Friday evening, 21 July, Wits Business School hosted an exciting final round of the Agis/WBS Entrepreneurship Competition 2017 On – the first in what is to become an annual event.
The competition was an initiative of Agis Investments, a Johannesburg-based company which invests in small and medium South African businesses and seeks to support and develop South African entrepreneurs. The company partnered with Wits Business School to find a Wits or WBS student or graduate who has a great business idea but is in need of financial assistance and professional advice.
“We have long had a relationship with WBS through its internship programme, and we are excited to have launched this new project aimed at encouraging entrepreneurial activity among young South Africans. A strong SME culture is the backbone of any thriving economy, and this competition confirmed for us that this country has incredible potential and talent in the entrepreneurial space,” said Bernard Chidzero, founder and director of Agis Investments and one of the four judges of the competition.
Chidzero, who started his own first business at the age of 30, sees himself as a modern day Robin Hood, using the company’s consulting income to invest in smaller enterprises, a philosophy that resonates strongly with Mark Sham, the guest speaker at the event.
Sham is also an entrepreneur who is driven by a need to develop and train young people in order to close the inequality gap in our society. A self-trained businessman, Sham is a sought-after speaker who is passionate about developing people outside of the formal classroom context. For Sham, all the world is a university, and his event platform, Suits & Sneakers represents the value of both formal and informal education. Suits & Sneakers is a mass event that takes place a number of times a year, based on the TED talk format, to facilitate the sharing of knowledge towards a greater social value.
“Like many people in this country, I am concerned about the future of education and I believe the time has come to stop assuming that the government, or even big business, is going to fix it. That is why I started Suits & Sneakers, which represents a blend of the formal and informal environments. I am driven by finding solutions to problems in education, to addressing the inequality gap, and to finding ways of providing a quality education for those who need it most,” says Sham.
In his speech, Sham, who has no formal tertiary education, emphasised the value of continual learning, and technology today enables us to learn all the time – from YouTube clips to TED talks to podcasts. After starting a number of businesses, and “making and losing a lot of money”, Sham came to realise that his strength lies in collecting and distilling information, and then sharing it with others.
“I am a ferocious learner,” he said. “I try and educate myself every day about the world – I want to know how the world works. If there’s any advice I have for an entrepreneur, it is “follow your passion, but only if it solves a problem”. And never stop learning.”
The Agis/WBS Entrepreneurship Competition was launched at Wits Business School in early May, and attracted 84 entries, all of whom had to provide a one-page introduction to their business (which could be in pilot stage, an existing business or even just an idea for a business). After a ‘speed dating’ session, 12 teams were chosen, and finally four semi-finalists, who presented their final pitch in front of the judges, followed by a question and answer session.
“In the end, it was a head and heart battle,” said Chidzero. “All 12 teams’ presentations were of high quality, and it was very difficult to whittle it down to four; and even more difficult to choose the winner. We took into account the commercial value of the businesses plus the social impact, but in the end we had to think like a venture capitalist, and we chose the winner on the basis of their financial model, the growth capacity of the business and its scalability, and the uniqueness of the product.”
The winning business was Afrinet Technology, a registered South African company started by Wits graduates Makgale Barclays Lekala, Maefo Emily Phetla, Lydia Mogale and Edgar Lesibana Mashamaite. The company manufactures grinding media balls for the mining industry.
The runners up included an innovative start-up which offers students and professionals an efficient laundry service; an online auto-body repair market place, and a herbal cosmetics company.
“Wits Business School is thrilled to be a part of this initiative to encourage an entrepreneurial mind-set amongst our students,” says Charisse Drobis, Acting Academic Director at WBS. “As a School we see ourselves not just as educators but as facilitators of shared knowledge, and knowledge doesn’t only come from books – it comes from a thirst to understand the world, to share ideas and to find innovative solutions. Our congratulations to Afrinet!”