The mother lode of young entrepreneurs

Article written by Sungula Nkabinde for Moneyweb

shutterstock_321155882-555x370 (1)Much is said about the need to foster a culture of entrepreneurship among South Africa’s youth. But it’s already there. Just untapped.

Be Bold is a student-driven movement, with a network of over 53 000 student entrepreneurs nationwide. Through university societies and clubs Be Bold is creating a culture of entrepreneurship. According to its founder Charles Maisel, it is the only student society with a presence on every campus in the country.

“That’s where the potential lies,” says Maisel. “If you’re going to approach entrepreneurship as a means to solve the youth unemployment problem, and take it to the next level, then you have to start with the 600 000 people already at university.”

Primarily, the societies’ functions are to organise pitch events, where students come to pitch their business ideas, and members contribute by interrogating each idea and choosing the best one. Because a lot of the pitches are for products and services for students themselves, they understand their market better than anybody else.

“Plus if you have 100 people attending a pitch event, you’re going to get a lot more feedback,” says Maisel.

The top pitches from each campus go to an inter-varsity pitching competition held at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch offices in Sandton. It is the sponsor of the competition.

In Limpopo, people fight to pitch, because there can only be ten pitches per night and there are up to 50 people who want to pitch. “So the demand is massive,” says Maisel.

“There is no format. You can pitch with beer in your hand if you want to. You can use a Powerpoint presentation. There are no rules…. But we only want original ideas. You can’t go there with ideas for food trucks, hair salons or event management companies.”

The societies also have speakers that come to campuses and talk on issues surrounding entrepreneurship. To help members come up with the best ideas, they hold programmes on how to generate ideas and develop them as, according to Maisel, this is the biggest stumbling block for all entrepreneurs.

Success stories

A masters chemical engineering student from the University of the Witwatersrand saw a need in the university for sneakers to be cleaned. He developed his own range of chemicals and started to wash sneakers in his room, charging R60 a pair. Be Bold is planning to help him get a presence on every campus in the country.

A student from the University of Pretoria has designed and manufactured a paper-based brick, which costs 30 cents, compared with regular bricks, which retail for around R2 each.

There is also a group of students at Fort Hare University who have designed an Uber-type tutor-sharing platform. “So basically you can find a tutor anywhere and you pay for every ten minutes of tutoring. The university has since bought the idea from those guys,” says Maisel, adding that there are thousands of examples of other entrepreneurs.

Lack of funding

One problem that Be Bold has been able to resolve for students is in making it easier for them to own the intellectual property of their business ideas, whereas in many cases, it would have been the university that would own it.

An obstacle that remains, however, is funding. Maisel explains that, despite approaching many institutions, their efforts to fund these students’ ideas have come to naught. Invariably, funders want to see some kind of track record, which Maisel says is unreasonable because university students do not have a business with a track record, otherwise, they wouldn’t be at university.

Says Maisel: “We’ve got the brightest brains in the country and they are coming up with innovative ideas, but they can’t get any money. We’ve gone to the IDC and we’ve been to a couple of venture capital companies and the reality is that it is impossible to get funding.”

Creatives are also getting involved

Be Bold has built upon the university society framework to target other kinds of entrepreneurs. Snake Nation is a social studio and multi-platform network for creatives, which allows anyone to create a profile of themselves and share their creative works, be it music, art or literature, and get exposure in the US market.

There is also a publishing society, which despite the fact that it has only been in existence for four months, has also had two books by student writers published. Lastly, Fashion Society, aims to help fashion designers on campus create lasting brands, “because young people are coming up with new brands and T-shirts all the time. In Cape Town alone, there are eight different fashion brands started by students already,” says Maisel.shutterstock_321155882-555x370 (1)