of Mafanya and managing partner at Urbian Anton Moulder.
The initiative is an impactful, year-long programme that empowers tech-enabled start-ups to solve South Africa’s biggest social challenges. During the application period from December 2018 to February 2019, a total of 2256 people registered their ideas on the Social Tech Start-Up website.
Between February and March, they then submitted their formal applications and began interacting with other entrepreneurs through the online forum. A strict set of criteria, including feasibility, viability, desirability and whether the idea made commercial sense, was used to shortlist the candidates down to 30 of the most promising innovators.
In April, the top 30 were then invited to a three-day user testing workshop with Urbian and Nosco in Cape Town and were also registered with the Gordon Institute of Business entrepreneurship programme. Their ideas were refined, and they were trained on design principles, particularly how to launch a new business using design thinking. They were also guided in assembling teams of three-to-five people to operate their new ventures.
In June, this group was further whittled down to 15 using the same criteria and these were taken a step further, with their ideas supported and developed into a working prototype. In July, the top five were then selected by a panel of experts and, together with Urbian, their prototypes were further developed into a minimum viable product (MVP) and tested into the market.
At the Final Pitch event last Thursday, 28 November, each of the top 15 entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to showcase their businesses in front of invited investors from various industries, in the hope that investors might be attracted to one of these unique concepts for further investment and development.
“These ideas have been launched into the real world, and some are already getting their first customers, validating their ideas in market,” Mafanya says. “In just over six months we have taken entrepreneurs from the seed of an idea to real world market launch, and for our top five finalists, we will continue developing, growing and shaping their ideas.
“Over the past year we have seen people’s lives transformed, as this programme has grown from strength to strength and we can’t wait to take it to the next level in 2020,” he adds.
Aspiring social entrepreneurs with a burning passion to solve South Africa’s greatest challenges can pre-register for the iteration of the Social Tech Start-Up Challenge 2020. The programme offers participants the opportunity to have their start-up business ideas developed and funded by the Diageo Empowerment Trust of South Africa. Interested social entrepreneurs can find out more information at: www.socialtechstartup.co.za