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Vice-Chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng
The understanding of the role of the university has shifted significantly, impacted by public demands for access, social justice and transformation in the higher education sphere. Learning is recognised as more than a commodity to be traded for job security. Learning incorporates the knowledge that is created, accessed and passed on; the processes that are modelled; the skills, attitudes and values that make up the person and the communities they are part of. Learning takes place within a context and is supported and enabled by that context.

There is a growing recognition of the role and responsibility of the university to equip young people with the skills and knowledge to enter the economic environment with the agency and initiative to impact society and the environment – a mandate that goes beyond stepping into ready-made jobs. Fostering entrepreneurship at university simultaneously activates the students’ agency as changemakers within the wider community of South Af rica and provides a viable model for job creation that does not depend on state provision.

At a critical point in their lives – when they are looking for direction and opportunity – some of the brightest young intellects spend a number of years at university. It is during this period that networks are established that extend beyond established geographical, cultural or socio-economic constituencies, to connect people and communities and to enable the exploration of identity. For many, it’s the first time they grapple with what it means to be a South African or Afrikan within a wider global context. As public institutions, universities are accountable to the public to align their funds and human resources with ideals consistent with public values, aspirations and policy.

VC of UCT Mamokgethi Phakeng

Entrepreneurship is evident across communities in South Africa, from seasonal fruit sellers at traffic lights, the fashion industry, the building industry and the motor trade: it is endemic to the way communities interact and build value outside, alongside or within established business. And it is part of how we are wired as humans: to look for personal and public benefit – to trade that benefit for added-value for ourselves, for our community, or for the benefit of wider communities. As South Africans we need to ask what it is about entrepreneurship within a university that is unique and why it is important?

The University of Cape Town (UCT) is a leading research-based institution of higher education in South Africa with an overt policy of transformation and social proximity to cutting-edge research. This permeates the student environment and influences the process of applying what students learn within a local context and their ability to develop entrepreneurial ideas that extend their research. Connecting these ideas with value propositions and markets requires innovative thinking, social awareness, connectedness and the ability to practically manage a myriad of factors relating to the production of a product, service delivery, marketing and execution, financial management, cash flow and legal requirements.

These requirements can be aligned with the focus of the UCT Vision 2030 document and its emphasis on a “ new, integrated and collaborative” UCT driven by the purpose to: “Unleash human potential to create a fair and just society”. This vision highlights the need to affirm the university’s Af rikan identity, reclaim Afrikan agency, and commit to the future of the continent, as a global Af rikan university. All these values align with the concept of entrepreneurship in significant ways.

Transformation and social engagement are regarded as the cross-cutting elements of the UCT ethos. As such, UCT will continue to attract students with exceptional potential from South Af rica, the Af rican continent and beyond. In line with its purpose, UCT will offer a transformative and socially engaged undergraduate and postgraduate education, combining holistic, innovative, future-oriented education.

Strategically, at the University of Cape Town, entrepreneurship is a third focus, alongside teaching/learning and research, which provides the opportunity to develop transformative and socially responsive approaches, packaging cutting-edge learning into user-focused solutions. As part of the Vision 2030, UCT’s goal is to produce global citizens who are actively responsible for the world they have inherited, and who will leave a better world for future generations. Entrepreneurship is a cross-cutting transdisciplinary area where skill, knowledge and attitudes can be applied and integrated to the benefit of communities and end-users. Entrepreneurship encapsulates “new ways of thinking, being and doing” and thus requires innovative curricula at the cutting edge of disciplines and professions.

In this book, entrepreneurship is celebrated as a constructive response to student learning within the university – a response requiring a particular mindset and agency to create something new rather than simply to acquire or circulate that which is already in existence. Entrepreneurship understands learning as a dynamic process, building value beyond what is known.

Entrepreneurship flourishes where communities are focused on building value within the context of our country and continent. More than just being dreamed, entrepreneurship has been practised, researched and critiqued by individuals and entities over decades within UCT.

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picture of Alison Gwynne-Evans


Alison Gwynne-Evans
Alison is a senior lecturer in Professional Communication Studies, Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, UCT.
This book was born out of the conviction that the future of this country and of Afrika rests upon an abundance of human initiative, energy, and drive to improve our communities and institutions. It recognises that this energy and initiative needs to be nurtured, supported and celebrated. Entrepreneurship within UCT encapsulates this commitment to being change-makers in a society.

Entrepreneurship has been actively nurtured and dreamed over many years in a wide variety of initiatives at UCT. This includes undergraduate course-based content across a range of faculties on upper and middle campus; post-graduate degrees focusing on nurturing and developing entrepreneurs; the world-class UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB); the exciting new Hasso Plattner School of Design Thinking Afrika, currently rising above middle campus; and, finally, the Solution Space, UCT’s satellite campus based in Philippi. This book provides a snapshot of the university’s entrepreneurship ecosystem, making space for a variety of voices from different contexts across the institution and celebrating the successes and vision of individuals and initiatives over time.

Far f rom being an individualistic pursuit, entrepreneurship at UCT is integrally connected to communities: both the university communities supporting the development of the entrepreneurship initiative, and the internal and external communities that benef it f rom the products and services produced because of it. Entrepreneurship in this c ontext places the development of students’ ideas and attitudes centre-stage as part of the education project, providing support so that ideas can be p ackaged, trialled and iterated. This support will necessarily look different at the distinct points of th e educational journey and requires multiple opportunities to engage with if it is t o become an integrated pillar of learning within the university.

This project of collecting entrepreneurial stories was inspired by UCT’s involvement with the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) initiative, a programme founded by the Department of Higher Education and Training to facilitate and embed entrepreneurship in the curricula and culture of universities, and by my involvement in the Vice-Chancellor’s Entrepreneurship Committee at UCT. For the past three years, as an academic teaching professional communication, my role has been to support a cross-section of UCT students preparing their pitches for the National EDHE Competition. I have been inspired by the energy and agency demonstrated by the UCT studentpreneurs, by academics and role players within the university, as well as the collaboration and vision of the EDHE organising team.

“This book has been a delight to bring into being – sharing the insights and experiences of academics practising and extending their scholarship, nurturing students wrestling with innovative business ideas, sharing the stories of studentpreneurs, and seeing how all these roleplayers influence and give back to society.”
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The EDHE initiative links South Af rican universities that support entrepreneurship, aiming to build a nation-wide ecosystem fostering entrepreneurship at university level. Under the leadership roles of Nadia Waggie and Dr Norah Clark, who have been responsible for founding and implementing the EDHE programme, this vision of a nationwide student-driven entrepreneurial initiative across universities was communicated clearly and without partisanship. The vibrancy of the support team activated around the EDHE initiative provided a level of accessible and relevant expertise to students f rom institutions across South Af rica, modelling what can be done on a national scale. Th e collaborative approach of this team overrode established institutional silos and created a new identity of entrepreneurship as a national asset , unifying and extending the mandate of the university in several significant ways.

With UCT having dominated the section prize winner line-up in both the first and third year of the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education Competition, winning the award for Entrepreneurial University of the Year on both occasions, it seemed an opportune time to bring together the stories and contributions of the wide spectrum of people involved in entrepreneurship at UCT and of the initiatives that support them.

This book has been a delight to bring into being – sharing the insights and experiences of academics practising and extending their scholarship, nurturing students wrestling with innovative business ideas, sharing the stories of studentpreneurs, and seeing how all these role-players influence and give back to society. Entrepreneurship, when aligned with visionary policy and explicit social goals, channels this energy in constructive and generative initiatives that add value to the public sphere and that invite and model a can-do approach to solutions.

What we do ripples beyond what we see. My involvement in the entrepreneurship community has shown me that ripples build up to tides that can move mountains and shape nations. What is developed and modelled in entrepreneurship at UCT has the potential to impact what happens at other universities and more widely.

By providing a snapshot of the personal and institutional characteristics enabling entrepreneurship to flourish at a particular institution, I hope this book will inspire other universities to trace their own unique story and practice of entrepreneurship, supporting and nurturing entrepreneurial mindsets, thus contributing to a broader national understanding of what it is to be an entrepreneur in South Af rica.

chapter number 1

The entrepreneurial ecosystem

A university is a learning institution that builds and nurtures the capacity of its students in order for them to contribute to a social, environmental and economic context that extends beyond itself.

The concept of an entrepreneurial ecosystem recognises the influence of a variety of inputs and outputs on entrepreneurs. It acknowledges local challenges and opportunities, national priorities and policy and international drivers including the economy and migration. It recognises that the interaction of these factors creates new opportunities for responding in innovative ways to meet needs and create value.

An institution of higher education is uniquely positioned to engage with these disruptors to entrepreneurship, approaching them as opportunities to create new systems and processes that are better aligned with explicit national or community interests. This recognises that what entrepreneurs create extends beyond their direct field of application to impact the wider ecosystem.

Entrepreneurs need to see their contribution within several overlapping spheres:

  • the personal sphere of what works for them as an individual and fits with their goals and ambitions
  • the community sphere of inputting into a specific area or need, be it local or national and
  • the wider sphere beyond the direct community that is impacted by the entrepreneurial activity.

The opening chapter explores the development of entrepreneurship as a journey. This journey is situated within an ecosystem of different constituents: individuals, stakeholders and institutions, and intentional innovation hubs. The journey is non-linear and reflexive, responding to a multiplicity of inputs and priorities.

The following chapter focuses on women entrepreneurs, recognising that women’s journeys are generally more complicated than men’s and involve variables such as working in a potentially hostile and dangerous environment or dealing with obligations involving care for family.

This chapter shifts our attention from surviving to thriving: difficulties are faced and negotiated and the narrative asserts the positive gains of the journey, rather than critiquing otherrole players as obstacles on the way.

This builds a practice of constructive engagement and overcoming, rather than of confrontation and hostility. It provides a model for collaborative engagement that is relevant beyond this specific context.

UCT GSB Campus
UCT Graduate School of Business
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What is entrepreneurship?

Alison Gwynne-Evans

Although entrepreneurship has arguably been part of human interactions since precolonial and colonial history, entrepreneurship as a term was coined around 1800 by a French economist, Jean-Baptiste Say, who observed how “the entrepreneur shifts resources out of an area of lower [productivity] and into an area of high productivity and greater yield” (Bosman and Fernhaber 2018).

This initial understanding of entrepreneurship positioned the creation of value as central. Over the years, different elements of entrepreneurship have been emphasised, reflecting current contextual understandings and values. It is useful to examine how definitions of entrepreneurship have altered, and will continue to alter (see Table 1), reflecting shifts in understanding of the context and power relations in which entrepreneurship is practised.

Broadening the definition of entrepreneurship provides the opportunity to identify specific distinctions that have influenced perception of what entrepreneurship involves.

These have shifted over time, geographical context and through the gaze of the scholar, to emphasise different aspects that correlate with local and global priorities.

The question to ask is not: “Are you an entrepreneur?” or even, “How entrepreneurial are you?” But rather, “How are you an entrepreneur?” This identifies characteristics of the actor that aligns with entrepreneurship.

image of an entrepreneur
Nosiphiwo Kutu - outside her shop, Lerano Clothing
Nosiphiwo Kutu - outside her shop, Lerano Clothing
Definitions of Entrepreneurship (adapted from Bosman and Fernhaber, 2018)
Table 1: Definitions of Entrepreneurship (adapted from Bosman and Fernhaber, 2018)

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image of Phumlani Nkontwana

Entrepreneur Journeys:

A reflexive, non-linear hub approach to developing the next generation of innovators

Phumlani Nkontwana (PhD)
Phumlani is a researcher and senior lecturer at UCT’s Graduate School of Business.

Entrepreneurship is a way of thinking, being, and doing that demonstrates the attitudes, motivation and practice of problem-solving and value creation. Successfully developing entrepreneurs at university is a process that requires a phased educational and training approach – it is a non-linear process, which must draw on varied strategies, because entrepreneurial journeys are complex and diverse. Support needs to work across scales of micro, meso and regime levels of influence in a reflexive way that enables dynamic monitoring and evaluation learning loops.

Entrepreneurship as a way of thinking, being and doing

Entrepreneurship coalesces aspirations and abilities that lead to problem-solving, value creation and grit. A typical entrepreneur must possess a triad of three transversal competencies, namely thinking, being and doing (see Figure 1), which are mutually supportive.

An entrepreneurial mindset incorporates the aspirations and deliberate intentions to plan and pursue a future career as an entrepreneur (Shapero & Sokol, 1982). It is an attitude that seeks to solve problems and add value to society (Bacigalupo, Kampylis, Punie & Van den Brande, 2016). It is linked with specific ways of being and doing that supports the attitudes, motivation and practice of problem-solving and value creation.

Successfully developing entrepreneurs at university, or anywhere, requires a phased educational and development approach (see Table 2). This is a long-term process that takes more than a single person, private organisation or government agency, and requires many players working together intentionally. Danes (2013) calls this a village approach, where proponents of entrepreneurship inspire multitudes of players with a vision of how to transform and improve the social and business environment of a region to become innovation-led and productive.

A triad of entrepreneurship competencies
Source: Nkontwana, 2022.
Figure 1: A triad of entrepreneurship competencies
Source: Nkontwana, 2022.
“The hub approach to developing entrepreneurs, positions hubs as centres and spaces – physical or virtual – that provide coworking facilities, as well as financial and non-financial support, to promote technological innovations and entrepreneurship (Jiménez & Zheng, 2017).”
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A description of entrepreneurship development phases and related support services
Table 2: A description of entrepreneurship development phases and related support services1
Source: Nkontwana, 2022.

To produce entrepreneurs in the future, innovation stakeholders must start to work with young people today. This process crucially distinguished the idea phase from the start-up phase and the longer-term operational phase. Each phase requires different role players and particular goals.

Table 2 identifies the different stages of the entrepreneurship development process in terms of growth and nurturing. It distinguishes between the distinct processes of coaching, mentorship and business development services.

While investing in the pipeline for the future is important, there are often already aspiring and practicing industry players, who have established themselves outside the university, looking to either start or grow new businesses. This is a distinct group that requires support to make themselves investable as the talent behind the new idea, offering related support such as identifying a suitable co-founder or team so as to embark on the venture together (Lähde, Gorman & Davies, 2018). While finding a co-founder or a team to support a new business idea may sound simple, it can b a daunting task, requiring the idea-owner to be deliberate about bringing in new team members and letting them go at the right time, and being open to new input. Team formation may require stakeholders outside the team of co-founders to facilitate connections, or to design events that enable individuals to meet and interact regularly.

If inspirational and seeding efforts are successful, then newly formed co-founding teams (ie, startup teams) initiating a venture need to cultivate their new ideas by making them unique and attractive to both potential customers and to early-stage finance organisations looking to risk their money on promising ideas, yet to be validated to potential customers or markets (Proparco, 2018; Wangari & Crawford, 2019). This early-stage support is known to be one of the key barriers to new venture creation.

A recent study by Viarnaud, Boisnier, Worms & Nyati (2020) on start-ups in Africa explores this in more detail. Figure 2 shows that entrepreneurs experience funding to be the major challenge in proving a concept, although the impact of funding can be moderated by strategic application of the other elements.

However, new venture creation is more than a successful idea; for it to pay social dividends as well, there must be a deliberate effort to translate early-stage success into high-performing teams and innovative products and services that promise good returns to investors (Chirchietti, 2018).

This phase in the process of entrepreneurship development is called acceleration (InfoDev, 2014) and requires a combination of coaching, mentorship and business development. It is important to note that this phased-process approach is non-linear. Developing entrepreneurs tends to be iterative, imperfect, and involves many failures along the way; it requires multiple learning loops at each phase (Tosey, Visser & Saunders, 2012) and dynamic capacitation approaches tailored for each budding entrepreneur and co-founder team (Zahra, Sapienza & Davidsson, 2006).

Figure 2: Biggest challenges facing start-up teams in Africa
Graph indicating biggest challenges facing start-up teams in Africa

This process is varied and non-linear, because it is rooted in diverse entrepreneur journeys

Successful entrepreneurship requires students to take varied and non-linear journeys. This is usefully illustrated by a capability framework (Dejaeghere & Baxter, 2014) that provides a guide for capacitating youth entrepreneurs, recognising the complexity of the entrepreneurial journey and suggesting a phased and non-linear approach.

The hub approach to developing entrepreneurs, positions hubs as centres and spaces – physical or virtual – that provide co-working facilities, as well as financial and non-financial support, to promote technological innovations and entrepreneurship (Jiménez & Zheng, 2017). Universities can act as hubs, attracting and assembling vital resources needed to start new ventures and grow small businesses such as talent, ideas and capital.

A university can be a vehicle for innovation, accelerating entrepreneurship. Spaces like UCT can facilitate access to skills, finance, markets and related services by collaborating with private equity, venture capital, government agencies, other universities and international development organisations (Friederici, 2017:7). Such hubs are not only supporters and human capital levers but also coordinators for interdependent actors (viz. finance, policy, etc.) that can launch, scale and strengthen entrepreneurship in a particular region (see Figure 3). They play dual roles of supporting local entrepreneurs who participate in their programmes (the intra-function) and a context-relevant orchestration role with other enterprise-support organisations (the interfunction) in order to influence environmental factors that can enable or constrain success.

The UCT student stories and journeys in this book are situated in both the educational context and the broader ecology of support needed from youth, home and other interdisciplinary stakeholders beyond the university hub. Creating entrepreneurs takes an intentional village, and UCT is but one of many village players. In fact, UCT is arguably a microcosm of the bigger Cape Town innovation ecosystem, which creatively uses its institutional equity to leverage financial and non-financial support for students. Universities, as drivers of new knowledge and skills, demonstrate responsive and agile systems that respond to both contextual and epistemological imperatives.

Figure 3: A basic relationship between a hub and entrepreneurship local ecosystem
image indicating the basic relationship between a hub and entrepreneurship local ecosystem
Source: Nkontwana (2022).
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Women entrepreneurs:

Sisters are doing it for themselves

Ishara Maharaj
Ishara is pursuing a PhD through UCT’s GSB, focusing on adversity and the identity dynamics of township entrepreneurs.
picture of Ishara Maharaj

When we think of entrepreneurs, we often imagine businessmen in formal suits – a bias backed up by both entrepreneurship literature and popular media culture. Women get left out of the picture, even though they play an equal, if not more pivotal, role in enacting social transformation through entrepreneurship. With at least seventy percent of the world’s population living on less than a dollar a day, women’s entrepreneurial activities potentially impact the circumstances of whole communities (Chant & Pedwell, 2008, IFC, 2018). Research from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor in their 2020/21 Women’s Entrepreneurship Report tells us that 17 percent of women in low- and middleincome countries are entrepreneurs, and another 35 percent hope to be. Half of the women in developing countries view entrepreneurship as a viable path for bettering their lives (Elam et. al, 2021).

The field of entrepreneurship has made significant strides toward understanding women as entrepreneurs over the last decade (Jennings & Brush, 2013), yet much remains to be understood, particularly regarding women entrepreneurs in developing contexts. In South Africa, poverty and inequality is most visible among black womenheaded households in township communities. Despite numerous tribulations, township women choose to become entrepreneurs, yet very little research explicates the narratives of these women participating in the informal economy (Grant, 2013).

Having spent the past three years with the same set of township entrepreneurs for my doctoral research, I am able to share the life stories of two inspirational women entrepreneurs. While they struggled with the challenges associated with township life, they have achieved incredible results and have great aspirations. In both cases, distress and disappointment from strained marital relations served as motivation to pursue new ventures and new identities.

image of sign displayed at Uhuru Peak

Mountaineering Masseuse

Although Zana* married her high school sweetheart, her husband’s expectations about her role as his wife were different from her own. While he wanted her to be a stay-at-home mother to their three children, she wanted to earn her own income and learn new skills. After nine years, their marriage broke down through a betrayal, and she lost all trust in him. Despite it being painful, this experience was something she could use as a catalyst for a new story – a chance to reinvent her life according to her own expectations.

Post-divorce, Zana began to work as a live-in domestic worker in an affluent suburb, where she also began jogging to lose the weight that she had gained during her last pregnancy. This progressed into marathon running and a growing collection of medals. With the advice of her community and friends, she met a man who was working on a project to empower disadvantaged women through mountain climbing. Through this programme, she became one of three township women to receive sponsorship to climb the world’s seven highest mountain peaks. Over the course of two years, she powered her way up Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, Mount El Brus in Russia, Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, and Mount Kosciuszko in Australia.

Even though her quest has stalled after the four mountains, Zana continues to hike up and down Table Mountain in anticipation of one day conquering Mount McKinley in Alaska, Mount Vinson in Antarctica and Mount Everest in Asia.

The project attracted media attention and a documentary about the three ladies aired on national television, leading to more opportunities. Zana became somewhat of a celebrity and was invited to speak at Women’s Day events across the country. She was even offered employment at a well-known outdoor equipment retailer, advising other mountain climbers on hiking and climbing gear. But she eventually grew tired of this role, stating, “I’m not a salesperson. I’m a climber.”

At one of her speaking events, Zana was gifted a massage voucher. The masseuse she went to suggested that she consider doing a massage course, since she challenged her body to such extremes. The seed was planted. Zana went back to her domestic cleaning work and enrolled in a part-time course in massage therapy. Her employers encouraged her and even hosted their friends at a massage party to help her complete the practical components of her course. Her relationship-building ensured that her newfound career could blossom.

Zana then met a renowned massage school teacher, who showed her the art of soy-candle making, among other massage therapy techniques. And, yet again, through her network of teachers and very happy clients, Zana met the owners of a newly constructed business location in the touristic hub of Hout Bay, in Cape Town.

“In the entrepreneurship literature, constructs are often described and studied in dichotomies – in either-or states…I argue that this is too simplistic a lens. Women’s experiences in entrepreneurship exist on a continuum – not in either/or categories.”
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When the owners first took Zana to see the planned location, it was nothing more than a dirty, dilapidated building – nearly impossible to imagine as a serene space for her massage therapy venture. But the building progressed, and, with the promise of rental waivers for the first two months, Zana opened her massage therapy stall in July 2011.

Now, more than a decade later, Zana’s venture has not only survived but thrived as she continuously seeks ways to enhance her product range and services. She has worked with a researcher to create a traditional, herb-inspired soy candle made with indigenous imphepho oil. Zana’s clients extend across the globe – from Kuwait to Germany and the United States – and include local politicians who book her prior to arriving in Cape Town. Zana’s children have grown up with her venture, often helping make soy candles, which she does from her house in Imizamo Yethu.

Regardless of what is happening in her personal life, Zana’s business and children are her top priorities. She reflects that if not for her divorce she would have never experienced such a rich, full, and stimulating life. Zana treated her challenges as events to overcome, not as moments over which to languish. It’s thanks to this approach, she says, that she

Growing Green Fingers

Renata* grew up in an insecure household. Not only did her father mistreat her mother, but the fathers of her first two children concealed marriages, and it was a constant struggle to obtain child support. She battled with unemployment for several years. It was her husband’s infidelity (and sudden exit from their lives) that sparked a dramatic change in her life. It came as a shock to Renata – both emotionally and economically destabilising her. How would she care for her four children as a single parent?

Since childhood, Renata loved nurseries and growing plants, and as an adult she nurtured a vegetable garden. This little patch of garden in her backyard saved her family from starving during their most difficult times. But it wasn’t just the food that was life-saving, it was also the action and industry of the work itself which helped her unburden herself psychologically.

Renata’s family saw how important gardening was to her and encouraged her to enter a competition for innovative business ideas run by the city. She thought of her situation, and the thousands of other families without a source of income to feed their families: if they could grow their own food using portable wooden planter boxes, even families without space could have nutritious food to eat. Her idea won her third place and some prize money, which she used to formally register her business.

Renata admits she knew nothing about business when she started. However, she has adopted a growth mindset over the last four years, incubating her venture through several business accelerator and incubator programmes. Through these programmes, she has been able to expand her venture, partner with corporate organisations and supply seedlings to farmers in the region. She has also built several support networks through her association with business incubators. Providing opportunities to travel internationally, Renata has pitched her business to the mayor of Paris, representing the South African Women Entrepreneur of the Year competition. She spent a week at the headquarters of Samsung in South Korea. Her venture has opened her up to a world of opportunities. While her work has taken her abroad, she remains committed to uplifting the lives of the children in her community, who daily deal with gang violence and its related pressures. Operating on the grounds of a local high school, Renata teaches children about the value of growing food sustainably and about nutrition and community.

However, crime is a serious concern – her nursery has been broken into several times. Money and electronics have been stolen, and even seedlings, which take weeks to re-grow. She feels she must minimise publicity about her venture so as not to draw attention from unwanted gang-related elements that place her children at risk.

Renata hopes to one day have her own farm so she can become a national seedling supplier, and so she can build a safer life for her children. While necessity rather than ambition sparked her venture, her idea was an innovative one that solved a community-wide challenge. Looking beyond her own resource constraints, she considered her community of largely unemployed people in need of food for their families, making her a social entrepreneur and the darling of the various accelerator programmes with which she is associated.

In the entrepreneurship literature, constructs are often described and studied in dichotomies – in either/or states. Based on time spent with township-based women entrepreneurs, I argue that this is too simplistic a lens.

Women’s experiences with entrepreneurship exist on a continuum – not in either/or categories. While there are instances where being a female makes the entrepreneurial journey more challenging – for instance when facing gender discrimination in a male-dominated industry – if we consider women’s life stories and their tribulations prior to venturing, it is evident that becoming an entrepreneur if one is a woman can be both fortuitous and beneficial.


  1. (-) I distinguish between coaching, mentorship and business development services. Coaching focuses on individual support (i.e., mental health, wellbeing) recognising that there is a human being behind the innovation. Mentorship refers to industry-specific support, ideally from an experienced or successful entrepreneur in the same field. This means support focuses more on the team rather than the individual. Business development services refer to industry-specific technical support services to help meet regulation (eg legal, compliance, etc.), reporting (eg accounting, etc.), marketing (eg branding, advertising, communications, etc.), data ethics (eg data privacy, storage, reporting, etc.) standards, among other specialist business services that may or may not be within the co-founding team’s skillset. Table 2 does not prescribe what practitioners should do but suggests which services are critical at which phase of development. It is therefore unlikely, although possible, that a business coach is also a mentor and technical expert in a particular industry.

* Pseudonyms have been used to maintain participants’ anonymity as per UCT ethics in research protocols.


chapter number 2

The UCT story – how entrepreneurship has evolved at a research institution

Over the decades, UCT has deliberately fostered entrepreneurship through a range of activities. A number of initiatives have emerged in faculties and within partnership institutions such as the Graduate School of Business (GSB), the Hasso Plattner d-school Afrika, the Solution Space, International Academic Programme Office and the Baxter Theatre Centre. These initiatives operate both independently and as part of a cohesive institutional strategy.

The university aims to develop graduates who can add value to the wider community, create their own jobs and become employers of others, thus building agility and transformation into the economy. This, in turn, requires a socially engaged curriculum that balances the local and the global to enable students to have ready access to the skills and knowledge required to exercise their sense of social citizenship in the creation of a sustainable and regenerative world

Each initiative is distinctive: operating within a particular space in the larger institution, mobilising resources and students in specific ways for a particular purpose.

The unique context of each initiative, its distinctive partners, funders and those nvested in it, have shaped its character.

UCT’s International Academic Programmes Office (IAPO) has several external funding partners, such as the Mastercard Foundation, which have invested in high-performing students from all over Africa. These serve to nurture students within the university, while also developing networks that extend long after studies are completed.

It has been exciting to see the way in which UCT operates as an innovation hub, where the cream of Africa’s scholars come to study and to integrate passion, commitment and disciplinary learning with access to entrepreneurial skills and resources, building value beyond South Africa.

Vendor Expo at the Baxter Theatre
Vendor Expo at the Baxter, connecting entrepreneurs within the ecosystem. Photo by Lerato Maduna

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Authors: Solange Rosa and François Bonnici

Social entrepreneurs and social change

Solange Rosa and François Bonnici
Solange is the director of the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship. François is the centre’s founder and former director, and currently the director of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship at the World Economic Forum.

What makes for a successful entrepreneur? Is it an innovative start-up raking in billions – perhaps enough to fund the CEO’s journey into space? Or is it perhaps about creating new jobs and opportunities to boost economic growth? While these factors are time-honoured tenets of business success, increasingly we see that a successful entrepreneur is one who looks beyond the bottom line to address critical social and environmental challenges, and uplifts whole communities with their success.

In South Af rica, where pervasive poverty, youth unemployment, environmental degradation and social insecurity endure, it’s this broader understanding of entrepreneurship – referred to as social entrepreneurship – that holds the most promise. So, while commercially successful entrepreneurs like Adrian Gore of Discovery are rightly celebrated, we should also be celebrating the social entrepreneurs: people like Luvyo Rani, a former school teacher whose IT services company Silulo Ulutho Technologies was started to bridge the technology gap in

disadvantaged areas by opening internet cafes in townships. We should recognise Francois Petousis, a MPhil student from the UCT GSB who founded Lumkani, which has sought to bring affordable alarm systems to low-income homes and businesses – often in informal settlements.

Rani and Petousis are just two of the many thousands of social entrepreneurs at work across the continent who are playing a critical role in addressing market failures and demonstrating more sustainable business models to build inclusive economies that work for all. Both are products of UCT and, more specifically, the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship, based at the GSB.

Founded in 2011, the Bertha Centre is a leading academic centre in Africa that is focused on pursuing social innovation projects towards social justice. Its pioneering work over the past decade has done much to focus attention on why social innovators and entrepreneurs are so important, and to explore ways to support and

scale up their impact. In the process, the centre has also had a profound impact on the focus of the wider university. The UCT vice-chancellor’s Vision 2030 specifically recognises transformation, sustainability and excellence as the three core pillars on which the institution must rest in a rapidly changing world, and asks the question: “The world is changing, are we?” The Bertha Centre has holistically integrated this mandate.

“We need to work at a systems level and foster radical new mindsets and approaches to drive transformative change.”

Over the past decade, the centre has been at the vanguard of UCT’s radical approach to teaching, learning and research. From the beginning, we realised that because we were teaching disruptive approaches to our students – sending them out to change the world through social innovation and entrepreneurship – we also needed to apply these principles to our own institution and adapt how we were delivering social-impact education. And this is exactly what we have tried to do.

Challenging what we teach, how we teach it and to whom

At the Bertha Centre, we have always had a Trojan horse mindset: aiming to infiltrate the business paradigm to begin to influence leadership across South Africa to promote activism and social change from within. In the process, we have experimented with and challenged some fundamental principles of learning, including what we teach, who participates and where we engage. To this extent we have invited non-paying students, practitioners, and executives into our classrooms – not only as guest speakers, but also as participants – to broaden the conversation and shake things up. This is simple enough to do, and it is often enough to tip the scales so that interesting and unpredictable learning emerges.

In 2016, we decided to step beyond the traditional boundaries of the institution by establishing a satellite facility in Philippi Village, in the heart of one of Cape Town’s most disadvantaged township communities. This was a very physical manifestation of our desire to overcome barriers of distance and privilege that prevent access to learning. In the same spirit, we also established the Groote Schuur Innovation Hub in the Groote Schuur Hospital with the aim of engaging and supporting hospital staff to develop and implement solutions to some of the hospital’s most pressing problems. And we were among the first to launch a massive open online course (MOOC) at UCT, “Becoming a changemaker, an introduction to social innovation”, which is currently the top ranked MOOC on social innovation on Coursera, having reached more than 100 000 people in 170 countries.

Curriculum innovations have included launching a Social Innovation Lab, which first ran as an elective on the MBA programme but was quickly made into a core course, making the UCT GSB among only a handful of business schools worldwide to mainstream social innovation in this way. We also launched a new MPhil degree with a specialisation in inclusive innovation and have funded over 100 social changemakers through our Bertha Fellowship programme to study this, or an MBA, at the UCT GSB. Many of our fellows have gone on to launch startling new products and services or are pursuing ideas that are making a social impact.

Our research too reflects our desire to disrupt what is taught. The Bertha Centre has published over 250 teaching case studies that showcase African innovations and businesses. The development of this kind of local content is considered an important part of decolonising the curriculum, given that the vast majority of case material taught at business schools is based on North American examples. Going even further, Bertha faculty have pioneered a new teaching case method – one that incorporates multiple perspectives – as a counterbalance to the dominant Harvard Business School case writing style that typically features a single protagonist in an organisation solving a particular problem. This approach recognises that in a complex and unequal world, a single protagonist can’t change the system on their own; multiple actors and institutions have to work together if they stand a chance of developing fresh and workable solutions that deliver real value to more people.

Taking entrepreneurship to the next level – a systems lens

The truth of our interconnectedness and the importance of collaboration in a complex world have been laid bare by COVID-19. As the pandemic pushed vulnerable people further into poverty and rolled back years of development gains, it has become harder to ignore the systemic inequalities of our global economic system. If we want to fix our world, we now know that we need to work at a systems level and foster radical new mindsets and collaborative approaches to drive transformative change that leaves no one behind. The needs are just too large and complex and the underlying causes too deep in history, politics and culture; and the best solutions are too constrained by outdated rules and skewed power structures to do anything otherwise. This has major implications for entrepreneurs and for how we teach and capacitate the entrepreneurs of the future.

“…students of entrepreneurship need to understand more than how to run a business and all this entails; they need to learn how to collaborate with and leverage the strengths of others…”

A narrow focus on the traditional, and purely commercial, aspects of business will, by definition, encourage entrepreneurs to work within the current system. But we need tomorrow’s entrepreneurs to rewrite the rules of engagement.

They will need to understand that it’s not just about profit, but about unlocking change at a deep systems level to allow new value to bubble to the surface. For this, students of entrepreneurship need to understand more than how to run a business and all this entails; they need to learn how to collaborate with and leverage the strengths of others – including those of local communities – to work together to address structural power imbalances and participate in the remaking of their communities and economies.

In essence, we need all entrepreneurs – large and small – to embrace this new vision for entrepreneurship. And to help them to do their work, we need to focus on building an ecosystem that supports and nurtures their potential, especially that of social entrepreneurs – from recognising and celebrating what they are doing, to ensuring that they are supported and capacitated and that their solutions, where appropriate, can be mainstreamed. Funding needs to be an important focus: for example, the Bertha Centre recently launched the Green Outcomes Fund in collaboration with the Jobs Fund and Green Cape to provide funding for entrepreneurs who are working to impact climate change.

But more than that, we need a new metric of success, judged by the degree to which entrepreneurs enable others to thrive. In many ways social entrepreneurs represent a new yardstick for leaders in the twenty-first century. They manage not just to fill in gaps and meet the needs of the vulnerable, but also to enable whole groups of society to become agents of their own change. By doing so, they start to shift the rigid structures that entrench inequality; they start to shift systems. In this way, we can start to change the world.

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GSB Phillipi hub
GSB Phillipi hub.

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Author:Vanessa Ramanjam

UCT GSB Solution Space Philippi Village:

Extending UCT’s places and spaces to serve local communities

Vanessa Ramanjam
Vanessa is programme manager of the GSB Solution Space. She combines experience in for-profit and non-profit ventures of all scales with a purpose to drive social change through equitable economic participation.

As UCT reinvents itself as a twenty-first century university that is South Af rican, Afrikan and international, balancing the academic imperatives of producing world-class research with a transformative socially-engaged agenda, the call is for a seismic shift in the way the university thinks and acts rather than a gradual evolution.

As a legacy player, UCT is embracing this shift – having already spent nearly a decade rising to the challenge of leadership in innovation. In 2014, UCT’s GSB, based at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront, established the Solution Space to serve as an ecosystem hub for early-stage enterprise start-ups, corporate innovation and entrepreneurship research and development.

The mission of the Solution Space is to inspire, nurture and equip purpose-driven individuals, teams and organisations with an entrepreneurial spirit to build a better Africa, and world. It provides several different opportunities for entrepreneurs, UCT students and alumni, as well as international students, through various programmes and short courses, including a startup accelerator programme. For corporates, the Solution Space is a research and development platform that can lead market development and test new products and services.

As an extension of this vision, UCT GSB set itself the challenge of finding a way to encourage further interaction between academia, industry and local communities to solve the unique social issues of our context. In 2016, it established the university’s first permanent community hub in Philippi Village, one of the city’s most under-served settlements.

Audience in a workshop
Photo by Lerato Maduna

Location, location

The Solution Space Philippi Village is set at the site of the old cement factory. Re-purposed into an entrepreneurial and recreational/retail hub, it’s been given new life as a mixed-use, 6 000 square metre entrepreneurial development zone, strategically located at the intersection of five of Cape Town’s largest townships. The development is the result of a joint investment by the Bertha Foundation, founding sponsor of the GSB’s Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and the Jobs Fund.

“The mission of the Solution Space is to inspire, nurture and equip purpose-driven individuals, teams and organisations with an entrepreneurial spirit to build a better Africa, and world.”

Twenty-two kilometres from Cape Town’s city centre, the area has a large youth population and high unemployment. Despite the proximity to other resources, such as the Cape Town International Airport, industrial and horticultural areas, Philippi’s surrounding community is an impoverished one. Approximately 56% of residents live in informal dwellings, which include backyard rentals and informal shelters.

The Solution Space Philippi Village was designed to be a dynamic space that would enable UCT staff and students to interact and work with people from the surrounding communities to solve socio-economic challenges and develop sustainable solutions to the social challenges that constrain Africa’s economic prosperity. It was also intended as a research, development and innovation facility, not only for UCT but for businesses, corporates and other organisations. It allows UCT to have a permanent presence beyond its traditional borders.

In addition, the hub was intended to immediately and directly impact the local communities by providing information and support to young people, entrepreneurs and businesses from the surrounding areas, through foundational and experiential learning, development programmes and access to world-class learning and co-working spaces.

Supporting local enterprise

Simnikiwe Xanga, who was part of the first UCT Solution Space team at Philippi Village, describes her involvement with the programmes as life changing. “When the University of Cape Town opened the campus in Philippi, its presence signified a transformation for me as an employee,” she says. “And I have seen how this space has transformed lives.”

After struggling to find employment in 2016, Siphumeza “Blax” Ramncwana and Siphamandla “Space” Mavumengwane decided to start a mobile muffin business, targeting public transport facilities and salons with great success. They joined the Solution Space accelerator programme in Philippi Village in 2018 to help grow and improve their model, gaining access to a range of resources, including a co-working space, practical learning clinics, mentors, staff advisors and a community of peers. The business evolved into Estratweni Mobile Foods, which today employs 15 people and has expanded into two locations, Philippi and Gugulethu.

GSB Phillipi hub
GSB Phillipi hub. Photo by Lerato Maduna
Author: Simnikiwe Xanga

Simnikiwe Xanga

Author: Siphumeza “Blax” Ramncwana

Siphumeza “Blax” Ramncwana

Author: Mandisa Makubalo

Mandisa Makubalo

Even with the setbacks of COVID-19, Estratweni Mobile Foods was able to adapt – first to offer deliveries and then online ordering. And although the reopening of restaurants has hurt online sales, the duo have not been discouraged. “We have re-branded and are going to build on this momentum and sustain our business doing only an online service for our customers,” Blax says. Not only have they been able to get the business up and running again, they branched out into another business, opening a physical store on Long Street.

In 2019, when founder and managing director of Unlimited Experiences SA Mandisa Makubalo discovered the co-working space at the Solution Space Philippi Village, she decided it was the ideal place to nurture her business. Focusing on solving complex organisational problems through customer and experience management, Mandisa’s vision was to make consulting skills available to disempowered locations in South Africa. The business has since expanded across industries and throughout the continent, and yet has remained a venture in residence in Philippi Village.

Mandisa continues to choose Solution Space as the base for her operations, because she believes the greatest impact comes from serving from within the locations you are targeting. “I can deliver these services from within the very townships [I seek to serve], which carries much more value than having to design services for a distant market.” Being at the innovation hub has been a game changer, says Mandisa, which has challenged existing narratives around township economic development.

There are many more stories of people who have been inspired to transform their lives by attending programmes at the Solution Space Philippi Village. In addition to its own initiatives, various departments at UCT make use of the Solution Space, including Changemakers, a youth development programme focused on the social entrepreneurship and skills development of young people in Philippi, providing training and coaching to 16-35-year-olds who are not actively engaged in education, employment or training.

Looking to the future

The Solution Space Philippi Village manifests UCT’s vision to extend education meaningfully into the community, supporting its transformation and inclusion agenda and positioning it as a leading academic institution with a broad social mandate. However, fulfilling this mandate requires long-term engagement with the lived experiences of fellow South Africans, and an understanding of the complex and ever-changing socio-political landscape.

The Philippi campus offers students, alumni, clients and local entrepreneurs a place to meet and engage, but it is just a platf orm: effecting socio-economic change will require an ongoing commitment to partnership.

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Authors: Hamieda Parker and Sarah Boyd

Playing games to grow entrepreneurs in classrooms and spaza shops

Hamieda Parker and Sarah Boyd
Hamieda teaches and researches in the areas of operations management, innovation and entrepreneurship as well as supply chain management at UCT’s Graduate School of Business (GSB). Sarah is a case editor and researcher at the Case Writing Centre at the GSB, where she also earned her MBA; she has experience in the area of manufacturing industry.

Are entrepreneurs born or made? Our experience working with student-entrepreneurs at UCT’s GSB tells us that people can indeed learn to be entrepreneurs – both in classrooms and informal learning environments like small businesses. Yet, entrepreneurship education in South Africa is a major challenge for both universities and informal learning environments.

Some of the best tools educators have to build entrepreneurial skills and mindsets aren’t actually confined to classrooms or executive boardrooms. Games are an accessible mode of experiential learning that engage players and facilitate practical knowledge transfer. The experience of our MBA students, first as students who played games in class and later as entrepreneurs who use games to teach others, showcases the advantages of focused play for promoting entrepreneurship in both traditional education institutions and in informal learning environments like companies.

These include using affordable, fast, easy activities to learn teamwork, to practice problem-solving and inspire entrepreneurial attitudes.

Making entrepreneurs in the classroom

Entrepreneurship education sets itself apart from other subjects in the university environment, mostly because we have not yet figured out the best way to teach it. Between educators and researchers, a debate rages on about whether entrepreneurship can be taught effectively in formal programmes or whether it can be taught at all.

One major point of contention in this debate is the mode of teaching and learning. In most cases an entrepreneurship education course at university level in South Africa, and Africa more broadly, looks more like your standard general business course. Very few incorporate practical, experiential learning activities.

“Games are an accessible mode of experiential learning that engage players and facilitate practical knowledge transfer.”

Our experience at the GSB points to the conclusion, also reached by multiple other researchers, that students can, in fact, be inspired and skilled to create businesses through their classroom experiences. What is more, they can go on to train other entrepreneurs with less access to formal education opportunities to become stronger business managers. In both instances, this learning is made possible through experiential learning approaches that convey deep learnings in relatively simple – and fun – activities. This is to say, we play games.

Experiential learning: marshmallows, spaghetti and tape

Any professional who has attended business school or worked for a large corporation in the last 20 years has likely encountered the “the marshmallow challenge” in one way or another. Teams of four to five people are given a simple task: to build the tallest tower possible in 18 minutes using some rudimentary materials (20 pieces of uncooked spaghetti, one metre of masking tape, one metre of string, and one large marshmallow). Since designer Peter Skillman introduced this design challenge to the public at a 2006 TED Talk, it has become a popular creativity and team-building game for people of all ages and disciplines, working in a variety of environments toward a number of ends.

The seemingly facile marshmallow challenge is a form of experiential learning that encourages learning through concrete, practical activities in any environment and at any life stage (Kolb, 2015). Kolb’s learning cycle for experiential learning (Figure 4) consists of four stages: undergoing a concrete experience, reflecting on what happened, forming a conceptual view of the situation (possibly incorporating theory), and actively experimenting in the future, based on learnings of the past experience (Weenk, 2021).

Kolb’s learning cycle
Figure 4: Kolb’s learning cycle (reproduced from Weenk (2021))

As a result, games like the marshmallow challenge offer a number of ben ef its for players: promoting teamwork and teambuilding, enhancing foreign language skills, encouraging innovation and problemsolving, promoting design-thinking, and enhancing entrepreneurial mindsets and skills.

When we use the marshmallow challenge in the classroom as part of an operations management course, we observe how learning by doing pushes students to immerse themselves in the theoretical concepts of management practices, and to bring these to life. The value of games, which bring students together for a co-learning experience, extends beyond transactional knowledge transfer to team dynamics, as several of our MBA students have found.

Building psychological safety through games

In 2017, MBA student Dr Earle du Plooy decided to investigate if games could be a useful way of increasing psychological safety among the staff at his district hospital (Du Plooy & Parker, 2020). In any setting, for members of a team to work together comfortably and effectively, they must share a sense of psychological safety– the belief that they can take risks without fear of interpersonal consequences for failure, mistakes or unexpected outcomes (Edmondson, 199). When people feel psychologically safe in a team, they share ideas and concerns freely, they generate creative ideas, and they try new things.

Playing the marshmallow game with multiple teams at the hospital, du Plooy found that teams who successfully completed the challenge and had a positive experience possessed a higher degree of psychological safety. The resource constraints and time pressure of the activity forced groups to respond either with panic and frustration, or with openness and free communication to accomplish their goal. This gave teams two essential learnings: the ways of working effectively in teams, and that seemingly impossible tasks are indeed possible when people embrace the challenge and take action.

In many ways, these are the same learnings du Plooy learned as an MBA student working in a team to complete a series of increasingly difficulty projects over two years. His use of games in an informal learning setting demonstrates the power of experiential learning for other professionals.

Hospital Games
Hospital Games
Marshmallow Challenge
Marshmallow Challenge

A student venture emerges

Student-entrepreneurs Andre Titus and Desigan Govender adopted a similar approach, using games to bring good management practices to life within Sekika Solutions, the business they founded in 2014 upon completing their MBA studies, specialising in operations and supply chain management. Sekika partners with small businesses in the “unseen” informal economy to train, optimise, and strengthen their operations – work that is best represented with their SupplyPal programme for spaza shop owners in townships. In addition to market research, business support and networking services, a crucial part of their offering is training for business owners and their team.

As students in the GSB’s supply chain management course, Titus and Govender engaged in multiple games and simulations to learn essential concepts like lean start-up methods, value stream mapping and problem solving.

The games were developed in collaboration with Dr Earl Starr (a lean-implementation black belt) and aim at helping budding entrepreneurs develop essential business skills. Low-cost, fast, simple and open for anyone to participate, the games demonstrate the power of using play to teach complicated or abstract ideas to a wide variety of entrepreneurs, professionals and employees.

Games for the win

Given the immense challenges entrepreneurs face to create viable, sustainable businesses – be they in the informal economy or the most competitive industries – it’s understandable that some are sceptical of the power of games to create meaningful learnings. This doubt is not so different from what some teams express when confronted with the marshmallow challenge: How can this really work? But what players almost always find is when they let go of their doubts and reservations, and simply play the game, it does. They find ways of making sense of the task and working together to achieve something.

Our research and experiences with student entrepreneurs demonstrate that while these learnings might not build a business, they build a foundation for creativity, risk-taking and future learnings, thus opening the door to entrepreneurship for more people.

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Authors: Stuart Hendry and Anthony Hill

The UCT Genesis Project

Stuart Hendry and Anthony Hill
Stuart works in the Faculty of Commerce at UCT; he specialises in entrepreneurship and is Convenor of the UCT Genesis Project. Anthony is a serial entrepreneur and longest standing Genesis director who mentors small businesses.
Over thirty years ago, UCT Emeritus Distinguished Professor George Ellis posited the need for real-action learning to prepare students for the realities of the “world of work”. His rigorous analysis showed that students could only be adequately prepared for this world of work by following a process of experience, feedback, reflection and learning. In his own words: “It is fundamental that for real learning to take place, experiential and action-learning opportunities be provided as far as possible.”

This belief led to the establishment of a Postgraduate Diploma in Organisation & Management (PDOM) at UCT in the mid-1990s, headed by Professor Piet Human, which has since evolved to become the Postgraduate Diploma in Management in Entrepreneurship (PDE) today, headed by Professor David Prillaid.

The first of its kind in the world, this honours-level qualification requires students to complete 12 postgraduate-level courses over a full academic year while they set up and run their own business – their Genesis Project. It’s not a business simulation, a business plan competition or a pitching contest, but an actual registered business, where students are required to team up with six to seven peers to start and run their own business for a full year – including registration of a company, fundraising start-up capital, developing and managing business relationships and working closely with an external board of directors who provide mentorship. It’s a real business with real money and real-world stakes that places students within an entrepreneurial ecosystem of investors, venture capitalist and customers.

As part of their Genesis process, students receive coaching and mentoring from carefully selected Genesis directors who have first-hand experience of building a start-up business from scratch. They work with the students to support entrepreneurial and leadership skills development, including business competencies such as generating a business plan, utilising creative processes to develop and manufacture innovative products, conducting effective market research, product costing and financial projections of earnings and, most importantly, working together as a real team. Nearly 60% of the Genesis boards are made up of Genesis alumni who have returned to support the students as they start their entrepreneurial journey.

To date, the UCT Genesis Project has equipped more than 1 450 students f rom 17 countries across the world with the essential skillsets required to become successful entrepreneurs. Of these, almost half (48%) are female. Given that students come from fields as diverse as science, engineering, microbiology, film and media, fashion design, environmental studies, and even culinary school, it is noteworthy that at least one in four businesses (25%) started through the Genesis Project continue after graduation and, conservatively, one in three (33%) graduates go on to create their own business.

As the convenor of the Genesis Project, I, along with my co-author Anthony Hill, published a book in early 2022 titled, The Genesis Project: Building Entrepreneurs for Africa. The book details the impact Genesis has made, and should be making, in universities across South Africa. We explain the why, how, what and where of the project in great detail, focusing specifically on some of the success stories of Genesis alumni, and concluding by arguing the importance of universities as key players in South Africa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

In the business environment, one of the most critical metrics of success is described by the phrase “proof of concept”. This refers to the evidence that a concept, proposed business intervention or solution to a customer problem is commercially feasible. In applying this metric to the Genesis Project, research clearly shows that it has a proven track record of delivering successful start-ups and building entrepreneurs. To build on our quantitative data, we also conducted extensive surveys targeting PDE graduates, followed by in-depth interviews with several of the most successful graduates, who either took their Genesis businesses forward as a start-up, or started their own business after completing the PDE. Without exception, all of these successful entrepreneurs had actually applied their Genesis learnings to substantially improve their business decisions.

mobility vehicle

In analysing hours of interviews with Genesis graduates, ten core themes emerged that spoke to the value of Genesis for real-world entrepreneurs. These included the importance of keeping in touch with your business’s target market and selecting the right mix of complementary skills for a team. Graduates echoed the importance of leadership skills and continued personal growth, of knowing what your business does well and outsourcing the rest. They emphasised taking a cautious approach to accepting external funding, and the important role of diversity in making better decisions.

From numerous anecdotes and the evidence of hard data, it’s clear that the “proof of concept” is in place – Genesis creates a corps of business-ready entrepreneurs for South Africa and for the wider continent.


Taz Watson, 2009 PDE alumnus

“You often know your strengths, but it is important to look in the mirror to become more self-aware. Genesis for me was like that mirror being held up in front of me, forcing me to look at myself and understand how I was perceived in both positive and negative ways.” Taz Watson, 2009 PDE alumnus

Jamie Hedley, 2009 PDE alumnus

“We didn’t seek any funding during our first four years as we knuckled down and learnt by doing. Don’t be in too much of a rush to raise capital until you have a clear understanding of your business model and real funding needs.” Jamie Hedley, 2009 PDE alumnus

Ben Boehmer, 2016 PDE alumnus

“Before Genesis I would have always partnered up with someone who is a copy of myself! But now I’ve learned how wrong that is! How good it is to have someone with a completely different mind-set on your team and this has definitely helped me in my current business.”  Ben Boehmer, 2016 PDE alumnus

Conor Jenkins, 2018 PDE alumnus

“I’ve learnt to ask questions. I’ve always tended to put people on a pedestal or take someone’s word as gospel if they seem to know more than me about a topic. The problem with this is that you can easily be led astray. Although I’m still working on this, Genesis taught me to think more critically and realistically, and back my own gut.” Conor Jenkins, 2018 PDE alumnus

Likenkeng Ramafikeng, 2018 PDE alumnus

“Genesis prepared us for starting our own business, but it also prepared us for the workplace. From emotional well-being to recruiting and selecting the right people, right through to ensuring profitability – particularly making the comfort-zone not so comfortable anymore!” Likenkeng Ramafikeng, 2018 PDE alumnus

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Author: Richard Perez

Why entrepreneurs need to embrace design-led thinking

Richard Perez
Richard Perez is the founding director of Africa’s first school dedicated to Design Thinking, the Hasso Plattner d-school Afrika at UCT, offering the Foundation Programme in Design Thinking.

For the world’s urban households, waste collection is an issue that’ s too close to home. According to the UN, an estimated one billion urban-dwelling people live in slums or informal settlements where access to basic human services and service delivery is not a given. In South Af rica, the problem is exacerbated by high unemployment, the rapid densif ication of urban and periurban spaces and the legacy of apartheid spatial engineering. A bin isn ’t just a bin.

If we take a closer look, we often see that the everyday solutions we design to address even our most ubiquitous problems – like containing waste – fail in the design process. Too often the communities for whom the solution is meant to serve are left out of the conversation. In an effort to change this story, the City of Cape Town brought the community leaders of Doornbach, an informal settlement of in the Western Cape, together with engineers to co-design a refuse bin.

Engineers learned that a refuse bin in an informal settlement needs to do a lot more than contain waste: it must repel rainwater, guard against theft, remain out of reach for scavenging animals but accessible to older children tasked with taking out the rubbish. It needs to hold waste for several households and still be fitting for a standard city-issued blue bag.

The community explained the complexity of the problem, unlocking new information that enabled the design of the right kind of bin. Thousands of these bins have now been rolled out across the metropole, setting an example of how design thinking’s human-centred, cross-silo approach an solve problems that impact our daily lives.

Non-traditional approaches, nontraditional solutions

The world has many challenges and each one varies in complexity, size, difficulty and importance. Given the scale and variety of the challenges humans face, it may sound foolhardy to think there’s a common thread to how we should tackle each one. While there is no single formula, I believe a designled mindset can give us the best chance of developing the innovative solutions we need to address the complexity of modern life.

Design-led thinking, an evolution of the design discipline and something traditionally taught at art and design colleges, is an attitude to problem solving. It’s a powerful tool for the public sector and business alike. It can be applied in a variety of contexts to enhance end-to-end customer experiences, design new products, and shape new services that are better attuned to what customers/stakeholders really need and want.

Design-led thinking requires us to wrestle with the problem at hand with a kind of obsession – bathing in it to fully explore the dimensions that shape it. We are too easily influenced by the seemingly obvious parts to life’s puzzles. Cape Town city officials, for instance, may have been dazzled by best practices in the waste removal world, preventing them f rom seeing the real challenges on the ground in Doornbach. Design thinking asks us to dig deeper, and then several levels below that, to uncover what’s really going on under each issue. With it, we are stretched beyond our traditional f rameworks. We are challenged to unlock a creative confidence to problem solving and imagine new possibilities, unbound by the legacy of “the way things have been done”. This is easier said than done, but creativity is a natural tendency all humans share – the same attribute separating us f rom machines – marking the moment we choose to carve something into existence without having been programmed to do so.

Design-led entrepreneurship

It’s not a big leap to see how design-led thinking can, and should, inform entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurial thinking is often described as necessarily involving a kind of tenacity and drive to meet the demands of a specific problem – imagining a way to do things differently, then tuning an idea with relentless passion. This too is a design-thinking mantra – to work through the moments when you want to give up, to navigate the uncertainty and push a little further to see beyond what’s already been seen by those who have come before.

Photo by Lerato Maduna
Photo by Lerato Maduna
Hasso Plattner Design-Thinking School Afrika at UCT
The new Hasso Plattner Design-Thinking School Afrika at UCT

Entrepreneurship is traditionally geared to building a business, codified in the process of establishing a company, going to market, and making profit. While design thinking goes beyond this, there are four core elements of a designled thinking mindset that entrepreneurs can embrace to become better business builders.

The first, and perhaps most relevant, is a bias to action. Entrepreneurs often search for the perfect product and spend ages fine-tuning their offering before going to market. Life is too messy, and public opinion too varied to be able to perfect a product in your head. Design thinking encourages building and re-building, getting your hands dirty and testing through trial and error. The sooner you build something, the sooner you will know whether it will work.

Second – and intimately tied to the above – is a willingness to embrace failure. Tripping up is not so much a mark of demise, but a steppingstone to success – it’s through failing that we learn, and from learning that we improve. Learning alone, however, is one dimensional, and we can improve our odds of understanding problems and finding solutions through collaboration. Embracing diversity of opinion is the third element to adopt. It can provide a more nuanced view of reality, uncovering dimensions invisible at first glance.

Lastly, design thinking continually asks us to be context-aware, viewing problem-solving as a process of understanding the tangled threads in the fabric of a problem, as much as the problem itself. One of the most common causes of failed business skeletons is contextual ignorance: not understanding that a business must be adapted to meet the needs of its immediate environment. That a business trend is a sensation in the United States, doesn’t guarantee its success in Africa. The continent has unique qualities that put a premium on product development and entrepreneurially engineered solutions, sensitivity to local cultures, norms and customs.

Overall, these four components of the designthinking mindset work together to provide a structured approach to innovation. Crucially, this “structure” doesn’t mean a paint-by-numbers approach where one can input a problem, follow model x, and out pops innovation. Rather, it refers to the entire ecosystem around innovation – the behaviour you need, the types of physical spaces for fostering creativity, and the kind of people that reinforce the appropriate processes.

Transforming “business as usual”

Any organisation can adopt this designthinking mindset – in fact, any individual can – but it’s particularly suitable to the domain of entrepreneurship, which is driven by finding innovative solutions to stubborn challenges.

This approach is evident in successful global businesses like AirBnB, which highlights the importance of design-thinking principles as a continuous source of inspiration for understanding customers. It’s equally evident in the ventures of local star t-up heroes, Matthew Westaway and Lethabo Motsoaledi, two former UCT engineering students who participated in a foundation programme at the Hasso Plattner d-school Af rika at UCT (d-school Af rika). Sharing the grievances of poor ser vice offered by many customer call-centres, the two decided to immerse themselves in the problem. The result was a voice recognition software company, Voyc. Just a f ew years later, and their business is set to radically overhaul the call centre industry with their game-changing solution that enables businesses to handle every single customer interaction with consistency and care while also speedin g up response times.

Design thinking provided Matthew and Lethabo a model for how to enter the problem space. Instead of starting with a focus on viability, looking at the business possibilities surrounding a solution, or through an understanding of feasibility, grappling with what was technologically possible, they approached the problem with customer desirability front of mind. This meant they started with the needs and aspirations of the end user – a core design thinking principle and exactly what the City of Cape Town did when they engaged with the community of Doornbach to solve a completely different challenge. From there, they could create the relevant technology and shape the business case – to not only launch a successful start-up but one with innovation at its core.

Everywhere we look we can find problems. How we approach these problems will define our success and, ultimately, our sustainability as a species. There is a special role for entrepreneurs in solving global challenges – they’re the ones who will discover, invent and build businesses that turn obstacles into opportunities. Some will succeed, and many will fail. The difference between them will be how they think about the problem of their focus. It’s here that design thinking can help shape an attitude and structure an approach to unwrap innovation’s core, setting the entrepreneurial design thinkers on a path to success.


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Author: Paul Amayo

The Menzi Design Laboratory

Paul Amayo
Paul is a principal investigator and Senior Lecturer in the African Robotics Unit at UCT, with a Doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Oxford as well as a Master of Engineering in Electrical Engineering from UCT. Paul has a keen interest in the South African youth and creating opportunities for entrepreneurial growth within the university and beyond.

Each of the engineering departments at UCT commands respect for the discipline and practice of engineering, alongside concerns for safety and sustainability. But the necessary precision of this discipline, which often prioritises knowing before doing, can foster an environment in which expertise trumps exploration. Here, laboratories become places where expensive equipment is deployed with tight precision for already well-defined tasks in teaching and research – not sites of exploration. This leaves little space for discovery, let alone entrepreneurship.

The goal of every engineering graduate should be to apply engineering knowledge to solve local and global societal challenges. Entrepreneurship provides a link connecting the academic discipline of engineering toward social application. Students and staff should be incentivised to explore ideas that address observed problems, converting them into a product or prototype. At the same time, we must acknowledge that the confines of a curriculum often leaves little space for this experience – space, both intellectual and physical.

With this problem in mind, a small team consisting of Associate Prof Nico Fischer, Mr Justin Pead, Dr Stephen Paine and myself, with overwhelming support from the Engineering and the Built Environment (EBE) faculty and dean, met to discuss, brainstorm and eventually develop a proposal to nurture innovation and entrepreneurship within the engineering faculty. We hoped to yield tangible products and prototypes, associated IP and possible spin-out and start-up companies.

In Xhosa and Zulu, menzi is the word for “making” or “creating”

I had seen how developing curated entrepreneurship spaces within universities can have a multiplier effect in innovation across many more disciplines. As a graduate student at Oxford University when the Oxford Foundry was set up, I witnessed how a dedicated space for entrepreneurship created a path for student-led start-ups at a scale previously unimagined. I saw, too, how it effectively democratised knowledge, eliminating the need to become an Oxford Don to speak about a subject with authority, or, more importantly, to be listened to and funded. Four years later, this initiative merged with the Oxford Business School to form the Entrepreneurship Centre.

The synergy of connecting engineering with entrepreneurship is underpinned by numerous examples from other universities around the world – from the UQ Innovate at the University of Queensland to the i-Lab at Harvard – all pointing to a model that provides immense benefit both to the university and to society.

UCT absolutely had to have a similar space. The question was, where?

A space to dream

In the heart of the daily busyness of the engineering mall on UCT’s upper campus, there is one place that insists that you pause: the Glass House in the Menzies Building and its associated cafe. Though vendors come and go, this has been the go-to space for meetings, catch-ups and debriefs over a shared meal or beverage. While still surrounded by the engineering faculty, in this space – with its brilliant bay windows that invite sunlight in – frustrations and pressures are momentarily suspended.

Above this space sits a smaller, slightly less renowned space, which shares the same expansive windows and in full view of upper campus – it is here that the first phase of our proposed intervention to bring innovation and entrepreneurship into the engineering space is taking shape.

The Glass House, Menzies Building.
The Glass House, Menzies Building. Photo by Lerato Maduna

This is the Menzi Design Laboratory. The name itself is a playful union of both its current location and its purpose as a makerspace – in Xhosa and Zulu, menzi is the word for “making” or “creating”. On the face of it, it’s similar to many spaces within the engineering faculty, where one will find a variety of manufacturing equipment such as drill presses, 3D printers and design computers. But the Menzi Design Lab deliberately embodies a different ethos, urging all who enter to look outside their curriculum or research agendas, to imagine and make something different.

“Everywhere we look we can find problems. How we approach these problems will define our success and, ultimately, our sustainability as a species.”

A different mandate

It will always be a challenge to make time to dream, discuss, plan and eventually realise an idea, while also meeting the demands of a fulltime job or curriculum. That’s why a physical architecture is not only essential for holding space for ideas but also for inspiring them. This is the foundational principle of UCT’s newly built d-school Afrika, which embodies out-of-the-box thinking and innovation in its very walls. It’s fast on its way to becoming an innovation hub in Africa, challenging the Menzi Design Lab to be the engineering department’s own idea incubator.

Because it’s not just engineering acumen that prevents ideas from being born – it’s the absence of other skills like the inability to operate machinery or write code, ignorance in areas such as intellectual property, founding companies, tax, etc – knowledge transfer is at the heart of the Menzi Lab project. The lab manager is required to create and maintain the environment in which knowledge is shared and many project owners can prosper, while also guiding individuals toward resources and on protecting IP with the help of the Research Contracts and Innovation Office.

Fair access and funding are also essential to making this a generative space. While the proposed makerspace provides infrastructure, training, interaction, some loan components and selected consumables, it cannot carry full project costs.

“The name itself is a playful union of both its current location and its purpose as a makerspace – in Xhosa and Zulu, menzi is the word for “making” or “creating”.”

Applicants will be invited to pitch their ideas to a review panel, which will have an amount of discretionary funding to allocate toward promising projects that can be used to purchase components via the UCT procurement system or pay for services rendered. Other funding sources such as the RC&I Seed Fund or Innovation Builder Fund, the Evergreen Fund and the University Technology Fund will need to be approached separately by the makers. External funding from private, as well as government institutions, will be encouraged.

With the goal of providing the space, expertise and equipment for students and staff to develop their non-curriculum aligned projects towards prototypes and commercialisation, the Menzi Design Laboratory will be launched this year – we can’t wait to see what they make.

The Menzi Design Laboratory.
The Menzi Design Laboratory.
The Menzi Design Laboratory. Photos by Candice Lowin

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Teaching that facilitates the development of a new kind of entrepreneur

Alison Gwynne-Evans
Alison is a senior lecturer in Professional Communication Studies, Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, UCT.

How entrepreneurship is conceptualised impacts how entrepreneurship needs to be taught and what students need to learn. Opportunities need to be created to affirm the students’ development beyond technical skills relating to an individual business pursuit.

Far from being an individualistic pursuit, entrepreneurship is integrally connected to communities: both the communities supporting the development of the entrepreneurial initiative and the communities that benefit from it. Distinct from trading, which is transactionally oriented, entrepreneurship is focused on building value through identifying and solving problems for people in a specific context. Entrepreneurship is thus necessarily practised by individuals in community – f rom the relationship of the street trader with the motorists passing by, to the online expert and her clients – building a commercial web of connections.


Afrikan entrepreneurship can be seen as e ven more distinct, where the concept of ubuntu – of being a person to one another – alludes to a level of solidarity and connectedness beyond that of networking or the creation of access. Af rikan entrepreneurship requires an acknowledgement of the humanity and value of the stakeholders in a way that fundamentally repositions stakeholders as cobeneficiaries of a transformative enterprise.

In addition to the capabilities and skills of emotional intelligence, creativity and critical thinking, complex problem-solving, judgement and decision-making and cognitive flexibility, students need to develop their sense of identity as part of specific communities, rather than operating in isolation. This requires creating opportunities to envision and strategise how business ventures might optimally impact communities, and positions innovation in terms of specific priorities such as sustainability or social justice. These values affect the way the business is positioned and implemented and carry obligations of responsibility to communities and the wider society.

“Students need to develop their sense of identity as part of specific communities, rather than operating in isolation.”

The process is necessarily collaborative and practical, such as the processes evidenced in the Genesis project, where students’ ability to manage people, to coordinate with others, to be service-orientated and to negotiate with other stakeholders, needs to be cultivated.

Additionally, in relation to the wider impact of the business, students need to be provided with opportunities to develop a sense of Af rikan citizenship and global citizenship, responsibility towards the natural teaching and learning environment, and strong valorisation of cultural diversity.

At UCT, students develop a specific set of skills, qualities and perspectives that cultivate their knowledge and intellect, as well as their responsibilities towards the community and the broader world. In their journey, UCT students are exposed to different learning approaches, infusing environmental and social responsibility, design thinking and interdisciplinary collaboration. These methods and tools will allow students to develop approaches to engaging with the world in a more holistic way, and to understand their own actions, abilities and behaviour in relation to others.

“Afrikan entrepreneurship can be seen as even more distinct, where the concept of ubuntu – of being a person to one another – alludes to a level of solidarity and connectedness beyond that of networking or the creation of access.”

Entrepreneurship education, in this context, is not necessarily about teaching students how to start a new business; rather, it is about developing the mindset of innovation necessary to recognise opportunities and make the most of them. It is integrally connected with affirming the value of the individual entrepreneur in the process – that their unique contribution and experience is vital to the success of the venture.

In the following stories, we see how students’ lived experiences, dreams, values and their studies intertwine to create a distinct journey that sees them as central actors and change-makers in the world.

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What makes a great business pitch

Alison Gwynne-Evans
Alison teaches Professional Communication Studies in the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment. She provides support to UCT studentpreneurs to communicate and refine their ideas for the national EDHE Competition, where students compete to secure investment for their start-ups.

Planning and executing a successful business pitch requires imagination, craftmanship and application similar to that which goes into creating an unforgettable meal. The impact of the pitch needs to be sustained and relevant and to linger in the memory long after the event. A successful pitch combines the poise, charm and precision of the presenter with careful preparation and strategic judgment about what information and detail is important

Chido Dzinotyiwei, Tshegofatso Masenya and Vuthlarhi Shirindza
Chido Dzinotyiwei, Tshegofatso Masenya and Vuthlarhi Shirindza were winners in the 2021 EDHE National competition.
Denislav Marinov, Lungile Macuacua, Vuako Khoza, Mvelo Hlophe and Tamir Shklaz
National finalists 2019 EDHE Competition: Denislav Marinov, Lungile Macuacua, Vuako Khoza, Mvelo Hlophe and Tamir Shklaz.

Ingredients of the pitch

Crucially, a great business pitch requires quality ingredients, combining a variety of elements in a structure generating the energy to entice and persuade:

The pitch-presenter

Think of the pitch-presenter as a strategist, working within a context with a variety of elements, combining sensory experience and building ambiance to display the different elements to their full potential within the context.

The pitch-presenter needs to identify and select the detail, position th e elements and build the argument into a cohesive story that tempts and invites and even seduces the audience. Not only are you a strategist, but you are an artist and a communicator. Pay attention to how you present yourself as you are an important part of the pitch.

Know your audience

And then importantly, research and know your audience. Find out what you can about them and about what will motivate them to support your pitch. Craft the pitch to that specific audience. Avoid trying to satisfy two different types of audience in one pitch. Keep your pitch focused and keep your attention on the requirements whilst showing off your own capability.

A pitch provides the opportunity both to inform and to intrigue the investor. Take time to develop something that satisfies. When you think you are done, get input f rom someone whose opinion you value and incorporate that feedback. And then rehearse until you feel ready and can focus on connecting with your audience, knowing the structure and ingredients are in place.

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Author: Frank Karigambe

The Pitch

Frank Karigambe
Frank is the coordinator of the governance and programme support in the Department of Student Affairs; he is also director of The Pitch, an annual, student-run competition.

UCT is a research-intensive university, but it expects research to translate into action and practical interventions. My postgraduate dissertation focused on the impact skills-training can have on youth unemployment in local townships. Four years later, as an employee of UCT in the Residence Life Division, I sought to implement this knowledge to serve the 7 500 students within the university residence system. The vision was to create a programme that could capture imaginations and harness the entrepreneurial potential of students and staff at UCT. And so, with the support of colleagues Sean Abrahams and Michael Ross, The Pitch was born.

The Pitch was piloted in 2016, within student residences. At the inaugural event at the Baxter Residence Hall, two residence-born companies were profiled: a student-run tuckshop with dreams of becoming an established food chain, and an IT development company with aspirations of connecting homegrown coding talent to start-ups looking for IT solutions. The two businesses could not have been more different, but it was clear they shared the same spirt of creation and innovation.

The Pitch aimed to create a platform for students to implement their ideas for business and innovation alongside their formal education. We wanted to create the space for students to articulate ideas and to start acting now, committing to solutions or new ideas for the long term. It’s not just about pitching a new venture – pitching is an outcome of a process of ideation and the development of a minimum viable product. To nurture this process, we host workshops with industry professionals who guide student entrepreneurs; we train students in entrepreneurial mindsets and skills, and, of course, we help students to craft the perfect pitch.

The workshops are supported by the wider entrepreneurship ecosystem at UCT, including the GSB, the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation (AGOF), the Hasso Platter d-school Afrika, Career Services, Residence Life, Department of Student Affairs and the Residence Academic Development Committee (RADC).

Underpinning The Pitch are the core values of grit and growth. These are more than inspirational words – it’s an embedded framework called the Grit Learning Outcomes, adapted from Angela Duckworth’s grit framework (Duckworth, 2017). We have a set of empirically informed learning outcomes based upon the well-researched, academically published and internationally recognised frameworks of (i) mental contrasting with implementation intentions, commonly known as ‘WOOP’, which stands for wish, outcome, obstacle, plan; and (ii) grit, which is associated with perseverance and persistence.

Through The Pitch, students improve their abilities to:

We have hosted seven annual editions of The Pitch since its pilot in 2016. Having directed all of the events, I’ve seen that it’s vital to equip students with skills that accelerate their progress from the ideation phase to the implementation phase of their business. Collaboration between staff and students is essential, which is why we ensure communication channels through putting in place a mentoring and coaching programme for student leaders of the Academic Representative Council (ARC). In 2018, then president of the ARC, Daniel Tate, invited Vice- Chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng, to attend the event. This resulted in the on-boarding of Allan Gray as an impact partner. As a result, the programme was expanded to all UCT students.

Without funding and secure buy-in from the university community and other stakeholders, The Pitch would not be a substantial learning experience with real-life implications. For this, we credit the support of the UCT Office of the Vice-Chancellor, and VC Phakeng, in particular.

Due to COVID-19 lockdown and protocols, in 2020 The Pitch went entirely online with all phases of the competition programme. We took the opportunity to incorporate South Af rican judges who were based across the world, and students who were similarly scattered. The following year, in 2021, The Pitch adopted a hybrid model, holding workshops online but culminating in a final socially-distanced event attended by the judges, speakers, finalists, and members of the ARC. Students based outside the country participated virtually, and one such person won.

In 2022, we are holding in-person workshops with dozens of student entrepreneurs. The innovative energy of all our engagements has become a defining trait of The Pitch – one that has been evident since our inaugural entrepreneurship event in 2016. That same spirit we know is alive and thrives at UCT.

Jasantha Singh, winner of the Pitch in 2019
Jasantha Singh, winner of the Pitch in 2019.

The Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program

Carol Ojwang and Mugove Chiwashira
Carol and Mugove are situated at the African Partnerships and Programmes in the International Academic Programmes Office (IAPO) at UCT.

The Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program works to develop Africa’s next generation of leaders by providing scholarships to talented students from the African continent who lack the resources to pursue higher education. Offering a range of leadership and development opportunities, including career and entrepreneurship development, the vision is to nurture scholars into transformative leaders who make meaningful contributions to their local communities.

The Scholars Entrepreneurship Fund (SEF) was set up by the Mastercard Foundation to award funding to Mastercard Foundation scholars and alumni with the capacity to exercise transformative leadership and give back by catalysing economic opportunities for others. Recipients of the SEF Award are selected after a rigorous application process in which they propose their projects which can be implemented locally or back in their home countries. SEF awardees are then matched with a skilled entrepreneur to mentor them in the inception stages of their project. The SEF mentors support SEF awardees and their projects to ensure that they are sustainable and scalable with an impact in their local communities and across the African continent.

“The vision is to nurture scholars into transformative leaders who make meaningful contributions to their local communities.”

To date, the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at UCT has awarded 50 SEF Awards which have led to various projects in diverse sectors including aquaculture farming in Nigeria, start-up finance and training support, USSD service for farmers, biogas and health research, to name a few.

Mastercard Foundation Scholars
Mastercard Foundation Scholars (from left, back) Bright Tetteh, Gamuchirayi Manyadzi and Iyanuoluwa Oyetunji (From left, front) Simamnkele Dingiswayo, Simbarashe Kaneunyenye and Sharifa Negesa.

SAB Student Seed Fund

Rowan Spazzoli
Rowan lectures in the Faculty of Commerce at UCT. He also works as an innovative finance consultant at the Bertha Centre.

Since 2015, the GSB’s Bertha Centre has collaborated with the South African Breweries Foundation in designing and implementing a social enterprise seed fund, open to both current students and recent alumni of the UCT’s programmes. The fund offers seed capital to student-led businesses that demonstrate socially and environmentally impactful ideas.

The SAB Foundation Student Seed Fund (SAB SSF) provides support at the early stages of an enterprise’s growth cycle and plays an important role in the success of the GSB programmes to support the development and refinement of new business models with social impact. The SAB Student Seed Fund is part of a growing international trend of leading universities with impact investing funds.

The Bertha Centre’s innovative finance team has managed the fund since inception. The SAB Student Seed Fund is governed by an investment committee, which is comprised of entrepreneurship experts and MBA students within the GSB.

As the Seed Fund’s application intake increases year-on-year, and as new MBA students reflect that the Bertha Centre’s social enterprise and social innovation work is a major draw, there is a demonstrable need to continue the fund to promote social entrepreneurship and innovation.

itose Chembezi and Julian Kanjere, UCT MPhil in FinTech alumni and founders of Mandla Money
Titose Chembezi and Julian Kanjere, UCT MPhil in FinTech alumni and founders of Mandla Money and joint winners of the 2021 UCT Leopards Lair competition joint funded by the Bertha Centre, SAB and Imvelo Capital, hosted in 2021 by Akro Capital

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Authors: Lara Foot and Fahiem Stellenboom

The Baxter Theatre Centre as a site to support entrepreneurship in the arts

Lara Foot and Fahiem Stellenboom
Lara is the Baxter Theatre Creative Director and CEO. Fahiem is the Baxter Theatre Marketing Manager.

The Baxter Theatre Centre at UCT has won awards for its productions, created meaningful, cutting-edge work and remained a fixture of the South African arts. In 2017, to celebrate its 40th birthday, it achieved the rare distinction of taking six award-winning productions to the Edinburgh Fridge Festival. Over the decades the Baxter has provided a crucial inf rastructure to performing artists, remaining independent of political interference and sustainable as a business.

The Baxter Theatre Centre’s very existence is based – and founded on – resistance, resilience and pushing boundaries. It is the only remaining fully operational theatre in the Western Cape – and one of few in South Af rica – with an operating mandate to remain accessible to a broad audience, which, in fact, has always been the case. Its legacy of openness is evident today through its programming and its continued commitment to creating and producing new work by a broad range of South Af rican artists. In line with UCT’s Vision 2030 policy, the theatre’s social justice content, which it tackles head-on, has earned it much respect, garnering several accolades, both locally and internationally.

The Baxter does not receive any funding from the national government nor from the National Lotteries Commission. UCT currently covers approximately one-third of its annual operational expenses and some project-based funding from the Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport and the City of Cape Town. The theatre has to raise the remainder of the funding itself, with its expenses paid from annual income, which includes ticket sales, donations, theatre rentals and interest on the Permanent Endowment Fund. The plan is for the Baxter to become financially independent from UCT in the long-term, given the multiplicity of demands on tertiary institutions.

The Baxter Theater Centre
The Baxter Theater Centre. Photo by Lerato Maduna

The art of entrepreneurship

The business of the arts in South Africa – or anywhere – is hard. And, just like any successful venture, to survive the Baxter has had to take risks, challenge the status quo, stay in touch with its audience and reinvent itself time and again. With the moratorium on gatherings, COVID-19 dealt a particularly hard blow to the Baxter and to artists everywhere. And yet, by reimagining its spaces and devising clever funding schemes, it has managed to withstand external pressure – proving that creativity and grit are as vital to the arts off-stage as they are on it.

The COVID-19 pandemic and worldwide lockdown restrictions has been debilitating and devastating for the global economy. This is even more so in South Africa, with its myriad set of socio-politicaleconomic complexities and widespread inequalities. All sectors were severely hit. The arts industry was brought to a sudden halt when theatre doors were closed and the curtain downed. The show could no longer go on. The Baxter Theatre Centre immediately embarked on an innovative, affordable, financial sustainability drive to keep it afloat during unprecedented times. The Baxter Coffee Angels campaign required patrons, theatre and arts lovers to donate as little as R30 a month, to ensure the iconic theatre’s financial sustainability during this time and into the future. This was possible because of many years of building and sustaining relationships with patrons and users

This initiative was applauded for its creativity, its price-sensitive donation request and entrepreneurship – it used a basic funding model, but also considered the broad audience base that the theatre serves. The income derived from the campaign offset some of the losses incurred during the pandemic. For the campaign to succeed, it had to generate R1 million per month, requiring 30,000 donors at just R30 a month. Finding strategic partners and networks to help promote the Baxter Coffee Angels drive for financial sustainability was crucial, and in early 2022 The Baxter Theatre Company welcomed Pam Golding Properties as a funding partner for a five-year period.

Amidst enormous loss of jobs, homes, vehicles, businesses and, most importantly, human life, a “new normal” had to be navigated. At some point social gathering restrictions vacillated between allowing 50 to 100 hundred people in indoor venues, making very little economic sense for any theatre to keep performing. Despite these challenges, the Baxter remained resilient, withstanding the change so it could continue to be an agent for change, creating opportunities for artists, theatre-makers and audiences.

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Author: Liani Maasdorp

Training emerging filmmakers to develop technical, personal and entrepreneurial skills

Liani Maasdorp
Dr Liani Maasdorp is a senior lecturer in the Centre for Film and Media Studies. She developed and convenes the Stepping Stone community engagement video training programme and ScreenCubator.

The Stepping Stone community-engagement video training programme was launched in 2012 to give aspiring young filmmakers who are unable to register for UCT film degrees access to foundational video production knowledge and skills. It aims to make UCT film and media facilities, equipment and knowledge accessible to a wider audience, to link university and non-university communities, and to create opportunities for creative collaboration and social interaction between diverse participants.

The project brings together stakeholders in film and video production in South Africa, acknowledges difference and celebrates diversity, consciously facilitating a creative collaboration for all involved. ScreenCubator is a follow-up project that provides support that enables Stepping Stone graduates to produce their first short film or a production trailer to raise further funding for a bigger project or to start their own production company.

Professional and personal development

Participants learn technical and vocational skills through the programme, and work in diverse teams – an essential skill for a career in film or television in South Africa and for collaborative work in general. To break away from outmoded perceptions about how knowledge-transfer happens between higher education institutions and marginalised communities, it’s important that the programme fosters reciprocal agency. Participants are required to take an active, creative role rather than remaining passive beneficiaries of knowledge.

There are currently two UCT certified Stepping Stone short courses. Course assignments require participants to identify original concepts about their geographical communities and communities of interest, and to generate content that will appeal to niche audiences they are uniquely positioned to access.

Though the initial intention of Stepping Stone was purely to offer vocational skills training, it very quickly became clear that personal growth was an important “side-effect”. Post-course facilitator meetings identified how the “soft skills” participants developed alongside the “hard skills” were necessary for film production and running independent businesses – whether it was confidence, focus, verbal communication skills or interpersonal skills.

Impact, benefits and challenges

The South African film and television industries are in dire need of transformation – even now, more than two decades after our first democratic election. We need diversity and inclusion on a much more significant scale. For filmmakers from under-resourced communities in South Africa, a free course, even if it offers a UCT certificate, is simply not enough. Personal growth and vocational skills development are valuable benefits of the course, but for most participants the real challenges start after completion. It is, to a large extent, the nature and quality of the post-course support that will make the real difference. Participants need a “step two” to launch their career and put them in a position to start their own production company.


In order to be successful in the film industry – to become filmmakers, directors, or producers in charge of their own stories – participants need a combination of qualifications, work experience, a reference from a reputable person or institution, access to equipment and facilities, mentorship, networking opportunities and fiscal support. Without these pieces, the entrepreneurship puzzle is not complete and filmmakers cannot flourish. This realisation led to the formation of the ScreenCubator project. Through support from our grant funder we are able to host pitching sessions and select viable, compelling projects to support every year. We provide the selected Stepping Stone graduates with equipment, editing facilities, mentorship, small business training, industry connections and other forms of support they need to produce their first short film or a production trailer for a longer project (a feature film, documentary or television series, for example). We have partnered with other stakeholders like the Encounters South African International Documentary Film Festival to host workshops that take ScreenCubatees through the process of registering their production company, opening a business bank account, getting a tax number and engaging an accountant. Apart from launching their small business, this puts them in a position to apply to the National Film and Video Foundation for substantial funding.

A new story

It is critical to resist the apartheid “white man with camera” legacy in the film and media industry and actively address the lack of diversity in film, television and digital production in South Africa. UCT and other state and private organisations have a role to play in offering free, well-structured training to aspiring filmmakers from under-resourced and marginalised communities. But we can’t stop there. We must also facilitate post-course support for participants to produce their first independent films or launch their own production companies.

With the right strategy and adequate resources, it is possible to make an impact on the lives of aspiring filmmakers and to transform what South African audiences see and who is making it – to change the story on and off the screen.

Sandz Tshefu

“For me, it all started when people knew what I do and approached me independently. Then I saw there was a need for my services - but my challenges are resources and funding.” Sandz Tshefu

Author: Saberi Marais

Enabling the commercialisation of research

Saberi Marais
Saberi works as Innovation Commercialisation Manager at UCT’s Research Contracts and Innovation (RC&I) department.

UCT is a research-intensive Afrikan university where researchers, postgraduates and those who support them are driven to apply their disciplinary knowledge to achieve maximum impact in the world. At RC&I, we undergird this effort by helping researchers translate their ideas and inventions into commercial benefit. With experience throughout the innovation development value chain, our diversely skilled team is uniquely equipped to enable this industry access.

The work we support runs across disciplines, including that of the Faculty of Health Sciences, out of which emerged Impulse Biomedical. Impulse Biomedical is a UCT spin-out company co-founded by Gokul Nair and Giancarlo Beukes to develop and commercialise the inventions researched under the supervision of Prof Sudesh Sivarasu in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

RC&I has helped assess the inventions and developments that have been birthed through the biomedical engineering course using an iterative, interactive process with students and researchers. We use the process to develop an intellectual property management strategy, including deciding which species of IP to use, if at all, and a technology development, funding, and commercialisation plan. Ultimately, we hope to build an evidence-supported invention pipeline, where researchers can achieve their goals and make an impact on society at large.

Gokul, Giancarlo, and Professor Sivarasu engaged with us early in the process as they unpacked the opportunities behind two key inventions: a metered dose inhaler assistive device and an adrenaline autoinjector device. With elegantly engineered solutions, both inventions were protectable using patents, while also meeting a clear value proposition and market need.

“We hope to build an evidencesupported invention pipeline, where researchers can achieve their goals and make an impact on society at large.”

We engaged the inventor team and several local and international technology agents and pharmaceutical companies to understand the industry dynamics and value chains for each device. Once we collectively identified key players, we packaged pitch decks and brochures to sell both the commercial and inventive advantages of the technologies – a process that was often facilitated by confidentiality agreements. Together with students and researchers, we assimilated feedback to build a commercialisation view and roadmap. At this point, we concluded that despite the interest industry players showed in the invented solutions, there was no prospect of licensing the technologies to key companies in the value chain at that time.

After planning sessions, the student inventors proposed commercialising both technologies as a partnership. We workshopped the risks and potential rewards with them and workshopped the technology development options, the funding strategy and additional support they would need both f rom the biomedical engineering laboratory and RC&I. We spent time with them to unpack their drivers and the values they wanted to reinforce through the commercialisation of the technologies. We wanted them to centre on their purpose and the kind of organisation they wanted to establish and represent in future.

It was evident that Gokul and Giancarlo wanted to use technology to make an impact on the marginalised and underprivileged in society. This was a follow-through of the Frugal Biodesign process and their own personal values. It was important to ensure the continuity of these values into the commercialisation phase; we would later find out how important it was to centre their “why” in their communication platforms and pitches.

We realised that the founders needed to bolster their general knowledge of commercial concepts, so we engaged the UCT Graduate School of Business MTN Solutions Space to enrol them into the entrepreneurship incubation programme. The founding team applied using the market information from their own searches in the Frugal Biodesign course and RC&I’s own research from pharma company meetings to complete the initial entrance pitch.

At the time, RC&I and the Solution Space had been trying to determine how we could collaborate to enable the venture training for UCT researchers. We wanted to ensure that current and future research spin-out companies had the basic theory and exposure to mentors and commercial models. Impulse Biomedical provided an opportunity to prototype this model.

While the Impulse Biomedical team had engaged the Solution Space course, they were also working in the biomedical engineering lab to complete the funded technology development milestones that we had secured for them through the Technology Innovation Agency Seed Fund and later the Technology Stations Support Fund. These respective funding instruments enabled the iterative prototyping and development of the inventions and gave the team and RC&I a better understanding of the route to market, as well as the best means of scaling the manufacturing.

At RC&I, we undergird this effort by helping researchers translate their ideas and inventions into commercial benefit.

With this knowledge at hand, Impulse, Prof Sivarasu and RC&I co-developed the project plan and application for the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition’s Technology and Human Resource for Industry Programme (THRIP). We assisted them in submitting the plan and concluding the contractual support, which included license rights to give Impulse Biomedical an option to commercialise the inventions if the development proved successful.

Informed by the technology development plan, the co-founders came up with a sound fundraising strategy. They engaged with various funders from government organisations, venture capital locally and abroad and networks of accelerators and funding organisations.

When they raised capital f rom an early-stage private equity consortium and a venture capital company, RC&I was there to assure the funders that we would continue our support. Impulse Biomedical was careful about choosing their investors, understanding how organisations could enable their commercialisation downstream and the investor’s ability to assist them to raise more capital. The team secured capital to operationalise the company.

The ZibiPen is a lifesaving piece of technology designed to deliver adrenaline during instances of anaphylaxis.
“The UCT Evergreen Fund (UTF) investment reinforces the technology gap funding model for pre-revenue startups, complementing the original investment funding and recognising the potential in the team to scale operations and go-to-market.”
The ZibiPen

The UCT Evergreen Fund, along with the University Technology Fund (UTF), provided additional funding to assist the company reach market and complete the industrialisation and regulatory approval process of both devices. The UCT

Evergreen Fund (UTF) investment reinforces the technology gap funding model for pre-revenue start-ups, complementing the original investment funding and recognising the potential in the team to scale operations and go-to-market.

The Impulse Biomedical team was hard-working and driven, coachable and proactive about finding solutions. This helped RC&I to respond appropriately to whatever challenges we faced, tailoring our actions to Impulse Biomedical’s specific journey and, ultimately, translating their technologies to commercialisation.

Over the years, UCT has built a diverse set of skills, know-how, expertise, and networks, both in its funders and local and international industry, to support its innovation management value chain.

Prof Sudesh Sivarasu, Gokul Nair and Giancarlo Beukes working on the ZiBiPen
Prof Sudesh Sivarasu, Gokul Nair and Giancarlo Beukes working on the ZiBiPen.

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Author: Wasiu Afolabi

Leveraging intellectual property management support systems at UCT

Wasiu Afolabi
Wasiu is the Principal Intellectual Property Officer at RC&I.

Every entrepreneurial venture or project begins with an idea, which must be formulated into an invention or new business, providing new concepts of products and services. In this process, Intellectual Property (IP) rights play a crucial role where the value of an IP and the method of capturing maximum value through efficient IP management cannot be overemphasised. Aspirant entrepreneurs need to know of the type of exclusive rights attributed to their creations; these include copyrights, which protects literary and artistic works and general creative work, trademarks, geographical indication, patents and design rights.

The Research Contracts and Innovation (RC&I) Department – which oversees all IP related matters – is a one-stop shop to identify, protect, manage and extract value from IP brought forward by the university community. RC&I is more than a decade old and one of the first offices of innovation management in South Africa. There are two main functions of RC&I: that of IP management and of innovation and commercialisation. The RC&I team works with students on their IP, from idea to successful technology, development, product/service validation, and successful venture launch.

At UCT, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. We take a holistic approach to intellectual property management to continually improve how best to support the university community based on global best practices

The prompt identification, management and valorisation of intellectual property is a pivotal axis to any entrepreneur, new business or service. Now more than ever, it has become apparent that entrepreneurship is critical for national economies. To this end, higher educational institutions are making strides to ensure that their mandates go beyond formal teaching and learning to infuse entrepreneurship into their curricula and provide support for staff and students to venture into entrepreneurial projects.

At UCT, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. We take a holistic approach to intellectual property management to continually improve how best to support the university community based on global best practices.

The story of UCT’s spin-off company which emanated from a PhD student’s project

MariHealth was launched in 2021, as a venture building on the intellectual property developed at UCT by Dr Sarah Caroll who was a PhD student at the time. The biotech company developed diagnostic solutions for improved aquaculture practices and overall farm health, to ensure sustained and improved annual yields for farmers and long-term food security on a global scale. In this case, the student could have just published her work, graduated and started seeking employment elsewhere. Instead, Dr Caroll opted to commercialise the outputs of her research. Today, with support from RC&I, MariHealth is on the path to create a sustainable business solution for markets beyond South Africa.

MarieHealth is a UCT spinout company supported by the RC&I department.

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Author: Nadia Waggie

Actively growing the number of studentpreneurs

Nadia Waggie
Nadia Waggie is the head of Sustainability & Impact at UCT’s Careers Service in the Centre of Higher Education Development, where her portfolio includes the provision of support services to student entrepreneurs. She also serves as the institutional and national representative for students at the Entrepreneurship in Higher Education (EDHE) initiative.

Fostering an environment for studentpreneurs

Given my personal interest in entrepreneurship, it was not at all difficult for me to agree when the Vice Chancellor nominated me as UCT’s elected representative at EDHE in 2017. Working with student entrepreneurs is a labour of love, one which I embrace wholeheartedly. Graduate entrepreneurs are able to draw on a wide range of knowledge and tools they have access to as students, and the ecosystem that exists around student entrepreneurs continuously evolves to be responsive and forward thinking – with effective care and attention.

In 2015 the EDHE initiative began as a nationwide project of Universities South Africa (USAf). The intention was to develop the entrepreneurial capacity of students, academics and professional support staff in higher education. One of its first major programmes was the Student Entrepreneurship Week (SEW), which has grown to be a flagship annual event for the studentpreneur community. In 2018 a second major annual event, the EDHE Intervarsity Competition, was initiated to complement SEW. The intervarsity is a year-long competition which showcases new and existing businesses. It consists of several elimination rounds, eventually selecting the top entrepreneurship ideas across a range of themes.

While EDHE and other entities focused on ensuring that opportunities exist for national recognition and injections of capital, staff members at the various institutions offer direct moral and practical support to those studentpreneurs who are competing. Once I have put out the call for participation in competitions like the national intervarsity, I coordinate the next steps. Whether this be objectively shortlisting submissions with the support of judges, identifying mentors, setting up the internal competition rounds or working with academics who assist with the finalisation of the pitch, my role is to be alert, responsive and to ensure that UCT’s student entrepreneurship talent has every opportunity to thrive.

In 2020 when pandemic conditions required many adjusted approaches, I reconsidered all support offerings so that UCT student entrepreneurs were able to access what they needed with minimal interruption. In the process I learnt that there are several online tools that can continue to be applied to the advantage of student entrepreneurs eg accessing mentors located anywhere in the world, hosting online pitch competitions in the evenings without requiring students to navigate night time travel.

“I worked with others across the university to assist students on several fronts as best we could during this difficult time, including regular online webinars and panel discussions, more efforts to connect students with mentors and more frequent communication through targeted emails and newsletters.”

UCT studentpreneurs have long been oriented toward social enterprise but while studying remotely in late 2020 and early 2021, they of course found themselves back in their communities – out of the supportive higher education environment and confronted on a daily basis with the reality of our socio-economic inequality. While on campus they were able to access resources like connectivity and peer engagement – which is important for testing ideas – while also having their basic needs met. Now, many found themselves in far-flung rural areas without the online or human connection necessary to evolve their ideas successfully. At the same time, the country’s youth unemployment numbers rose remarkably.

Despite the challenges, our students continued to work and, for many, entrepreneurship became recognised as both a means to make a living and a means to solve real challenges they observed around them. Being attuned to the social and economic challenges present in the South African context was evident in a number of applications we received for the 2020 and 2021 competition. It was incredibly heartening to see many great ideas with social impact come to fruition.

I worked with others across the university to assist students on several fronts as best we could during this difficult time, including regular online webinars and panel discussions, more efforts to connect students with mentors and more frequent communication through targeted emails and newsletters. I hoped to successfully nurture the desire to continue their entrepreneurial journey despite the very changed practical circumstances.

By the time we returned to hybrid and then on campus learning, it was clear that the following outcomes had been achieved:

Despite all the preceding challenges, 2021 proved to be an excellent year for UCT students in the EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity. Three of our students – all female – made it into the final round, including one who won the coveted “Entrepreneur of the Year” award. These three entrepreneurs: Chido, Tshegofatso and Vuthlarhi (their businesses are covered elsewhere in this publication) are full-time students with a heavy workload, and they are sterling examples of how student entrepreneurship can flourish when the right support is accessible to meet their personal drive, confidence and belief in their business.


chapter number 3

Who is the UCT entrepreneur?

What does an entrepreneur look like? What is an “entrepreneurial mindset”, and how is it evident? There is no one way to be an entrepreneur or do entrepreneurship – just like there is no formula that determines its success. And even “success” is a term worth interrogating. Profit turnover and market dominance for a business doesn’t automatically translate into prosperity. As Solange Rosa and Francois Bonnici discussed earlier, we need new metrics to assess the impact and social good of entrepreneurial activity – to better value it and to give rise to the next generation of social entrepreneurs.

UCT entrepreneurs may be seen to fall into four categories:

  • students who develop an entrepreneurial business alongside their study focus while an undergraduate or post-graduate student
  • post-graduate students who choose to enrol at UCT in order to focus intentionally on entrepreneurship: either as part of the GSB at UCT or as part of a programme such as the GENESIS project, a Commerce Faculty Honours course in entrepreneurship;
  • former students who, instead of taking on a job with a salary after graduating, develop an entrepreneurial business, directly applying learnings and networks from their study to create a new value chain; and, finally,
  • academic and support staff who develop entrepreneurial businesses/ventures in addition to or as a result of being part of the institution of UCT.

Through their experience at UCT, a range of current and past studentpreneurs have been inspired to conceptualise and start a business.This next section presents these stories and contributions, reflecting the wealth of diversity found in studentpreneurship, as well as some core traits shared by successful studentpreneurs. While some students have excelled at conceptualising an idea and bringing it to bear as a pitch for a competition, others have focused on implementing ideas to meet an immediate social need. One studentpreneur developed a food programme that helped feed a whole community; another created a model for upskilling offenders, providing safe and impactful work experience to help holistically rehabilitate ex-prisoners back into society. Some have quietly assimilated changes in the political and policy landscape and identified a niche to work within.

All the contributors whose stories we explore have learned to operate as part of a team. We see how each has drawn on knowledge and experience beyond themselves, identifying areas in which they need expertise and where to find it. Each has absorbed huge costs in terms of time and effort.

These stories are formulated in different ways – several have a narrative focus, tracing key life experiences that have influenced the studentpreneur’s journey and motivation to pursue entrepreneurship. Other accounts respond to a range of questions about entrepreneurship, asserting a particular voice, capability and vision unique to them. Without exception, the stories provide evidence of positive self-assurance and the ability to reflect and build on experience – to extend learning from the lecture hall or laboratory and apply it in a practical and constructive ways to address challenges.

The Baxter Theater Centre
The Baxter Theater Centre. Photo by Lerato Maduna

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Vambo Academy

Chido Dzinotyiwe
Chido is the founder of Vambo Academy, winner of the 2021 Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) tech start-up category and a finalist of the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA) for 2022.

Vambo Academy is a portal for teaching African languages and heritage that aims to grow African knowledge and pride in students of any age.

author: Chido Dzinotyiwe

What I admired most about my late grandmother was her immense wisdom and her ability to conjure a proverb to fit any situation. In our village there is a rock with her given name inscribed pointing at her homestead, and it reads, “Mbuya Utano Homestead”, the homestead of the “grandmother of wholesome well-being” – a legacy of blessing that she embodied. A rock is a fitting symbol, given her foundational role as the chief matriarch of our family. Even though my grandmother has passed on, I still carry her wisdom and influence within me. A few weeks before the EDHE national finals I dreamt that she crept behind me as I was punching away on my laptop, working on my startup.

“What is always keeping you in front of that screen, Chido, my granddaughter?” she asked in ChiShona. “It is my business, Gogo. Come closer so I can show you,” I responded.

I then proceeded to take her through the ChiShona course on the Vambo Academy portal and tell her how it can enable anybody across the world to learn our mother tongue and explore our culture through blog posts and video sessions. She smiled at me with pride and gave me her blessing. Waking up from that dream, I knew that I had to do all it takes to build this business so it could be a bridge for African indigenous heritage and culture.

We registered our business about 18 months after starting our work on the concept. Our day-to-day for the first six months was filled with research on competitors, existing solutions, templates, industry-specific podcasts and drafts. Lots and lots of drafts. We would draw out what we wanted

our platform to look like and refine it or scrap it if any new information caused us to reevaluate our ideas. We were tied to nothing yet entirely committed to something – which we were still figuring out. We told our first three clients we were testing things out and hoping to use their feedback to improve our models. This helped us to set expectations and experiment for another six months of working, refining, changing and updating. This process is now embedded in our young company’s culture: test, receive feedback, scrap/change/refine and repeat.

A few lessons

Though taxing to some measure, starting a business is the easy part – running it is where the rubber meets the road. It is hard, but it’s also an opportunity to tap into your deepest resources and discover strength you never knew you possessed, which can be an amazing revelation of your power.

But it is extremely important for entrepreneurs to understand what it may take to run a business before starting – it helps to temper unmet expectations and disappointments that may discourage people from pushing through the inevitable speed bumps and roadblocks along the journey. My own journey as a studentpreneur has been full of these moments, and I believe there area few characteristics particular to being a young entrepreneur in Africa that get overlooked.

Firstly, we are not in Silicon Valley; things work differently here. The majority of funding is granted to validated businesses with a workable/ working prototype over ideas. In Africa, there is a greater onus on the founder to prove that they are responsible with funds, and there is a huge focus on impact. You are more likely to win when your business contributes to the SDGs or any impact goal, rather than profit for shareholders.

Secondly, if you don’t have access to funding or if you don’t want to trade equity for capital, then you will need to put your own money into your business. This then requires you to manage your growth expectations. If you are putting R2,000.00 into your business monthly, you cannot put pressure on yourself to beat the biggest player in your industry. This doesn’t mean that you won’t succeed; it just means that your path to the top looks different. It will improve as long as you remain consistent and build a lean enterprise.

Thirdly, the days of detesting your competitors are long gone. Learn to be nice, to make friends and to dwell in generosity of knowledge and opportunities.

The best resource you have – especially when nobody believes in you and your idea yet – are your peers. They are the ones in the trenches with you, or those just a few steps ahead of you – they know how to move forward and are willing to pull you up. Most of the time you won’t know what you are doing, and so talking to people helps. You find that you either talk yourself toward a solution or discover that someone else has managed to find it. You may be great and smart and driven and ambitious, but never forget the power of a good network and solid relationships. It will take you further than any money ever could.

The best resource you have – especially when nobody believes in you and your idea yet – are your peers. They are the ones in the trenches with you, or those just a few steps ahead of you – they know how to move forward and are willing to pull you up. Most of the time you won’t know what you are doing, and so talking to people helps. You find that you either talk yourself toward a solution or discover that someone else has managed to find it. You may be great and smart and driven and ambitious, but never forget the power of a good network and solid relationships. It will take you further than any money ever could.

The wisdom of starting a business is not that different from the business of being alive. My grandmother would certainly have had a fitting proverb, but essentially: live in the moment, reflect and work on learning a lesson the first time (they get more expensive with time). The best way I have found to handle the turbulence is to try to remain calm and to keep moving even if you are shuffling out of the pits. There is no way to escape the ebbs and flows; we just have to get good at not letting them define us. What really matters is the quality of our life experience.

Stay strong, keep building and keep this in mind (as a fellow EDHE studentpreneur, Tshepiso Malema, shared with us): “We will meet at the top.”

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FoodPrint foodprint logo

Julian Kanjere
Julian is a founder at FoodPrint and the winner of the 2021 Schmidt Futures Reimagine Challenge, a recipient of the SAB fund, and was the second-place finisher at UCT’s 2020 The Pitch competition.
FoodPrint is a low-tech digital food supply chain platform for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa to digitally participate in food value chains, and directly connect with buyers and other participants.
author:Julian Kanjere

With our low-tech WhatsApp chatbot, smallholder farmers can capture their harvest and sales data using blockchain, giving them a credible production record that can unlock access to previously inaccessible markets and services. By anchoring on the blockchain, we obtain a single source of truth that is transparent, traceable and positions smallholder farmers to participate in the digital economy.

The origins of FoodPrint can be traced back to mid-2019 when I was enrolled in the MPhil in Financial Technology (FinTech) degree at UCT. During an ideation session in one of my FinTech classes, we brainstormed use cases for blockchain technology in Africa. One such idea was using blockchain to provide farm-to-fork traceability of fresh produce for smallholder farmers, who are an especially underserved segment of society. As I am personally driven to use technology to improve society and create economic opportunity for all, this idea resonated with me. Together with a few classmates, we built a proof-of-concept web application in collaboration with the Oranjezicht City Farm Market (OZCF), a farmers’ market style weekend-market based in Cape Town’s Granger Bay precinct at the V&A Waterfront. It connects independent local farmers and artisanal food producers with conscious consumers and tourists, cultivating better awareness of the people and processes required in production, building toward greater food sovereignty.

Partnering with OZCF provided us a test bed and vital feedback loop: every Thursday and Friday farmers entered their harvest data into our POC FoodPrint platform, the market recorded when produce handover took place, and on weekends, consumers could scan farmer-produce specific QR codes to reveal the provenance of the produce they would buy.

Following the pilot, I started writing my mini dissertation on achieving traceability and transparency for smallholder farmers, which I duly completed and graduated with distinction.

After submitting my MPhil thesis in August 2020, and armed with findings from the pilot at OZCF, I set out to take FoodPrint beyond the academic setting. I found opportunities to pitch the business, network and participate in food system/entrepreneurship bootcamps. During this time, FoodPrint was awarded second place at the UCT Pitch Competition in 2020 and was a finalist in the F’SAGRI Innovation Challenge the same year. Picking up from the wins we experienced at the end of 2020, 2021 started with an announcement that I was one of twenty global winners in the Schmidt Futures Reimagine Challenge for my submission on FoodPrint. The challenge, organised by Schmidt Futures, the philanthropic arm led by Eric Schmidt (former Google CEO), sought submissions of innovations that have the potential to impact communities. This was followed in 2021 by securing grant funding from the Algorand Foundation, a blockchain organisation whose mission is to enable an inclusive, decentralised, and borderless global economy at scale, based on the Algorand blockchain technology. The grant funding we received from this enabled FoodPrint to take the next step of incorporation, growing the team, furthering the development of the platform, continuing the quest to achieve product-market fit.

The entrepreneurship journey is best described as one of ebbs and flows. On one side, we celebrated progress and victories in product development

FoodPrint products

and securing funding. On the other side, we navigated and are still navigating challenges that come with entrepreneurship and building technology with a social impact focus. Some of these challenges include building relationships and trust with the farming communities that we seek to serve, losing key talent within the business, and getting up to speed with governance and regulation (tax and labour laws) and the operational side of running a business. There is no masterclass that prepares one for this, but grit, determination and a can-do attitude are key.

FoodPrint has come a long way from an idea discussed on a summer afternoon in a UCT lecture room, to where it is today.

In entrepreneurship, no two days are alike, so one should learn to embrace the process, get comfortable with being uncomfortable and figuring out actions to take on the fly. Be prepared to pitch your business at every opportunity and knock on doors consistently. This creates a serendipity engine that can benefit your business in the most unexpected ways.

Thirdly, seek out a support structure that you can bounce ideas off – this is invaluable. We have found this support in various networks, from UCT channels to wider entrepreneurship circles in Cape Town. Associate Professor Co-Pierre Georg, who heads up the MPhil in FinTech programme in the School of Economics at UCT, has been instrumental in making introductions for us outside of the university walls and in providing general start-up advisory. We have also received support from the team at the UCT GSB Solution Space (they run a venture acceleration programme that we participated in) and UCT Research, Contracts and Innovation team, to mention but a few.

FoodPrint has come a long way from an idea discussed on a summer afternoon in a UCT lecture room, to where it is today. We are still on a journey, which never really ends for a start-up like ours – it just keeps reinventing and disrupting itself to survive. One of the best statements about entrepreneurial journey, and one which I’ve found to be especially true, comes from Phil Knight, the founder of Nike: “Seek a calling. Even if you don’t know what that means, seek it. If you’re following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear, the disappointments will be fuel, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.”

The FoodPrint innovation
The FoodPrint product
A FoodPrint QR Code on display at the Oranjezicht City Farm Market during the pilot.
Foodprint products
The FoodPrint team The FoodPrint team. From left to right, Chaddy Rungwe (software development contractor), Julian Kanjere (FoodPrint founder), Rutendo Chibanda (business operations intern), Daniel Aaron (software developer), Rufaro Chibanda (business analyst intern), Tatenda Muvhu (software development contractor).
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Tshegofatso Masenya
Tshegofatso is a sixth-year medical student and the founder of GoShare. In 2021, she won the EDHE Student Entrepreneur of the Year Competition and the competition’s social impact section.
GoShare was Tshegofatso’s response to the increasing number of pleas she was seeing on social media platforms by students seeking help to fund their university tuition.
author:Tshegofatso Masenya

Stealing time in between her own studies, she designed a crowdfunding platform to help students enrolled in South Africa’s public universities and TVET colleges access financial help. With GoShare, no donation is too small, but financial need is also just one aspect of the campaign – the platform lists students’ interest and aspirations and the progress they’re making, building both transparency and crucial emotional investment in the journey. GoShare is built on the idea that everyone can access education, and anyone can enable it, and this process should be less transactional and far more human.

What does being seen as an entrepreneur mean to you?

Being seen as an entrepreneur means being amongst those who are interested in pursuing change within their society. Being proactive about the problems that affect me and the people around me and working towards building impactful and sustainable change. It means actively exploring the potential that entrepreneurship could unlock in our country as far as job creation, economic growth, creating a strong sense of community and building a culture that celebrates creative expression in all its forms.

Where did it start for you?

I don’t think I’ve ever made a conscious decision to become an entrepreneur. I’m a naturally inquisitive person with questions about how the world works and how it can be improved or amended at every turn. So naturally I began asking questions about the education crisis and financial inequity in our country, what distribution of resources among citizens would look like and how it could be facilitated in a dignified and mutually beneficial way. These questions snowballed into what is now GoShare.

I could walk into the space with an idea I had ruminated over for a long time prior, I could find out whether it was a potentially viable solution and subsequently have access to entrepreneurship education and training available to help me develop the idea.

What drew you into the EDHE Competition?

The EDHE competition offers student entrepreneurs numerous opportunities to develop their entrepreneurial capacity while exploring their passion and matching it with lots of hard work, vigour and intention. What this meant for me was that I could walk into the space with an idea I had ruminated over for a long time prior, I could find out whether it was a potentially viable solution and subsequently have access to entrepreneurship education and training available to help me develop the idea.

How have you built on the EDHE experience?

The experience greatly validated the problem we strongly believe is worth solving and we went on to launch our minimum viable product. Forming a partnership with GradStar, an organisation that is invested in the upskilling of tertiary students, allowed us to create a funnel that is meant to ensure that students are not only funded but they are adequately prepared for the workplace. GoShare was selected as part of the 2022 UCT GSB Venture Launch Cohort. As a team of students, we realised the value of building on our knowledge to sharpen our execution.

How has your entrepreneurship journey changed direction since you started?

I’m taking a much more pragmatic approach to entrepreneurship. I’m receptive to taking calculated and balanced risks, provided they’re capable of breeding desirable outcomes. I’m more flexible in the delivery of our solution. What we envisioned as a team may not meet users’ expectation and we are constantly looking to evolve and ensure that we build a solution that meets a user at their point of need. The wins are glorious and the losses and rejections feel catastrophic, but there’s value in both experiences and I’m learning to weave them into my identity as an entrepreneur and a leader.

What have you learned on your journey?

I’ve learned a great deal about myself and adaptability. But I am not only agile or driven by an inclination to build a solution, I am also willing to put the work and dedication behind my aspirations. With that said, I have also come to understand that no matter how noble a task, creating a successful, sustainable business can be arduous and demands sacrifice.

What is your advice to entrepreneurs?

Celebrate the wins, no matter how small; embrace the fact that sometimes the reward is in the process!

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AirStudentairstudent logo

Ndabenhle Ntshangase
Ndabenhle is the founder and CEO of AirStudent, and a finalist in the 2020 EDHE Competition.
AirStudent is an innovative group booking platform that enables affordable travel by leveraging students’ collective power.
author: Ndabenhle Ntshangase

As a student attending UCT coming from a small town in northern KwaZulu-Natal, the start and end of each term/semester signalled travelling for me. I quickly realised that this would be an expensive exercise, especially since each time I travelled I had to shuttle a semester’s worth of possessions with me. On my flights to and from Cape Town, I would notice a number of people from my residence, along with other young people wearing UCT merchandise. This sparked the idea that, if we could pool together as a group, we could probably get preferential deals from airlines for our travel. I knew this was possible because we did it regularly at home. I come from a big family and, whenever we went on holiday, we would book with our cousins to get the best deal possible – I imagined it would be the same with students.

Before I could act on this idea, however, I had to make sure other people were willing to join my group. I created a Google form where people could show interest and asked the guys at UCT JK (Just Kidding Social media platform) to share it on their platform, which students use to keep in touch with university events and culture. It wasn’t long before I had the names of 600 people keen for group travel to and from UCT, information which I used to approach Comair.

The real premise behind AirStudent is leveraging a community to get better deals and benefits. We have a large number of students who have to travel between home and university, and they travel around the same times because of similar academic calendars. Utilising this information efficiently was in everyone’s interest. This business model seemed to make the most sense, as it had the potential to maximise value for everyone within our ecosystem.

Getting off the ground

Being a student entrepreneur is like rock climbing with a harness. You can start learning how to run a business and how to create processes for scale, while having the luxury of not being full time. You get access to a large number of like-minded individuals who are also eager to assist. And, as we’ve seen with the wave of entrepreneurial programmes at UCT like the EDHE Intervarsity and The Pitch Competition, you get institutional support for your ideas. EDHE forced us to lay out our idea and clarify anything that was vague – if you can tell an idea to someone in a way they can fully understand, then you can be sure that you understand your business as well. Pitching competitions were important for stress-testing our concepts during the early phases of tuning our business model.

While being a student entrepreneur is like rock climbing with a harness, you will eventually need to go beyond this and be clear about your strengths. A key area to take charge of is time management. You have to be disciplined with what you spend your time doing and, if your business matters enough to you, you have to be willing to cut down on other things in order to make time for it.

This journey comes with a lot of learning and struggles to overcome. When I first started, I didn’t grasp that there was no right way of going about doing things – I could literally go about solving AirStudent problems in multiple ways and the only limit was my own creativity. I thought I had to be perfect prior to taking a new step, which slowed our growth significantly. I overcame this through the help of a coach, Amy Underwood, and by talking through ideas with my co-founder Lwanda Shabalala.

New flight paths

In 2021 we finished our technical minimum viability product and we now have a solution that students can use and make the most of. We’ve also started doing travel for corporates and have built innovative corporate travel tech where we average over R70 000 through our system weekly. We plan to launch new service offerings that will continue to improve the student life experience, such as a ride share service whereby students with cars can drive our groups between res and the airport. We have raised over R2,5 million over the past 12 months, and currently have a team of four, which we will continue to grow to reach our goals for this year.

Being a student entrepreneur is like rock climbing with a harness. You are able to start learning how to run a business and how to create processes for scale, while having the luxury of not being full time.

The vision has changed drastically from just a group booking platform for students to a full-on ecosystem that leverages everyone within it to create the best possible opportunities for all. At the moment we are focusing on doing this through travel, but we will continue to grow our ervice offerings as we grow our communities.

As we plan for the future of AirStudent and the other models we’re developing, we continue to ask ourselves the same questions we did when we prepared for our pitching competitions early on. We may not be harnessed in the same way, but our foundational learnings are there, and these are the basic tools we need to really soar.

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Relief Integrated Aquaculture (RIA) Farm RIA logo

Adetola Adebowale
Adetola is a Mastercard Foundation Scholar and recipient of the Scholars Entrepreneurship Fund.
RIA Farm is a modern-day integrated farm established for the production of catfish and food crops in Ogun state, south-western Nigeria. This farm operates by recycling nutrient-rich wastewater from fish production for use in crop production, thereby reducing production cost, water and ocean pollution, improving soil fertility, producing hygienic crops and promoting food security in Nigeria.
author: Adetola Adebowale

What does being seen as an entrepreneur mean to you?

As a Nigerian, with awareness of my country’s high unemployment rate, entrepreneurship has always been the only solution I could think of to escape poverty. Developing unique ideas and turning them into a business or profit-making plan would not only bring me income but would also put food on the table for my employees, as well as contributing to the protein needs of the country. Being an entrepreneur means being resourceful, innovative, and self motivated – the sensation that you can contribute positively to solving people’s problems keeps one going.

Where did it start for you?

My entrepreneurial adventure began in my third year of university, when I did not have sufficient finances to sustain myself in school. I was lacking in the necessities that every student should have, and it was seriously harming my mental health, academics, and self-esteem. I had a friend who was also financially challenged, so we brainstormed ways to make ends meet without relying on others. After much study and deliberation, we decided to sell smoked fish. Smoked fish was in high demand among many stakeholders in our school setting, so we decided to purchase them on credit from a fish processing centre, resell them, then pay back the cost price and live off the profits. We were able to do so for almost two years till I graduated. Following college, I became aware of the growing demand for fish in my country due to the decline in wild fish harvest. This demand forces the government to spend large sums of money on fish importation annually; this created the opportunity and necessity for fish production in the country. So, with the little money I had, I began catfish producing on a small scale for people in my community and beyond.

How have you built on the Scholars Entrepreneurship Fund (SEF) experience?

I learned a lot from my SEF exposure, which included not only the funding but also an entrepreneurial mentor who has been working with me and educating me in making thoughtful and purposeful decisions. I have become a better entrepreneur than I was before I participated in the SEF.

What other competitions/opportunities were valuable learning experiences?

The Jim Leech Mastercard Foundation Entre-preneurship programme has also provided me with great opportunity. This programme was developed in collaboration with Queen State University to teach entrepreneurship courses to students and to build in the opportunity to provide them with financial assistance.

What were the challenges you faced?

I faced many challenges while starting up the business, ranging from fingerlings production abnormalities; fund inaccessibility; marketing and security, but, with dedicated and consistent efforts I made headway. Sometimes the necessity of instantaneous decisions impacted negatively on the business. Support structures for entrepreneurs in Nigeria are not easy to come by, so it is hard for business enterprise to scale up. Currently, I am facing a number of challenges on the business front, primarily owning to my distance from the business location, and this is impacting the business growth. My responsibilities include overseeing the business communication, production, marketing, and accounting departments. These responsibilities compete with my academic commitments, but I am doing my best to fulfil them.

What were the landmarks on your journey?

Notable landmarks along my journey include being awarded the Scholars Entrepreneurship Fund and starting the fish production cycle with minimal funding and infrastructure.

How has your entrepreneurship journey changed direction since you started?

It has really scaled up now. I have been able to expand my production capacity from 2019, with profit made from each production cycle, scholarship allowances and through the SEF. Catfish production has increased by 70% since I left Nigeria in early 2021 to start my master’s programme at UCT, South Africa. I am also working on expanding the production of RIA Farm to produce vegetative crops such as rice, tomato, cowpea, maize, sorghum and millet, thus creating more jobs and enhancing food security in Nigeria.

How have you shared what you learned with others?

I am a member of Young Entrepreneurs of Nigeria (YEN). This network organises programmes, workshops and seminars for up-and-coming enthusiastic entrepreneurs. There, I share entrepreneurial tips and encourage others to get started building business solutions to address Nigerian-specific challenges.

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Chewi chewi logo

Vuthlarhi Shirindza
Vuthlarhi is co-founder and CEO of Chewi, runner-up of the EDHE 2021 Social Impact start-up section. She is a Talloires Network Next Generation Leader, a Klaus-Jürgen Bathe Scholar, and Student Representative of Rural Doctors Association of South Africa (RuDASA).
Chewi is a pet telehealth and e-commerce platform that serves as a one-stop-shop for pets’ needs.
author:Vuthlarhi Shirindza

The platform offers all pet-related services, with the primary offering being virtual consultations together with pet-sitting and grooming, and product purchase such as food and toys. The aim is to increase pet health education and services in peri-urban and rural areas where they have been lacking. The vision is for pet owners to access holistic pet health in a more efficient, digitised and safe way from the comfort of their homes. Virtual veterinary consultations are provided on the website, and pet-sitting services will follow soon.

What does being seen as an entrepreneur mean to you?

Being seen as an entrepreneur means being validated for all the hard work, the hours with no one watching – like the world has suddenly woken up to what I’ve been brewing in the background. It’s reassuring – it’s empowering!

Where did it start for you?

It actually began in my second year of university when I started a waffle-making business with my friends: Wafflemania. It took off like a house on fire and I probably learned more about business in six months than some people do studying it for six years. Lo and behold, that business-baby has been laid to rest, but it was surely a valuable experience. Who knows? It might be resurrected in the future, but for now we’ll ponder on the good times we had with it. After pressing waffles, I embarked on a completely different venture that involved using drone technology to deliver chronic medication in rural areas.

What drew you into the EDHE Competition?

My brother won first place in the 2019 EDHE “New Idea” category. I witnessed first-hand how valuable the experience was for him and his business, and how it optimally positioned him for success. This was an inevitable step for me and I entered the 2020 EDHE competition with the drone business idea. The experience was short-lived, as I only made it through to the UCT internal round and no further, but the “failure” provided an opportunity to upskill for the following year, leading to my re-entry into the 2021 EDHE competition with a new idea, team and confidence the next time around.

How have you built on the EDHE experience?

As Chewi was moving from one round to the next in the EDHE competition, with each pitch we had the opportunity to improve. This covert pressure forced us to hasten our journey because we felt (and knew) that more and better was expected of us each time we stood in front of a panel of judges. The competition was a validation tool for how good the business idea was.

What were the challenges you faced?

Access to the veterinary market as a non veterinarian and pet owner has been one of the biggest challenges. This is because we first had to learn and understand the market from the vet and pet owner’s points of view, two perspectives that are particularly novel especially if you hold neither of them. It’s been a constant journey of learning and has taught us that if you spend time understanding the market and its systems, then you save time in the future by preventing unnecessary mishaps that come from rushing the process. The beautyof this challenge is that it has led to wonderful partnerships with various people in the industry that have been instrumental to our success.

What helped get you through the tough times?

My solid support system, strong faith in God and accountability to my dreams have been anchors during tough times.

What were the landmarks in your journey?

Winning third place at the EDHE competition was a significant landmark in our journey. We entered the competition in the “New Idea” category and then switched to “Social Impact” mid-way; it was doubtful that we stood a chanceagainst the fierce competition in such a specific category. I’ll never forget something our mentor said when we alerted him of the news with only three weeks before the finals, “You can spend your time fighting or you can spend your time winning”. I believe we chose the latter.

How has your entrepreneurship journey changed direction since you started?

Chewi has been an ever evolving and expanding business. Initially Chewi was meant to provide virtual consultations and an e-commerce platform only. However, the placement in the EDHE social category required that we incorporate a social impact aspect of the business. Today, we are proud to say that the other leg of Chewi offers mobile clinic veterinary services and pet responsibility training workshops in peri-urban and rural townships, where they have been lacking.

What have you learned on your journey?

It is crucial for the success of your business that you constantly be learning, and although it may seem faster to go alone, a sustainable long-term goal requires a team. I have learned the importance of investing in yourself, through upskilling and reskilling.

What is your advice to entrepreneurs?

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Pantsula with a Purpose Pantsula logo

Moeketsi Mashibini
Moeketsi is the founder of Pantsula with a Purpose, and a finalist in the 2020 EDHE Competition. He received the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Social Impact Award in both 2020 and 2021.
Pantsula with a Purpose aims to bridge the gap in the education space through the provision of holistic development workshops, access to resources and relatable inspiration. We work closely with marginalised schools in Langa township and aim to expand our footprint.
author:Moeketsi Mashibini

Entrepreneurship is so broad that everyone has their own stories and meaning attached to it. For me, it means having the ability to realise there’s a problem in society, taking deliberate steps to define the challenge, and to formulate a solution that benefits a variety of stakeholders. It’s having the courage to make a leap into the unknown and to tackle uncertainties.

My entrepreneurship journey originates from my childhood and upbringing. I had been blessed enough to grow up in a township where entrepreneurship was personified by all members of society. From the classmate that sold pens and sweets in class, the senior phase learner that ran afternoon classes for a small fee to the old lady selling amagwinya every morning. To me it was less about the enterprise carried out by the above-mentioned individuals, and more about making ends meet through hustling. As a result of this, I followed suit with the hustler mentality, selling things.

My actual entrepreneurial journey started when I joined an organisation called Chaeli Campaign in my Grade 7 year. This organisation aims to change society’s perception about children with disabilities. The challenges we were presented with and the projects we undertook stretched me further than I thought possible; this sparked my interest in social issues. That is where my personal inspiration is rooted.

Pantsula with a Purpose emerged with a series of collaborative engagements between three passionate individuals who came from different walks of life but shared the same desire to improve the South African education system. The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) held a competition that required students to propose a possible solution to any of the Sustainable Development Goals. Disgruntled by our observations and the reality of our education system, this was the perfect opportunity for us to do something about it. Samkelisiwe Magudulela, Sitholile Sithol and I decided to enter the competition and spent weeks formulating our solution.

When we take a step back and look at where we are with Pantsula with a Purpose, although we still have a long way to go, it’s good to celebrate how far we’ve come from our initial ideation.

Our attempt was unsuccessful – we didn’t make it to the finals – but our passion and fire was ignited, and we decided that irrespective of the outcome of the competition we would make the vision come to fruition. We started Pantsula with a Purpose and were operating for three months when we realised that to grow we needed to find external funding – it was not sustainable for us to keep on using our personal funds.

We decided to look for a competition that could finance our next phase. So, the three of us founders split our human capital among different competitions, and I entered the EDHE. I had been a keen follower of EDHE since I met the EDHE 2019 Student of the Year, Mvelo Hlophe, founder of Zaio. I had heard how the competition uplifted their start-up. This motivated me and gave me an extra edge to participate fully in hope of achieving the same feat for our organisation.

I entered the competition on behalf of Pantsula with a Purpose and that was the beginning of my EDHE journey. Although we finished in the top three in the finals, which meant we missed out on the cash prize, the benefits extended beyond our placement. The exposure we got set us up for establishing partnerships and affiliations. Being backed by the UCT EDHE team, Career Services and even the VC gave us a stamp of credibility. It was instrumental in helping us merge strategic partnerships for our beneficiaries.

Preparing for the interviews at each of the stages nudged us to interrogate our vision and mission at each point and assess how our steps were drawing us closer to that. It helped us conceptualise our business model in a more clearly defined manner. The questions that were asked by the judges at each stage of the competition propelled us to think about aspects of the organisation that otherwise would have been left unattended. It helped us establish the structure of our organisation.

Not winning the cash prize, however, meant that we would still have difficulties in meeting our mandate and realising our vision. It was a challenge on top of other challenges that are simply embedded in the journey of entrepreneurship. On a personal level, I’ve found that one of the biggest obstacles is time. Being a student means that this journey juggles conflicting responsibilities, which must be managed in a balanced way. Critical trade-offs are part of decision-making and need to be evaluated with care.

When we take a step back and look at where we are with Pantsula with a Purpose, although we still have a long way to go, it’s good to celebrate how far we’ve come from our initial ideation. As a recognised UCT society, we have an exciting journey ahead as we build our presence at UCT and in the community beyond it.

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Politically Aweh politically Aweh Logo

Stephen Horn
Stephen Horn is a creative producer and climate activist from Cape Town, and founder of Politically Aweh. He is included among the 2022 Mail and Guardian Top 200 Young South Africans
Politically Aweh is an award winning satirical news show that uses humour to help young South Africans ‘get aweh’ (ie raise their awareness) about important issues.
author:Stephen Horn

Creating a media start-up in an era that has been defined by shrinking newsrooms and the collapse of advertising revenue probably seems like a bad idea. Creating one that explains the news with an irreverent mix of memes, experts and satire so biting that government declares it “fake news” – well that would just be madness, right?

But that’s precisely what I set out to do one night in July 2017 when I was struck by the idea that the dark factional politics of the twilight period of state capture presided over by Jacob Zuma (or should I say the Guptas?) felt strongly reminiscent of the political thriller series, House of Cards. At the time, pressure on Parliament to act against Zuma was at a crescendo, but few ANC MPs were willing to support a motion of no confidence to remove the president from power. One such MP was struggle veteran Makhosi Khoza, who received numerous death threats for her failure to toe the party line. South Africa’s fledgling democracy was on a knife edge.

This formed the basis of the first ever episode of Politically Aweh, and it’s how I found myself doing “guerrilla filmmaking’’ with a small crew outside Parliament in the dead of night. We were filming the opening scene of the show involving a Makhosi Khoza lookalike receiving death threats on her phone. With no filming permits and no budget, it was the beginning of a DIY hustle phase that characterises the beginning of almost any start-up’s journey, which is virtually impossible without a strong support network.

Now in its fifth year, Politically Aweh has established itself as South Africa’s leading satirical news show, with thousands of followers, multiple awards and coverage in local and international media. Our team of comics and media professionals has created content that is used in schools, universities and sometimes even government workshops. But perhaps most rewarding of all, our Xhosa language climate change explainer video (translated by a master’s student at UCT’s African Climate & Development Initiative) has been shown to climate-change affected communities in rural Eastern Cape.

When I think back to how that first episode came to be, I remember years spent thinking “this would be a good idea, why is no one else doing this?” before finally taking the first step and knocking out a script in a fit of inspiration late one evening. At the time I was paying bills as a freelance video editor – I have to credit one client who had me working on videos for a branded content campaign that was all about encouraging creatives to just start something. There was something so powerful in that simple exhortation, but the older I got the more difficult it seemed. For one, the fear of failure and the perception that I needed to start “adulting” properly grew intensely. On the other hand, the proliferation of the internet and the vast amount of content made it more challenging to wrest my attention away from consuming other people’s content to creating my own.

The five years since then have not been without serious challenges, doubts and setbacks. If you are naturally inclined to create things, as I had been as a child and teenager, then leaving the safety of the home environment and having to make the numbers work can be incredibly daunting. I seemed to be ploughing money and time into a crazy idea while my peers were saving for retirement and working their way up the corporate ladder.

I sometimes felt like we weren’t getting the views we deserved for the quality of work we were putting out, failing to realise that the numbers on some of our videos were the envy of some of the country’s biggest media houses. But there was a nagging voice in the back of my mind that this was what I was supposed to do, and if I just kept following my gut and creating high-quality content, somehow things would fall into place.

Eventually, they did. The show attracted attention from other talented individuals who share my passion for satire, including some of the country’s top comedy talent. We secured funding over the years from multiple foundations and recently won the Best Online Content Award at the 2022 South African Film and Television Awards. Ultimately, we hope to build a media platform that engages and informs South Africans and positively impacts our democracy.

As I think back over my journey with Politically Aweh, the moments that really stand out are the magical and hysterically funny writers’ rooms and working with talented presenters and crew on set. Our studio specials, shot with live audiences at UCT TV studio and supported by the Centre for Film and Media Studies, were also highlights that demonstrate the power of ongoing collaboration with one’s alma mater and the value that institutional support can provide.

I’ve come to learn several things over these past few years, including to balance perfectionism with getting things done; to navigate the abundance of advice and use my gut to know which of it to discard; the importance of listening carefully and asking the right questions; to look after my health and relationships, and not to sacrifice these for my career goals; and finally, explaining things and sharing knowledge, though it takes time, is an investment that will pay off in the long run. And, of course, to always approach the struggles with a sense of humour! This makes the long journey possible.

camera recording a woman working on a laptop
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Kude kude logo

Eugene Fotso Simo
Eugene is a water and wastewater treatment engineer with an entrepreneurial mindset. He is a recipient of both the Mastercard Foundation Scholarship and the Scholar’s Entrepreneurship Fund.
Kude is a mobile app for the mini-bus taxi market. The app provides users with information about fares, routes, stops and tips on using taxis safely. It also gives users information related to their chosen route, such as position of taxi stops, enabling users to plan their next taxi trip better.
author:Eugene Fotso Simo

Being an entrepreneur, or rather having the mindset required to become an entrepreneur, can be hard for many, especially given social expectations in many communities to complete education and find stable employment to support your family. Thanks to the multiple communication channels, advances in technology, and relative ease of accessing funds, these societal expectations are gradually losing traction, and jumping into entrepreneurship seems a little less daunting than times before. But it’s still a leap.

To me, being seen as an entrepreneur means having self-confidence, being deliberate, having a clear impactful vision, being willing to get up whenever you fall, and having confidence in the product/service you want to offer.

Throughout secondary school, I had several ideas for owning my own businesses – from opening arcade rooms in my neighborhood to linking sellers and buyers of specific products for a fee. I was never proactive enough to make those dreams come to fruition. School was my main focus, and I was stuck in the mindset that I should make money working for a company after completing university. And that is exactly what happened. After completing my high school studies in Cameroon, I embarked on a new journey in higher education in South Africa. I completed a BSc in Civil Engineering in 2017, immediately followed by an MSc in Water Quality Engineering at UCT.

To complete my postgraduate degree I needed funding, and I was fortunate to be chosen as a Mastercard Scholar for the Mastercard Foundation Scholarship Program (MCFSP). During these two years, I was part of a diverse cohort of scholars from all over Africa. The combination of such a diverse cohort and the multitude of workshops organised by the foundation created a shift in my entrepreneurship mindset, moving it from reactive to proactive. Environment is crucial.

As I was completing my postgraduate studies, MCFSP was piloting an initiative to financially assist their scholars with viable business ideas: the Scholars Entrepreneurship Fund (SEF). I was curious. After seeing the projects my peers presented in the pilot phase of SEF, I was inspired and decided to apply at the next opening.

“Jump in. You will sort out the details as you go through your journey.”

The SEF experience helped us craft a solid business plan for Kude and provided us with a mentor to guide us in the early stages. This was of great help. Following that, we connected with another mentor in the start-up scene who continues to support us when we have roadblocks and need to change perspectives. We also connected with researchers who have undertaken studies related to the service we want to provide and whose expertise is valuable.

The main challenges we have faced, and still face, revolve around the collection and synthesis of data that will be fed into one of the databases we are working on. It is a technical challenge, which could easily have discouraged us, but we continue to work on finding simple and innovative ways to reach our goals.

Two things helped in going through tough times: confidence in our idea, and the people around us. There are numerous experienced entrepreneurs willing to help those who are relatively new in the space. This is something I was unaware of before, but I now realise the value of sharing and brainstorming ideas with others who have travelled a similar road.

A few things I learned in my entrepreneurship journey:

If you are an aspiring entrepreneur reading this, I have three pieces of advice for you:

  • Prepare yourself mentally to work long hours and to be challenged in unexpected ways.
  • Jump in. You will sort out the details as you go through your journey.
  • Ask help whenever necessary. There are extremely useful platforms such as LinkedIn or UCT Alumni Connect that you can use to your advantage.
  • I am still growing in this journey. I am also currently working on another project,, to help myself and others gather and share knowledge on how to grow and develop throughout life – my way of sharing what I learn in life with others. I aim to leave a positive mark on the African continent by uplifting youth and improving service delivery in different industries.

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    Zaio zaio logo

    Mvelo Hlophe
    Mvelo is the winner of the inaugural 2019 EDHE National Finals Entrepreneur of the Year and winner of the EDHE 2019 tech start-up category.
    Problem-solving has always been a natural part of my life. Spotting challenges and coming up with solutions. I found this to be rather fun. It was not until university, however, that I was exposed to larger challenges: real challenges that were multiplied hundreds and thousands of times over around the world. Because of this, my interests grew exponentially. I read up on different industries, ran mini simulations and at times found myself chatting to friends at residence until 3 am about implementing solutions on campus and how we would scale them. When solutions seemed viable, we’d start building. We failed many times and learned often.
    author: Mvelo Hlophe

    Fertile ground

    Those moments were the best teachers. Being able to share viewpoints from different backgrounds, cultures and fields of study is what I cherish most about my UCT experience. Not to mention getting free consultation from many experts in their respective fields, and ad hoc advice from my lecturers. UCT really was a fertile ground for validating my assumptions in my many ventures. The good work done by Nadia Waggie in the Careers Office and the staff over at the GSB made a career in entrepreneurship that much easier.

    The university has invested a great deal of resources into ensuring that the campus is a good environment for producing successful entrepreneurs. Research has gone into how to do this well and I can attest that the results are being implemented at the highest level. More often than not, it takes speaking to the right people and exposing yourself to the right spaces to take full advantage of what is on offer. And there are plenty of resources to help you make a start and to flourish – from the networking opportunities within societies, to the workshops and accelerator hosted by the Solution Space at the GSB, to all the pitching competitions, including The Pitch hosted by the VC and the ARC. All these opportunities prepare you for the main intervarsity student entrepreneurship event hosted by EDHE.

    It’s no surprise that UCT entrepreneurs have been the most successful cohort at the EDHE National Student Entrepreneurship Pitching Competition. Everything I was exposed to on campus and in the wider Cape Town ecosystem prepared me well for the EDHE competition in 2019, which I won. The experience was fantastic – it elevated my venture and created the space to establish myself as part of this vibrant community.

    “Where you know that there is no blueprint, you are in full control and you need to be intentional about it all.”

    From planning to prospering

    In reflecting on how far Zaio has come – the clients we have worked with, the changes in business models we have gone through, surviving COVID, it’s surreal to realise how much all the effort we have put into building something great has paid off for us. The team is fully self-sufficient, with an office in the richest square mile in Af rica – a long way from my dorm room in Liesbeeck Gardens.

    The hours put in are well worth it. Leveraging what you have at your disposal to keep moving forward is crucial. Building a thriving support system around you is the foundation of it all. At the end of it all, no one reaps the benefits of entrepreneurship more than the entrepreneurs involved in the business.

    I do not believe my personal development would have accelerated the way it did had I not decided to choose this path for myself. I’ve learned many things throughout my journey. Through difficult experiences where my character was truly tested and more enjoyable moments where I felt on top of the world. Equally, over the years, these have shaped me into the entrepreneur I am today. I believe in learning, unlearning and learning again. To evolve as your business evolves. Being teachable is the best way to do that.

    Zaio team
    Back: Mvelo Hlophe, Asif Hassam, Mihlali Xozwa, Ntuthuko Mpaku, Thando Hlongwane. Front: Akhil Boddu, Harjot Singh

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    Kwela Brews kwela brews logo

    Reitumetse Kholumo
    Reitumetse is the founder of Kwela Brews and a recipient of the Jim Leech Mastercard Fellowship on Entrepreneurship; she is winner of UCT Leopard’s Lair 2021 Social Innovation Ideation Prize and Top 5 winner in the Dunin-Deshpande Summer Pitch Competition 2022.
    Kwela Brews is a for-profit social enterprise that aims to support homebrewers of traditional African beer to produce the customarily nutritious beverage safely, efficiently and profitably. They do this by offering quality control and manufacturing support to the homebrewers they use as contract manufacturers, and by getting their brews to new customers at restaurants, events and local markets.
    author:Reitumetse Kholumo

    I remember feeling uncertain about where my chemical engineering studies would take me. But as I became more interested in bioprocess engineering (specifically food, beverages and biopharmaceuticals) and more appreciative of indigenous knowledge, I fell in love with traditional African beer and what it represents. As a jazz lover, I would often fantasise about having a restaurant/bar (read: shebeen) where people would enjoy African jazz (Marabi, Kwela, etc) and indigenous African brews. Then one day I walked into the campus bookstore and saw Call Me Woman, printed with the graceful face of its author Mme. Ellen Kuzwayo on its cover, and impulsively bought it. The autobiography of the late struggle stalwart describes not only her own story, but the history of the country through her unique lens as an Af rican woman and social worker. In the second chapter, Kuzwayo writes about the women who moved from the rural areas to the cities in search of economic promise, but who struggled to find employment. She writes:

    I was inspired by these women and realised that my maternal grandmother and my paternal-maternal great grandmother were also these women. At UCT, I had the opportunity to join Engineers Without Borders (UCT student chapter) and take both a humanities course and a foundation course in human-centered design. These influences allowed me to think beyond just becoming a good brewer, and more about how I could use my skills to improve the experiences of women like my grandmother.

    Traditional African beer is intricately intertwined with African culture and is primarily brewed by women. As late as the 1980s, domestic-scale brewing of traditional beer was the single greatest source of employment for women in some African countries. The beverage is naturally nutritious as it is high in B-vitamins and it contains good bacteria. However, the brewing process conditions are typically hygienically poor, and some dangerous variations that are easier to brew have become popular. The main intervention to steer people away from these toxic versions has been the production and sale of low-cost beers. But as the market for homebrews continues to exist and grow, government recently passed legislation that aims to eradicate dangerous homebrews by restricting what ingredients can be used in the brewing process.

    As a chemical engineering student, I came up with an idea that would engage homebrewers and enable them to produce the traditionally wholesome beverage efficiently, safely, and according to the legal guidelines. This was the beginning of Kwela Brews – a company that would supply homebrewers with low-cost brewing machines and ingredients for their recipe. I had the opportunity to pitch this idea at UCT Leopard’s Lair in October 2021, winning the Social Innovation Ideation prize sponsored by the Bertha Institute of Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship and SAB Foundation. I am currently using these funds to test critical assumptions that will better shape the product-solution match.

    As a first-time founder, I have felt overwhelmed by the idea of starting a business. But as a recipient of the Jim Leech Mastercard Foundation Fellowship on Entrepreneurship for African Students, I have had access to valuable support, including the opportunity to successfully pitch for funding at the Dunin-Deshpande Summer Pitch Competition, enabling further testing of the product-market fit.

    As a person living with fibromyalgia syndrome, having the personal support of an occupational therapist on this journey with me – helping me set realistic goals and offering help where needed – has been very beneficial. The entrepreneurial journey is exciting and daunting and requires both physical and mental resilience.

    My advice to new entrepreneurs is to care about your potential users and learn as much as you can about their experiences and their values. In time, you will learn to welcome uncertainty and remain curious while allowing the journey to teach you both business and life lessons – this is a rich experience, so drink deep.

    Kwela Brews markets traditional African beer
    Kwela Brews markets traditional African beer and profiles the individual brewer.

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    Amnova Tech amnova tech logo

    Denislav Marinov
    Denislav is an honours graduate in Materials Science, the founder of Amnova Tech and winner of the tech business category at the inaugural EDHE Intervarsity competition in 2019.
    Amnova is a young production technology start-up at the forefront of developing sustainable additive manufacturing technologies and industrial-grade hybrid 3D printing systems. Their technologies are used for a variety of rapid prototyping, batch production and large format manufacturing services that find applications in the mining, water treatment, telecom, medical, automotive, aerospace, construction and production industries. Amnova aims to localise manufacturing, empowering Africa to become an independent global manufacturer.
    author: Denislav Marinov

    The truth is, I never explicitly pursued entrepreneurship as a career. It emerged from the absence of an ecosystem around my passion for science and technology, in particular 3D printing. I’ve always been obsessed with technological advancements and scientific breakthroughs. During my high school years, 3D printing was becoming more accessible and popular around the world. As soon as I learned about this technology that could quite literally bring your ideas to life right before your eyes, I was hooked. Here was a universal technology that could produce affordable prosthetics, rocket engine parts, art and even housing. I was enthralled by the endless applications and possibilities.

    But when I looked around at the 3D printing ecosystem in South Africa, it was still very much in its infancy. There were some niche hobbyist groups and a handful of companies that operated in the space, but there was no real appreciation and understanding of the technology amongst the general population. It was mysterious and inaccessible to most. It was not a particularly conducive environment for a keen high schooler to learn more about the space. There was a clear need for someone to build a supportive ecosystem for 3D printing that would enable students, individuals, SMMEs and established companies in South Africa, and more widely in Africa, to explore and utilise this technology.

    Innovative local technologies can help us capitalise on Africa’s wealth of resources and workforce. 3D printing can be a useful tool to leverage toward this end, though few seemed to recognise its potential – so I decided to give it a try. It has been eight years since I started to apply myself to make 3D useful and accessible to South African and African markets and there is still much to be achieved.

    My forays in the 3D printing space culminated in my current business, Amnova Tech. Our goal being to make 3D printing and manufacturing services accessible to all. This passion for technology and a strong desire to change unequal power relations regarding manufacturing and innovation has motivated me into the EDHE finals, and beyond. However, none of this was achieved in isolation. Though the 3D printing ecosystem was not yet in existence, a supportive entrepreneurial eco-system was.

    “Entrepreneurship is the activity of sustainably creating communal value.”

    The university laboratory

    I had begun offering my freelance 3D printing services in high school, but things really took off at university. The university space is one of the most conducive environments to trial ideas. You have access to an expansive group of individuals and diverse communities mirroring the broader South Af rican and global landscape. It’s the perfect space to test, to get direct feedback, to iterate, to pivot if needs be, and to test again. This is a protective bubble where concepts can be explored and tried, and where prototypes can be implemented prior to entering the broader market. In addition, you are surrounded by curious, intelligent, enthusiastic and capable individuals who can become invaluable members of your team.

    I received support from the UCT Careers Service in my preparations for the EDHE competition. This came in the form of training sessions and workshops, networking opportunities and direct pitch and presentation preparation by skilled and experienced individuals, such as Alison Gwynne- Evans of Professional Communication Studies in the Engineering and Built Environment Faculty. I was also fortunate enough to be an Allan Gray Orbis Foundation candidate fellow as well as a Klaus-Jurgen Bathe Leadership Programme recipient, both initiatives playing crucial roles in developing me as a high-impact entrepreneur and an ethical leader. All these opportunities exist specifically for the student entrepreneur. Even informally, support structures exist within peer groups, departments and in contact with industry professionals. Of course, it is up to the student to act and make use of these opportunities and to cultivate a self-driven mindset.

    Entrepreneurship: Personal growth for communal good

    In observing and practicing entrepreneurship for a number of years – witnessing its many expressions and tools at its disposal – m y own ideas about what entrepreneurship is and what it means have necessarily shifted. As entrepreneurship is an inherently dynamic practice, evolving to meet the needs of changing contexts, no single definition will ever be adequate for all of time. One of the least tantalising comes f rom the Oxford English Dictionary: “the activity of setting up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit”: undeniably bland, and yet, not entirely unhelpful. Its woeful lack helped me clarify what I find most essential about entrepreneurial activity: the activity of sustainably creating communal value. In other words, to create net positive value that improves and enriches the lives of your stakeholders through sustainable internal and externally informed practices.

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    Achiever achiever logo

    Karabo Thinane
    Karabo is the founder of Achiever, a regional finalist in the 2019 EDHE Competition, and a third-place finisher in the Allan Gray Entrepreneurship Challenge.
    Achiever is a platform that uses a smart rewards system to help students develop better study habits and improve their academic performance. It also helps link students struggling to make ends meet with relevant bursaries.
    author:Karabo Thinane

    Where did entrepreneurship start for you?

    My upbringing was supported by my mother in the Vaal Triangle, south of Johannesburg, where I grew up hearing stories about my late father’s purpose and passion for entrepreneurship. My father was a Soweto arts, culture and media impactor with a big heart for people. He was also managing director for the Kappa clothing brand, a mainstay on the African continent.

    The love of solving problems was cemented by my participation in debating during my high school years, and my love for accounting, which I thought was entrepreneurship at the time. But before I got into work-life problemsolving, it was really just about basic problems of money and creating a better life for myself and my family. Then I got the opportunity to attend UCT through a scholarship funded by the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, which really set me on the entrepreneurship path.

    What drew you into the EDHE Competition?

    The year EDHE launched, I had just been placed third in the Allan Gray Entrepreneurship Challenge after many failed attempts at pitching during my UCT years (really, it was just poor preparation which led to the exact outcome I deserved). The win f rom the previous competition and the fact we had launched Achiever and received some traction, meant we were ready to compete in the EDHE competition and to take advantage of this opportunity.

    Achiever platform

    How have you built on the EDHE experience?

    We now have iterated our business and are ready to launch the second version of our Achiever platform, which will provide better habits and behaviour verification. We just hit the three-year business mark – when most start-ups are rumoured to fail. We’ve expanded our team, launched our second product, and we have joined the Esquared Pathways programme, which is developing our team and gearing Achiever for investment.

    What were the challenges you faced?

    Market access is still one of the biggest challenges, which Achiever and the team is strategising about. There is no business if you can’t access markets – this remains one of the biggest challenges in entrepreneurship in general.

    What helped get you through the tough times?

    The biggest challenge is providing yourself with regular income and having the focus needed to execute the solution to get the business traction. My family was really supportive – this, along with the resources provided by the Allan Gray Association, gave me a soft landing into entrepreneurship. Without either one I would have not made it far.

    What were the landmarks in your journey?

    I pitched three times to Esquared for their pathways programme, without success – only on the fourth try did they accept us. I have met people that c ontinue to contribute to my growth even outside a specif ic venture – f rom academic to industry leaders. I am proud to have brought together a team that continues to contribute to the growth of Achiever, and to have found a client that believes and trusts in us as th e Achiever team.

    What have you learned on your journey?

    Overnight success is a myth – it’s just really consistent work compounded over time. Solutions – or rather, getting the right solution to a problem – takes time. It’s important to combine both fast execution and patience, and to remember that traction in the form of clients is the best measure of success.

    What is your advice to entrepreneurs?

    Start and surround yourself with people who are willing to work hard and run the marathon with you.

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    Aurora Natural Skincare aurora logo

    Jasantha Singh
    Jasantha is the winner of The Pitch UCT 2019, Cosmetic Formulation Scientist and Founder of Aurora Natural Skincare.
    Aurora Natural Skincare is a cruelty-free vegan brand that believes you deserve “the freedom to choose what ends up on your skin and in our oceans”. Its products are personalised for sensitive skin by eliminating common allergens, including essential oils. Recently, Aurora was featured as Editor’s Choice by the Beauty Shortlist 2022 Mama & Baby Awards, alongside global brands; it is currently up for LUXLife Global Vegan Brand nomination.
    author: Jasantha Singh

    My entrepreneurship journey is not about one big defining moment, but a series of them strung together like fairy lights. It’s what Steve Jobs famously referred to as “connect[ing] the dots”: only in hindsight can you appreciate how the path unfolds. When you’re on it, you have to trust yourself and courageously take that first step, which for me came back in March 2018.

    The origin story

    I glance around the office at my coding teammates, deeply immersed in their 3x3 and 2x2 Rubik’s cubes. I love our cohesiveness, they make me look forward to going to work every day. Yet, there’s still this hollow feeling that follows me around: I know it’s time to change, I just don’t know how.

    April delivers a sign in the form of a Gmail advertisement for UCT’s Hair and Skin Research (HSR) Lab’s 2019 Cosmetic Formulation Science programme. I’m both excited and terrified to let go and move on. Can I afford to leave the stability of my IT corporate career and start over? Can I afford not to?

    Intrigued, I email HSR Lab to learn that only the top 11 will be selected for their postgraduate programme. Now, more than ever, I want in. I want HSR Lab’s top dermatologists and industry leaders to teach me to formulate safe skincare and align with EU cosmetic regulations. I want to be a skincare owner who is also a skilled formulator that personally chooses every ingredient from source to skin.

    The 29th of June is a bittersweet last day of IT Consulting. Although applications for the HSR programme end only on the 30th of September, I plan to go all in over the next six months. First, I need to recap three years of undergrad chemistry. I have no idea if I will be accepted, but I want to show up for myself. To live by my personal motto: “Courage is about taking that first step into the unknown and trusting what comes next.”

    Fast-forward to 2019, the year of the programme, and I’m preparing for The Pitch. I’m unpacking my story using author and business coach Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with why’ (if you’re a fan of superheroes, like me, you think of your ‘why’ as your ‘origin story’). I practise communicating my story using the “Keep it Simple Principle” – Prof. Jane English and her Professional Communications class is proving invaluable.

    “Courage is about taking that first step into the unknown and trusting what comes next.”

    The night of The Pitch, SA’s Dragon Lebo Gunguluza asks me to reflect on the moment when every entrepreneur knows. I describe mine: standing over my bathroom sink with a R120 bottle of liquid castile soap, watching most of the 500mls roll out of my left palm and down the sink – money down the drain. That was it! If they could do it, I would do it better. It’s 2017, and the last time I ever buy soap.

    I test and refine my formula and within three months health shops are stocking my castile soap bars. I dive deeper into my studies and internship. I cherish every moment – from my djembe drumming classes to my first capoeira class. After completing a practical in class I feel heartfelt joy on my way home – despite our class having to redo it three times. I’m on the right path, I know it. I graduate my programme with distinction.

    In early 2020, I attend Build, Countdown and Reach programmes run by Stellenbosch University’s LaunchLab, where entrepreneurs teach entrepreneurs. I still don’t consider myself an entrepreneur – I’m just fortunate to wake up to something I really love.

    I am invited to speaking engagements – from UCT’s InvestSoc, the Services Seta’s roundtable discussion, to Off-the-cuff Twitter space with our Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Buti Manamela. I return to The Pitch to share my journey and watch others begin theirs.

    The still-unfolding path

    The Pitch changed my life: The prize money made it possible to create 70% Isopropyl sanitizer in a lab; When Muizenberg ran out of sanitizer, I was able to assist Naomi’s Joy House, a Fish Hoek based NPO for orphaned and abandoned babies; it gave me the courage to open myself to new experiences.

    Years from now, I’ll remember fondly those late nights with friends working on my branding and website. My first soap mould, gifted to me. My first online sale. Loved ones, standing by me. How eventually customers feel like family. Most of all, I’ll remember the feeling of freedom and meaning my life took on. But, I’m not done yet – there’s many more dots waiting to be connected.

    AURORA natural skincare
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    Hutch Grill & Bar

    Ebenezer Hutchful
    Ebenezer is a recipient of the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Entrepreneurship Fund and founder of Hutch Grill & Bar, a restaurant that exclusively employs ex-offenders, providing them with crucial skills and training to reintegrate into society and break the cycle of crime.
    Leaving Ghana to attend UCT, I planned to not just graduate with a MPhil in Criminology, Law and Society, but to return home with the “total package”, which could impact, directly or indirectly, members of my community. As such, when MasterCard Foundation launched the Scholars Entrepreneurship Fund, I saw it as an opportunity to secure seed funding towards bringing into existence my unique restaurant idea, which sought to address the high rate of recidivism in Africa.
    author:Ebenezer Hutchful

    Although I have pursued an academic career in criminology and law, cooking has always been a refuge and a passion of mine. It was important to me to integrate my personal passion with a constructive response to my studies and my experience of entrenched social problems. I know the dismal statistics related to crime and offenders in South Africa, and I’ve seen how many obstacles there are for people who want to change their lives. I have come to realise the significance of high rates of recidivism, both in South Africa and in Ghana. Recidivism recognises the tendency of convicted criminals to reoffend. It is common for ex-offenders to face stigmatisation from members of their community and even family. This affects their ability to reintegrate into communities and impacts their quest for employment.

    Marrying my extra-curricular skill in cooking with my leadership skills and expertise in criminology, I came up with the project to start a restaurant, Hutch Grill and Bar, with the proviso that the restaurant only employs ex-offenders.

    products utch Grill & Bar products
    Photo by Fábio Alves on Unsplash

    I returned home to Accra to set up the Hutch Grill and Bar, a restaurant focused on providing heathy and good meals at affordable prices while creating job opportunities for ex-offenders through an in-house skills training and incubation system.

    “It was important to me to integrate my personal passion with a constructive response to my studies and my experience of entrenched social problems.”

    Upon my return to Ghana, I followed up on contacts I had made to purchase equipment and secure a space for the restaurant. Soon after I opened, however, the pandemic broke out. The hospitality sector was particularly hard hit and my business wasn’t spared – I had to close my doors at this infant stage, and switched instead to taking food delivery orders. I was forced to reduce the number of staff, which was tough and unexpected but necessary considering the prevailing conditions. I had to be determined, flexible and willing to take risks, and I had to test my underlying motivation: was I establishing a business for profit, or to make a social impact?

    Ultimately, I decided that this project constitutes a conscious attempt to disrupt and/or break the cycle of recidivism in my community. I realised that starting up a social venture focused on giving a group of socially at-risk people a second chance isn’t just a business but a call to serve.

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    Reel Epics reel epics logo

    Mia Cilliers and Jackie Ruth Murray
    Mia is a director and producer and Jackie Ruth Murray a content producer and cinematographer at Reel Epics Productions.
    In 2015, while Jackie Ruth Murray and I were in the midst of completing our Master’s degrees in Documentary Arts through UCT’s Centre for Film and Media Studies (CFMS), we decided to start a production company. We knew nothing about running one – neither of us had worked in production companies before, and even our knowledge of filmmaking was limited.
    authors: Mia Cilliers and Jackie Ruth Murray

    Nevertheless, we registered Reel Epics and began working part-time on self-funded shoestring passion projects. It took five years for us to fully transition, eventually taking the leap as a fullyfledged production company with an office, one SAFTA award and one camera. We made the decision in early 2020 to quit our other jobs and put all our energy in conceptualising and establishing Reel Epics. It was an exciting and daunting moment – all we knew was that we shared a similar interest in subject matter and, more importantly, a sense of humour, which propelled us to place our Taurus heads, hearts and minds on the same axis and to take the bull by the horns.

    We had no start-up capital, but what we did have were contracts with two major clients that we used to get the ball rolling. From there we worked hard, had fun, had disagreements, conceptualised new story ideas, pitched to new clients, collaborated with like-minded creatives and took on a few employees. As we navigated our way through a competitive environment, our business gained momentum and Reel Epics began to form an identity of its own.

    In retrospect, my advice to those of you thinking to start your own company is not to fall for the bells and whistles of expensive

    camera gear, a fancy office or a kick-ass logo. You don’t necessarily need start-up money. First and foremost, you need a genuine interest in the people whose stories you will tell, a love for your craft and one or two trusted clients. In our case, we had a fledgling relationship with a broadcaster who showed an inclination to work with us.

    “The biggest ingredient of Reel Epics’ success is its partnership. I’ve learned it’s essential to have a likeminded team that shares a common goal – someone you can also bounce ideas off and make decision with, who you can lean on and, in turn, support. “

    Today we are a team of five and our business model is to focus our company in two areas: producing local documentary content, while also servicing foreign film teams who use southern Africa as a backdrop for their productions.

    We’ve learned a lot along the way and, in an ever-changing industry, we’re still learning. We have made many mistakes. We have sometimes listened to our hearts and sometimes to our heads. We have kept ourselves going by keeping our creative minds oiled. We have grasped the reality of accepting change, so that we can grow as individuals and as an entity.

    The biggest ingredient of Reel Epics’ success is its partnership. I’ve learned it’s essential to have a likeminded team that shares a common goal – someone you can also bounce ideas off and make decision with, who you can lean on and, in turn, support. Starting a business is daunting – I don’t think either of us would have done it alone. While it is exciting, the film industry is also very stressful and has many trials and tribulations. Through determination and tenacity, we’ve found a good balance between holding back when necessary, patience, pushing ourselves and knowing when to take risks. Jackie and I are f rom different generations, which means we have different things that drive, inspire and motivate us, which seems to be the right recipe for Reel Epics.

    One of our bigger challenges is finding the balance between entrepreneurship and creativity. First and foremost, we are filmmakers – not business-minded individuals. In the pursuit of our passion, we still have to make time for the grinding realities of HR, accounting, marketing, pitching, and so forth, which can be very frustrating to our creative spirits. But in the process, we have acquired a multitude of new skills we hadn’t planned on learning.

    When we started out we didn’t have any business experience – we had to trust our instincts, have conviction in ourselves and be receptive to the advice of others. Neither of us have an entrepreneurial background, but filmmaking and producing lends itself to understanding budgeting, client relations, networking with other filmmakers and producers, and forming trusted connections with colleagues – all of which help to appreciate the value and importance of every aspect of the business. When I think back on my time at university, I realise that my part-time student job as a producer at UCT TV, as well as my studies and the relationships I formed, have been crucial in my current career as filmmaker and business owner.

    Reel Epics’ value proposition is its ability to translate academic theory and expertise relating to film-making into a practical programme to develop film makers, building in diversity to bring high-calibre Af rican stories to life on the screen. We continue to build on UCT connections to grow, employing university and CFMS alumni, and building a pool of f reelancers whom we employ as researchers and crew on various projects, thus developing talent and experience over time. Working with UCT grads, we’ve found a wonderful kismet – in the creative process, the work ethic and the bigger-picture mission of taking hold of Af rican stories and making sure they are told, our way.

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    GESLabs ges labs logo

    James de Beer
    James is a UCT chemical engineering graduate with a UCT Master’s degree in Data Science. He is co-founder, director and head of production at GESLabs.
    GESLabs is pioneering medicinal cannabis production in Africa. As regulator environments begin to embrace this plant and its byproducts, and as science proves its benefits, investors are looking to partner with ventures with technical know-how and business savvy. GESLabs is proving it has both.
    author:James de Beer

    I graduated from UCT with a degree in Chemical Engineering in 2017 and decided to take a working gap year. I dedicated the year to expanding my businesses in the events industry, which I had started while studying. In hindsight, I needed this year to understand where I wanted to take my degree, as the only immediate opportunities seemed to be in the corporate landscape. I didn’t intend to leave the skills I had learned in chemical engineering behind, but I couldn’t decide if I was ready to use them to work for someone else. Nor did I feel drawn to working in the petrochemical industry, where most of the opportunities in my field seemed to be. I decided to do a master’s in data science in 2019-2020 to expand my skill-set while I figured out what career to pursue.

    Signs of the times

    Medical cannabis became a global topic in 2017 when various countries, including South Africa, decriminalised the plant. That year the Western Cape’s High Court ruled that criminalising cannabis was an infringement of the country’s constitutional right to privacy, and in 2018 the constitutional court agreed. This was a historical moment in South Africa. My entire life, cannabis had been illegal and now, overnight, it was legal to cultivate and consume in private. It was hard to pinpoint the effect this would have on the economy or on the market in general over a long period of time, but I knew it was a significant moment and turning a blind eye to such a dramatic progressive change in regulation would be naive.

    Alongside this, in 2018 Canada become the second country to legalise recreational cannabis use, which created a massive capital market in Canada – large publicly listed companies opening up and attracting huge global investment. Almost in parallel, Lesotho, which resides inside South African borders, legalised cannabis cultivation with the requirement of government licencing. Huge amounts of capital began flowing into Lesotho as companies licenced and started medical cannabis businesses.

    I hadn’t quite analysed all the pieces of this puzzle, but it fascinated me. The political impact this plant had on the world seemed unprecedented. Its profile had clearly suffered from massive propaganda during the US War on Drugs in the 1970s, but the new data refuting these claims was now growing. In June 2018 the United States Food and Drug Administration approved Epidiolex, a drug to treat seizures associated with a specific type of epilepsy in children. Developed by GW Pharma, it was the first registered cannabis pharmaceutical drug to contain CBD, the active chemical in cannabis. THC, the psycho-active component of cannabis, was also being prescribed to multiple sclerosis and cancer patients to help with chronic pain, to alleviate chemotherapy symptoms, to increase appetite and alleviate nausea.

    A plant that had been used for centuries in South Africa by traditional healers, which for decades had suffered from a negative connotation due to a powerful political agenda to ban it, now had real-world data backing up its positive impacts. How was I going to get involved in what seemed to be a gradual but promising global revolution?

    In 2017 when I decided to pursue this interest, I knew very little about the politics, the regulatory environment and the agricultural side of the industry. I explored the value chain further until I discovered a niche, which seemed to be a perfect application of my skills and interests

    A growing field

    As I researched and understood the potential of cannabis and its derivatives, it was clear that a significant component of its products was, in fact, the extracted, refined and purified cannabinoids. Fortunately, the USA had a booming recreational market confined within specific states. This product was not allowed to be exported, but there was free trade within each state, which translated into a globally recognised market. With the power of the internet, I kept a close eye on the full value chain. It became apparent that the cannabis extract market was growing – and competing with the raw plant material as a dosage and administrative format.

    During this research phase I noticed that people were extracting cannabinoids using super-critical carbon dioxide (CO2) among other solvents. They then refined and purified these plant extracts using techniques such as distillation, crystallisation, liquid-liquid extraction and flash chromatography. These were all methods I had been studying at UCT during my undergraduate degree. In fact, in fourth year we had completed a project for which we designed a caffeine removal process from coffee using super-critical CO2. At this point, the penny dropped – I realised I had spent the better half of my degree learning the techniques needed to extract and refine desirable molecules, including from organic plant matter, which related directly to cannabis.

    Crucial connection

    In late 2018, I made contact with Peter Nel, another Chemical Engineering graduate from Stellenbosch University who was working in Malawi at the time on a plot of land that had just acquired a cannabis research license. He was working on the feasibility of extracting cannabinoids from hemp, and he had experience working with these techniques through custom-made glass equipment produced in Stellenbosch by Sarel Rautenbach (GlassChem), who became instrumental in the early days of Green Engineering Solutions (GES). I joined the small team and, soon after, GES was supplying customised equipment and providing consulting advice to small-scale cannabis industry players in Africa looking to jump in on what seemed to be the start of a global market development.

    At the time, we were a team of five. Both 2018 and 2019 were spent procuring, manufacturing and selling extraction equipment to companies with cultivation setups in Lesotho, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) while developing our expertise. We set up pilot lab operations to help these companies investigate the feasibility of entering the medical extract market in parallel to their raw biomass (flower) market objective. We spent these two years gaining valuable experience in building labs, in the extraction and refinement processes, as well as developing knowledge in the regulatory environment of good manufacturing practices (GMP). We made the right mistakes to learn from on a small scale and gained enough crucial experience to understand how to scale this model

    Scaling up

    At the end of 2019, the team had agreed we’d look to raise money in the private equity market to develop and construct our own manufacturing laboratory in Cape Town. We understood at this point that South Africa was the only country in Africa that was part of the Pharmaceutical International Co-Operation Scheme (PIC/S), a cooperative arrangement between global regulatory authorities in the field of GMP of medical products for human or veterinary use. The South African Health and Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) is the only regulatory body in Africa that complies with the PIC/S guidelines: South Africa has a welldeveloped pharmaceutical industry with globally recognised manufacturing standards. Green Engineering Solutions changed its trading name to GESLabs, as we pivoted from a consulting and technology provider to being a manufacturer for an active pharmaceutical ingredient (API). It was clear that our market would be a global market of high-scheduled, cannabis-derived pharmaceutical products. Entering this highly regulated and controlled environment was our best option for unlocking value and building a world-class bulk ingredient manufacturing facility.


    construction, but it also brought an element of focus, which helped keep our heads down in the initial design and procurement stage of development. We formalised our position as a founding team, led by Peter, and started to work on constructing and developing our facility, which comprised a pharmaceutical clean-room laboratory inside a warehouse space to limit the movement of materials and personnel.

    We concluded a R20 million seed-investment fundraise in the first half of 2020 just before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out.

    By the end of 2020, we had completed building the facility and all the equipment was in place. At the same time, we had been in regular communication with SAHPRA to ensure that we understood the requirements, and by March 2021, we had confidence in submitting our application to SAHPRA to manufacture standardised cannabis APIs in terms of section 22C (1) (b) of the Medicines Act and could attest that we met the requirements in terms of manufacturing GMP compliant products as outlined in the SAHPRA Guideline for the Manufacture of Cannabis-Related Pharmaceutical Products for medicinal and research purposes.

    After undergoing two rigorous 18-hour on-site audits conducted by SAHPRA’s Chief Auditor, we received confirmation of a positive final assessment by SAPHRA, and we were licensed on 20 October 2021. By 16 December, we became legally fit to operate. This included the manufacturing, import and export of cannabinoids and, most importantly, Dronabinol.

    Taking stock

    GESLabs has now grown to 15 highly specialised staff and concluded a Series A fundraise in early 2022. This has allowed us to expand our qualitycontrol department, fund the development of inventory and global supply chains, build our team of scientists and engineers, as well as develop complex strategies that give us an advantage competing as a true pharmaceutical API

    The GESLabs plant at Capricorn Park
    The GESLabs plant at Capricorn Park.

    manufacture for registered drugs. This year has also brought significant progresses with signed longterm supply agreements for GESLabs manufactured API’s into Germany and Australia, and it has been a year of our first commercial exports

    Entering as an entrepreneurial-based venture in an emerging field can be seen as a risk, or as a decision which may incur opportunity costs. Like any business-based decision, of course, it needs to be assessed based on risk/reward. Personally, the reward has always outweighed the risk to pursue building a business – and rewards are not only the potential financial success but, more importantly, personal fulfillment through intense learning, creativity and working with an exciting team.

    My father always used to say, “You create your own luck”. That saying has stuck with me, and driven me to put myself in a position in which luck or opportunity could present itself when the hard work and due diligence had been put in. One way to minimise the personal risk of an entrepreneurial venture is to ensure you have a funding plan to take you through the tough times where progress is slow and rewards are not seen. If you position yourself and your skills correctly, as well as position yourself to continue to develop your experience and skills while you build a business, you also minimise the opportunity cost of not developing experience working for someone else.

    I was able to leverage the skills learned in my degrees – as well as in my gap-year businesses – to positively impact and contribute to the startup GESLabs’ success as a co-founder. I was able to gain experience in a process engineering environment, and I was able to develop leadership and business skills in parallel. Building a start-up requires a wide spectrum of skills: lacking any of these skills will eventually punish you by slowing down your progress. This means focusing on your personal development, developing self-taught skills on the go, learning f rom others and keeping focused. Building the correct team from the start will greatly improve efficiency and creativity while the idea is in its infancy.

    With the help of mentors and a passionate and devoted chairman, GESLabs has built a solid foundation. We have a managing director who understands all aspects of the business and is a key driver of innovation and progress. We’ve had investors who see the potential in our business but also our potential as individuals. We’re not sure how the pharmaceutical aspect of the cannabis industry in Africa will fare in the long run, but we’re doing our part in steering it, and it feels right to be pioneers on this front.

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    Impulse Biomedical impulse logo

    Gokul Nair and Giancarlo Beukes
    Gokul Nair and Giancarlo Beukes are co-founders of Impulse Biomedical and graduates of the UCT Master’s in Bio-medical Engineering. Impulse Biomedical is a biomedical engineering company grounded in the founders’ shared passion for healthcare, with entrepreneurship almost a by-product of that passion.
    authors: Gokul Nair and Giancarlo Beukes

    Founding stories

    I’m Gokul, I was born in Mthatha, South Africa but grew up in Coffee Bay, which is in the rural former Transkei region, now part of the Eastern Cape. A story that sticks in my memory from childhood is when my brother broke his arm and my parents struggled to get access to medical treatment. We had to travel the 70km along a bumpy gravel road to the regional hospital in Mthatha for my brother to receive treatment, while he howled in pain. Basic access to healthcare was not available – a reality that propelled me to want to become a doctor or an engineer.

    My friend and co-founder, Giancarlo’s family story has been hugely influential to his ‘why’. His younger brother was born with a rare medical condition. At the time, his parents were unable to afford private healthcare and public healthcare facilities did not have the necessary equipment to effectively carry out the procedure. His parents were told that he would only live for three days, but he miraculously survived. In fact, he interned at Impulse a couple of months ago, which was really special.

    As co-founders we were exposed early on to the challenges of healthcare accessibility and wanted to make an impact in this sector. We were encouraged to look for simple solutions that could make a big difference to the lives of everyday people – and then to go and make that impact. Professor Sudesh Sivarasu, our supervisor for our master’s degrees, advised us about how to leverage what we already had, and to use commercialisation to be effective. He got us thinking about stakeholder analysis: interviewing the right people, commercialising the right way and dreaming bigger.

    Breaking into biomedical

    Having finished our master’s degrees at UCT, we thought we were set to take on the world. We were qualified, we had functional prototypes and UCT’s Research Contracts and Innovations Office assisted us by patenting our technologies. We were ready. Our first challenge was a common one for entrepreneurs, but especially for us in the biomedical industry. Any company making medical devices typically needs large amounts of funding before it can get any product to market, but we had none. For a long period neither of us earned an income. We applied for various competitions and started pitching our ideas. We raised a bit of money here and there, but this period was hard – it put a great deal of strain on our families and tested our beliefs and our mission.

    We figured that the product development was going to be the toughest part of our venture, then discovered that getting the business going and the product to market was much harder. We realised that we could have the best product in the world, but it still needs to meet the requirements of medical aid professionals, clinicians, academics and, most importantly, patients and customers.

    During the commercialisation phase, we chatted to big conglomerates – Bonitas, which is owned by Afrocentric, and to Discovery Health. We were surprised how receptive they were – very open to using our products as long as they met international requirements and passed the clinical trials. But getting our devices into medical journals and academic papers – proving the efficacy of any device – takes a lot of work.

    A better answer for asthma

    The first of the products we are commercialising is the Easy Squeezy, a sleeve attachment to a standard asthma inhaler. We found that many patients don’t have enough strength to use their inhaler and can end up having severe asthmatic attacks that send them to hospital. We also discovered that without a way to count doses on the device, the only way to check the levels is to shake it, making it easy to miss that it’s nearly empty. The third issue was stigma: 42% of school-going kids don’t want to carry their asthma inhaler because they’re worried of getting bullied or stigmatised.

    All three of these issues we identified with the help of Professor Michael Levin and the Red Cross Children’s Hospital, who supported us in our journey. With the addition of his support, we developed the Easy Squeezy, a sleeve attachment that fits over a standard asthma inhaler. The Easy Squeezy has a novel dual lever mechanism that reduces the required force of activation of any standard inhaler by up to four times. It allows anyone older than five years to use their own asthma inhaler – previously, only children older than 12 had that strength to activate their own asthma inhaler.

    “We figured that the product development was going to be the toughest part of our venture, then discovered that getting the business going and the product to market was much harder.”

    We also added a dosage counter to the Easy Squeezy, which informs the user of how much medication is remaining in their inhaler, by counting the number of activations and displaying it on the front of the device. Addressing the issue of stigmatisation is trickier, but we’re working on developing a brand as well as animated characters to help normalise asthma and help kids who carry an inhaler to feel less lonely and awkward about it.

    The second product is the ZiBiPen, which we worked on in partnership with the Red Cross Hospital and the Allergy Foundation of South Africa. The core issue we discovered was that the treatment for anaphylaxis, a severe allergic condition, is simply too expensive for patients to afford, costing up to R1 800. When a patient with anaphylaxis (a peanut allergy for example) eats a peanut, they go into anaphylactic shock, and their organ systems start to shut down.

    This patient could end up in hospital within 15-20 minutes if left untreated and could even die. The only way to treat them and get them to a hospital safely is by injecting them with 0.3 mg of adrenaline.

    Currently, there’s only one adrenaline-based injection device available in the South African market, and because of supply chain issues, by the time the device arrives in South Africa it expires within six months to a year. If the upfront cost wasn’t bad enough, the issue of cost is intensified by the fact that the device expires in such a short period of time. Most patients only use their injector 1-4 times in their entire lives, resulting in regular disposal of expired products. This is not only inconvenient, but unaffordable. If you never use the device, you still have to throw it away and buy a new one every single year, costing up to R1,800.00 – unreasonable and expensive. On top of this, the existing device is not very clinically effective for all users. With a needle length of 15mm, it caters for the average adult man. If a person is slightly larger than average, or a woman, they may need a needle that’s at least 18mm in length otherwise the adrenaline will be ineffective. Furthermore, for children, the needle can sometime be too long and can fracture the child’s femur.

    To solve these issues, we developed the ZiBiPen, which makes the treatment of anaphylaxis significantly more affordable. When our device expires, instead of throwing away the entire unit, you simply need to open up the ZiBiPen and replace the cartridge of adrenaline with a f reshly purchased cartridge at a f raction of the cost of an entire unit. Adrenaline is a very affordable pharmaceutical product, so we’re able to reduce recurring costs to the patient by up to 74% by having a replaceable cartridge. We’ve also designed the ZiBiPen to allow for interchangeable needles, which means you can select the needle length that caters best for your body variation and size: a short needle for children or a longer needle for a larger patient. Finally, with ZiBiPen we’ve put a lot of work in to making injections safer with a one-step injection process thereby reducing any risks of injury.

    Easy Squeezy and ZiBiPens
    Easy Squeezy and ZiBiPens
    The Impulse Biomedical team
    The Impulse Biomedical team.

    Credit where it’s due

    As founders, support systems have been incredibly important. Our families and friends who believed in us, supported us, helped us, and carried us at times

    We really can’t underscore enough UCT’s role in getting Impulse Biomedical to this point. The Research Contracts and Innovation (RC&I) team have been amazing. They have gone above and beyond throughout our journey. They patented the very technologies we are working to commercialise. They provided us with grants that allowed us to test concepts quickly and put together a solid business model. They challenged us, even today, while supporting us – meeting with us regularly to chat about strategy.

    We are proud to be a UCT spin-off company and we owe a huge amount of our ongoing success to Professor Sudesh Sivarasu, Professor Michael Levin, UCT RCI, Saberi Marais and many others at the University. Beyond the university, we have been bowled over by how open, kind and caring people in the medical, pharmaceutical and the medical devices space are in South Africa.

    Fuel for the long haul

    What keeps us going through tough times are our personal interactions, such as the joy of a child on finding she was able to use the Easy Squeezy. These experiences provide the validation we have needed, that what we are doing is worthwhile.

    The process of certifying medical devices is a lot longer than we expected – we had planned on one or two years initially, but it actually takes three or four. It requires a lot of money too, which is where institutional support is crucial: covering the initial cost – of filing for a patent, of selecting the correct countries for filing, etc. It is essential to how an earlystage IP-based company like ours functions, since our high value assets are our intellectual property – our designs, our ideas – it’s important to patent it for the value of our company to continue to grow.

    Being part of a network of innovators has also been crucial. Both founders are part of an alliance of African Entrepreneurs, called the Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance. We meet regularly with other entrepreneurs from South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia, Ghana etc who are all making an impact. We intend our impact to be sustainable and to last far longer than we do.


    chapter number 4

    Beyond the UCT ecosystem

    Partnering is key to successfully transferring ideas from one context to another. For UCT, it’s essential to testing the merit of academic theory in the wider world. The university’s entrepreneurship ecosystem has been strengthened by its partnerships, extending its influence and bolstering its relevance. This section looks at the two different examples, which have helped entire constituencies benefit from an initiative.

    The first partnership is between the educational institution and a foundation established out of the entrepreneurial success story in the food and clothing industry. This example looks at the way the Raymond Ackerman Foundation operates to build value for communities – through funds, vision and purpose – establishing an organisation that makes entrepreneurial learning accessible to those outside of the university. What has been consolidated in partnership with UCT is being implemented independently in partnership with other universities.

    The second partnership examined is that of Phaphama SEDI, a student-led programme that brings together several socially oriented initiatives by linking senior Commerce Faculty students with start-ups and businesses outside UCT. This partnership between students and entrepreneurs has proved mutually beneficial; it gives township businesses access to cuttingedge business know-how and networks and it allows commerce students first-hand experience of real-world businesses operations, expanding their minds beyond the set curricula.

    Through these initiatives, it’s clear that UCT operates as an innovation hub. Attracting the cream of Africa’s scholars to study at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, the university allows them a chance to integrate disciplinary learning with opportunities to access entrepreneurial support and resources, channelling their passion and commitment to develop ideas that build value both within and beyond South Africa.

    The author of the final contribution has come full circle – from starting off as an under-graduate at UCT and being forced to complete her studies elsewhere, to returning to build entrepreneurship as a strong pillar of the institution, leaving a legacy that reinforces UCT’s Afrikan footprint.

    Cape Town
    (Photo credit: Kapské_mÄ_sto, Cape Town a Bo-Kaap - Jižnà Afrika - panoramio)
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    image of Siphokazi Mngxunyeni

    Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurship at UCT

    Siphokazi Mngxunyeni
    Siphokazi Mngxunyeni is the Raymond Ackerman Academy Manager, this includes coordinating the Academy’s strategic direction and oversight of policy implementation.

    Poor socio-economic conditions are often at the heart of why young people don’t complete matric or study post-matric, and the Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurship and Personal Development at the UCT Graduate School of Business (RAA at UCT) recognises this reality. The Academy aims to develop a culture of entrepreneurship among young people in communities outside the university setting and provide business management skills to enable them to start, grow and sustain their own enterprises.

    Many of the Academy’s students see it as a second chance at a better future for themselves, their families and communities, as they are under pressure to start contributing to the household income and livelihood of the family. RAA at UCT endeavours to assist its entrepreneurs to gain access to sustainable livelihoods and to continue assisting both students and alumni to obtain meaningful employment, secure self employment or further education and training opportunities, so as to financially support themselves and improve their communities.

    Target market, recruitment and enrolment strategy

    RAA at UCT targets youth between the ages of 18 and 35 years who have not had an opportunity to complete matric or study post-matric. The programme makes use of media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, UCT GSB website, email and WhatsApp to recruit and communicate with students. The campaign also reaches out to churches and youth programmes such as the Bertha Centre Pathways and the Western Cape Government Youth Programme. The Academy is working on building working relationships with MASICORP, SILULO and CAN Gardens to extend its reach.

    The programme was launched in 2005 with a maximum capacity of 30 students per semester cohort. A total of 663 students completed the entrepreneurship programme in the past 15 years, until 2021. Figure 1 shows the number of students by cohort since 2006.

    As seen in figure 5, in line with the easing of the COVID-19 national lockdown restrictions, the Academy showed signs of recovery in terms of numbers by July 2021, as people found ways to cope with the pandemic.

    The Programme

    RAA at UCT has two offerings: one full-time sixmonth business skills training programme each semester, and a ten-month Graduate Support Services (GESS) programme for its alumni.

    The six-month business skills training programme

    This programme requires daily classroom attendance from 09h00 to 16h30. Pre COVID-19, the course was attended full-time on campus. During the pandemic, the course migrated to entirely online. While many students who are admitted will participate in full, some don’t, or they drop out due to family obligations, employment or offers to study further.

    The programme kicks off with design thinking with the UCT’s d-School Afrika, and concludes with business plan presentations as the end product. It is structured in such a way that the students are equipped with components to build a business plan, and it is assessed in a way that enables them to apply the learnings to their actual business ideas as the programme progresses. Its structure and level of delivery are informed by the level of education and needs of the students. To enhance the quality and relevance of the programme for today’s changing business world, four new courses have recently been added to its curriculum:

    Students are supported in terms of need of devices, data and travel when required. The R500 economic support eases the financial burden on the students so they can focus on succeeding in their studies.

    Figure 5: UCT RAA students from 2010 – 2021
    graph of UCT RAA students from 2010 – 2021
    “Many of the Academy’s students see it as a second chance at a better future for themselves, their families and communities.”
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    The Graduate Support Services (GESS) programme

    The objective of the GESS programme intends to provide practical entrepreneurial support for alumni of the six-month programme to help them develop their business ideas or existing businesses to the next level. It was launched in 2014 and since then the class size has varied between seven and 29 entrepreneurs. In total, 128 young entrepreneurs have gone through the GESS programme from inception to 2021. Sixty-four percent of the entrepreneurs in this cohort were women.

    The GESS is built on partnership with third parties as operating partners. It is designed to provide the entrepreneurs with access to specialised entrepreneurial skills and training, business development and support services, and mentorship. It focusses on the two types of entrepreneurs. First, it looks at those in the idea-stage who are not yet operational and still working on developing their business ideas. For these entrepreneurs, the programme focuses on validating the business offering; developing a clear business model; preparing a pitch presentation, and ultimately launching the business. The second group supported are entrepreneurs in the early stage, who have businesses that have shown early traction and are preparing for further growth. For this group, the programme assists with developing a growth strategy, preparing a pitch presentation and increasing value creation in the business.

    Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the programme remained entirely online through Zoom, email and WhatsApp. As anticipated in 2020, this approach increased the feeling of belonging, and the experience of being with like-minded people and networking. High data costs and limited access to compatible devices continued to be a barrier to consistent active participation in the programme during this time. Although the programme offers wellness support for students, this is not always taken up. This includes a monthly stipend of R500 on submission of their monthly business progress report for business support ie data, airtime, travelling, stationery, etc.

    Figure 6: Total number of GESS Entrepreneurs from 2014-2021
    graph of Total number of GESS Entrepreneurs from 2014-2021

    GESS 2021 Highlights

    In addition to the core elements of the programme, students received practical support in a variety of ways. Examples of support received in 2021 include:

    In addition, RAA hosted its first Entrepreneurship Virtual Conference / Exhibition where 18 entrepreneurs showcased their businesses. The conference attracted participation from SARS, Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA), National Youth Empowerment Fund (NYDA), RLABS and WESGRO, which is exciting for the future.

    UCT GSB Merchandise Store

    The GSB Merchandise Store continues to be run at UCT’s alumnus as a market opportunity for its entrepreneurs. With the assistance of the GSB Modular MBA Entrepreneurship Club and ENSAfrica, the Academy has initiated to use technology to make the store accessible to all UCT GSB students and alumni anywhere in the world by migrating it from a physical to an online platform.

    Plans for the future

    Taking advantage of the new opportunities presented by technology, RAA reshapes itself as a nationwide online programme. This is to enable it to reach a wider audience and maximise its impact. While the shift f rom face-to-face activities in Cape Town to online instructions marks the end of a remarkable chapter, the Director of the GSB, Dr Catherine Duggan noted that the UCT GSB remains committed to the goals of youth empowerment and social change embodied in the RAA programme. “We are extremely proud of our RAA alumni and we look forward to identifying new ways to collaborate with them, the Ackerman family and others who are similarly committed to supporting youth and entrepreneurship as a means to broad community development.”

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    Phaphama SEDI phaphama logo

    Rowan Spazzoli and Catherine Gwynne-Evans
    Rowan is one of the founders and current board members of Phaphama SEDI and Catherine is the 2022 Phaphama SEDI President.

    Phaphama SEDI (Social Enterprise Development Initiative) is an initiative based within the Commerce Faculty that links commerce students with real-world entrepreneurs beyond the university – simultaneously extending the range of people benefiting from the academic project and providing opportunities for students to gain real-world experience interacting with clients.

    image of Rowan Spazzoli and Catherine Gwynne-Evans

    Phaphama SEDI grew out of the realisation that socially driven student organisations could have a greater impact if, instead of operating in isolation, they worked with other similarly aligned organisations. In 2014, three different groups at UCT joined forces: Siyaya/SHAWCO, The Angel Fund and Enactus. The initiative’s dynamic founding members – Viwe Dikoko, Thandwefike Radebe, Rowan Spazzoli, Jessica van Rensburg and Alexandra Swanepoel – wanted to create a social awakening that extended beyond the university campus, and hence Phaphama, an isiXhosa word meaning “to be alert” or “to rise”.

    The programme supports small businesses in South Africa through training senior university students who are passionate about making societal change and eager for practical work experience with the local business community outside the university environment. These students are then connected with exceptional small and medium enterprises in Khayelitsha and Philippi that need support to meet their entrepreneurial goals. The programme imparts crucial business knowledge to entrepreneurs through a series of workshops; it aims to grow successful business, but also to nurture both entrepreneur and consultant. The dynamic exchange of skills runs both ways, linking the real world of business ownership with an academic approach to economics.

    image of Current and past Phaphama SEDI presidents and board members: Rowan Spazzoli, Julia
Hampton, Thandwefika Radebe, Pam Sneddon and Catherine Gwynne-Evans.
    Current and past Phaphama SEDI presidents and board members: Rowan Spazzoli, Julia Hampton, Thandwefika Radebe, Pam Sneddon and Catherine Gwynne-Evans.

    How it works

    There are very few resources available and minimal support for entrepreneurs working in the township economy. The entrepreneurs who join the Phaphama programme are typically looking for guidance for their financials and book-keeping, as well as branding and marketing. However, they also receive more tailored support from the student-consultant.

    “The dynamic exchange of skills runs both ways, linking the real world of business ownership with an academic approach to economics.”
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    During the eight-month programme, consultants and entrepreneurs form strong bonds. The term “consultant” falls short of the role that student volunteers play: they become a friend, mentor, guide, graphic designer, financial advisor, researcher and, on some occasions, even a fundraiser for their entrepreneur. They give so much of themselves to this programme, and all of this over and above their studies and commitments. In return, student consultants gain insight into the informal economy and its place in the economic landscape. They cultivate consulting skills and real-world problem-solving abilities, contributing to the lives of others in a tangible way.

    Mid-way through the programme the participants also have the chance to compete for funding through the Lion’s Den programme. This pushes entrepreneurs to refine their ideas and practice communicating their offerings to a wider audience. Here they can identify their business’s strengths and weaknesses, how to foster growth and sustainability, and how to create valuable connections and networks.

    To date, Phaphama has worked with over 100 small to medium enterprises and has supported over 300 student consultants.

    Steering the course

    The programme is guided by six key principles, developed over the past eight years to tackle challenges, shifts and growth in size and scope. The programme aims to be:

    image of presentation  at a Phaphama SEDI session
    Xolelwa Amanda Sifo of Melo’s Cake Shop - presenting at a Phaphama SEDI session

    Rising further

    In true Phaphama fashion, the programme responded to the urgency of the moment in 2020, shifting its focus towards better understanding its network and providing key insights into the South Af rican small business sector. To understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on small businesses, research was conducted among Phaphama’s entrepreneurial network. The knowledge and insights provided through its survey and report were used by numerous South Af rican organisations, prompting Phaphama to expand its offering to include a research aspect. Phaphama SEDI has expanded to Stellenbosch University, with the programme set to launch in 2023.

    “Going above and beyond the finances, we aim to create an open space that acknowledges and encourages compassionate connections across a range of identities.”
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    The framework

    The first half of the programme focuses on core business skills. Entrepreneurs attend sessions that look at every aspect of their business plan, including marketing, financials, funding and growth. Sessions are held weekly during university term. Since COVID-19, the sessions work in a hybrid model, with half online sessions and half in-person. In addition to the online sessions, groups will often organise among themselves to meet up and work together in-person.

    The second half of the programme is less structured and has more free sessions, where groups work on topics and issues among themselves. They have future-oriented focused sessions, in which they identify and set goals for the business, determined by what the entrepreneurs request after the first half of the programme.

    Sessions typically involve an external presenter – whether that is a UCT lecturer, local business owner or life coach – and then break-out sessions where groups come together to discuss the topic presented, how it applies to their business and then develop a plan to incorporate the learnings into their everyday business. It has been wonderful to see how willing external presenters are to give of their time and expertise to the consultants and entrepreneurs.

    Phaphama is strengthening the local economy in Cape Town – building up businesses and supporting people – creating new avenues to connect higher education to township communities so that they are better integrated and interlinked, where the flow of knowledge, energy and purpose runs both ways.

    image of Phaphama SEDI Lion’s Den 2022 winners at Boxwood Property
    Phaphama SEDI Lion’s Den 2022 winners at Boxwood Property.
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    Fail fast, fail up, fail forward

    Dikatso Sephoti

    “To build a successful business, you must start small and dream big. In the journey of entrepreneurship, tenacity of purpose is supreme.” – Aliko Dangote

    The alignment of purpose and the fearless pursuit of a dream are what write the plot of our lives and, in my case, my entrepreneurial journey. Every story of success is embedded with resilience and failure along the way, and my story is no different – the highs and lows have fortified my resolve to build and support an African entrepreneurship ecosystem.

    My first business failed at the tender age of 15. I was part of a group of eager teenagers who wanted to profit from the upcoming opportunities the 2010 FIFA World Cup would bring to South Africa. We started a business called the Travel and Tourism Association of South Africa (TATASA), hoping to showcase our small mining town of Carletonville, its gold mine (the deepest in the world) and its richness of diversity.

    We raised funds from local business owners and had office space to work from; we were keen and resourceful and great at mobilising the community to support us. Despite our best efforts, the business was not successful. I could see the value of the idea and it’s crucial timing leveraging the World Cup, but I had to tussle with the reasons behind the disappointment: Why did the business fail?

    There were many reasons, of course, but a significant one was our parents’ expectations. They expected us to put our energy and focus into our end-of-year exams, to stand a better chance of getting into a top university. They didn’t see entrepreneurship as a sure path. Our commitments towards TATA-SA dwindled as a result, eventually leading to its closure. My enthusiasm for entrepreneurship had been kindled, however, and with it my curiosity to better understand the shortcomings of the specific TATA-SA project, and to build something more resilient the next time around.

    Abiding by the wishes of my parents, I was elected as the Head Girl for the Representative Council of Leaders at Carleton Jones High School in 2008 and applied myself rigorously to my studies.

    Dikatso Sephoti

    As a result, I was able to qualify to study Actuarial Sciences at the University of Cape Town with the generous scholarship of the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust through Career Wise Bursary services.

    In my second year of university, I experienced a setback that changed the course of my life. I fell ill, and the many medical specialist consultations and misdiagnoses affected my academic performance so badly that I could no longer continue with my studies at UCT. I was devastated, disappointed and embarrassed. The toughest part was working through the psychological pain of failure again and reconciling the new reality with my audacious dreams. I was fortunate enough to eventually receive the medical care I needed from a neurologist in Cape Town. In retrospect, this part of my journey was a blessing in disguise.

    I moved back home and spent the six months of exclusion on physical recovery playing tennis. More importantly, I spent the time on psychological healing and subconscious mind reprogramming.

    Eventually, I took up the task of reapplying for university and studying closer to home. I returned to university the following year to study a B.Comm at WITS, where I joined the Wits Student Business Society and was elected as Vice-Chairperson in 2012 and then Chairperson in 2013.With greater determination and alignment in my studies, I grew conscious of the role that I could play in society and of the elements that are essential for a business to be commercially viable. I graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand, joined Colgate-Palmolive on their graduate programme and was promoted twice in one year to an exclusively new position: Retail Marketing Analyst, as requested by the Head Quarters in New York. In my two years of employment, I drew strong lessons from travelling and working with 43 African countries in my portfolio.

    Experience shaped my purpose and the nudging why questions continued to bother me: Why did my parents not see entrepreneurship as a career path? Why do African start-ups struggle? And, importantly, how can I make a difference within this sphere? I woke up one morning with conviction to further my studies in the field of entrepreneurship.

    Wits Business School believed in my vision and accepted my application to read towards a Master of Management degree in Entrepreneurship and New Venture Creation in 2016. I left Colgate- Palmolive in 2017, registered and immediately relaunched my business Dikatso (Pty) Ltd. with the vision to position myself as the pre-eminent support for entrepreneurial leaders and organisations.

    Dikatso is my second name and translates as offerings or gifts in Setswana, my home language. Dikatso (Pty) Ltd works with organisations that aim to support and develop entrepreneurial leaders across the African continent, including Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, African Leadership University, NiaDelta, Gordon Institute of Business Science, University of Cape Town, Perpetu8, Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation and the Brightest Young Minds, to name a few, impacting over 35 000 individuals.

    Today, I find myself honoured to project lead the UCT entrepreneurship ecosystem alongside an incredible steering group – an opportunity that feels like a full-circle moment, from the time I first joined UCT as a student. It feels like a precious gift, wrapped with tough lessons on failure, sweet moments of success, hard work, disappointment, unmerited favour, perseverance, kindness, curiosity and the encouragement to never give up. Achieving this has not been without difficulty and adverse challenges; however, through alignment, support and the conviction of my dreams, it has allowed me to better appreciate the vice-chancellor’s Vision 2030, which makes entrepreneurship a strategic focus.

    The successes and failures of my journey have been anchored by the unwavering belief that we all have a role to play in society – no matter how small you start or how big your dreams. Our parents were right in believing the late Nelson Mandela when he said “education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world” – education has changed my world and has given me the voice to better support entrepreneurial leaders and organisations. My role to serve entrepreneurs is a daily reminder to never give up – and to journey with you as you keep nurturing your dreams.