The 2019 Step Up 2 A Start Up and Smartbucks National Youth Awards were hosted on Wednesday at Silverstar Casino in Muldersdrift, where the winners of the competition were announced. These winners started out as part of a group of 12 000 individuals watching two movies. They were thereafter whittled down to nine teams of learners who participated in a boot camp, survived a gruelling Dragon’s Den test and finally reaped the rewards of their hard work.
Business leaders and public sector stakeholders celebrated the achievements of teams of young South Africans who are determined to make a difference in their communities through technologically-aligned businesses that are anchored by sound financial decisions. The awards evening was the culmination of a five-month entrepreneurship development programme and competition targeted at 12 000 secondary school learners and made possible by key sponsors Sasol, the MTN Foundation, Omnia and Liberty with the support of the Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda) and the department of small business development.
The entrepreneurship initiative addresses the reality that as part of the continent with the highest population of young people on the planet, South Africa must have a viable and sustainable solution to propel youth into job creation, as opposed to adopting a job-seeking mind-set.
Nonjabulo Zikhali and Nolwazi Sindane of Hoërskool Secunda
Now in its sixth successful year, The National Youth Awards are proving to be a leading youth entrepreneurship and financial literacy initiative, impacting the lives of thousands of young people. The theme for the 2019 Step Up 2 A Start Up and Smartbucks programmes was Think Tech, Do Business, encouraging learners to embrace technology as a platform for small business creation.
The educational journey began in August when thousands of Grade 9-11 learners attended the screenings of two films at Ster Kinekor cinemas nationwide, to learn about tech entrepreneurship and financial literacy. The aim was to help learners understand that mastering one’s personal finance is a foundational step towards handling a successful business.
Think Tech, Do Business
Managing director at Primestars, Martin Sweet said in the keynote address: “This year’s theme Think Tech, Do Business aligns with government’s goal of technological advancement in education and aims to help South African youth harness technology to develop solutions and business models that help accelerate development, improve living standards and foster inclusive growth.”
At the cinema, learners received toolkits that reinforced the lessons communicated throughout the movie. The toolkit assists learners in implementing the skills learned to develop their own business ideas and model canvasses to enter the Step Up 2 A Start Up Tech entrepreneurship competition.
The 25 individuals comprising nine teams each received a bursary for a university degree
“Each year the programme focuses on global trends in entrepreneurship, seeking to inspire participants to explore these in the context of their surroundings, and looking for business solutions to real problems in their communities,” said Sweet.
“Our educational films provide essential tools, recipes, codes, blueprints and knowhow that encourage young people to master their money, ignite their start-ups and own their future,” explained Sweet. Primestars has distributed tens of thousands of its toolkits with age-appropriate, step-by-step guides on financial literacy and entrepreneurship.
“And if that isn’t enough, through our annual young entrepreneurs competition, we incentivise learners to go out and actively apply what they have been taught, by finding opportunities and starting small businesses. Learners are challenged to adopt a growth mind-set, rather than a fixed one, allowing for failure and highlighting the important lessons that emanate from their mistakes.”
With input from industry leaders and experts, the top nine entrepreneurial teams in the competition that demonstrated the most innovative tech-enabled business models were identified to take up the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend an intensive three-day Entrepreneurship Boot Camp hosted at the Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg.
This led to the teams presenting their business models to a panel of judges in a Dragon’s Den ordeal in the hopes of winning some of the amazing prizes and of officially becoming the 2019 Step Up Young Entrepreneurs of the Year. All finalists were awarded prizes including bursaries, business incubation, cash and gadgets.
Sweet added: “In choosing the winners, we look for qualities of an active learner such as independent and reflective thinking, initiative and creativity; and signs of a responsible citizen, such as positive values, public spirit and commitment.”
Why entrepreneurship over jobs?
Jacko Maree, special envoy on investment to the president, said: “There’s a striking lack of confidence in the South African economy, and we’re not seeing people establishing start-up businesses in the volume we need to get this economy growing again. What happens when confidence doesn’t exist is that businessmen naturally start ‘protecting’ their businesses through cost cutting — primarily by reducing their headcount.
“As a country, it’s challenging to try solve too many variables — growth, unemployment, poverty — all at once. Furthermore, without solving growth, the other variables become impossible. Growth isn’t one of the variables: it’s actually a precondition to the others. How we kick-start growth starts talking to entrepreneurship. A traditional Keynesian economic model is for government to spend more to create growth, through its state-owned companies, but in South Africa’s case these are mostly bankrupt or are in major financial difficulties.
Some members of the aspiring teams
“Consequently, there is only one realistic lever to stimulate the economy and that is private sector investment in capacity and machinery. The president understands this clearly. I can see some green shoots, and I am positive that we will see improvement over the coming year or two. One reason for slow growth is the lack of improvement in our education system, which sees youth coming out of schools ill-equipped to tackle a world where technology is advancing so rapidly. They lack skills in communication, mathematics and reasoning. It is hard for them to get ahead career wise, especially when our businesses are competing globally against countries where their youth come out of school well-equipped with the skills of the fourth industrial revolution,” said Maree.
“Hence, it is pleasing to see financial literacy getting more attention in a programme such as this, as well as in some schools. It is a critical skill to understand that you have to save — either as an individual or a country. There are also too many youth wanting to go to university and study for degrees that are not applicable in the workplace. We need more youth to opt for trades or vocational training, and need to look more closely at the German model of apprenticeships to boost our manufacturing sector.
“The way out of despair is not about finding a job, but becoming an entrepreneur, who have specific attributes. Many of them have not been to university, which is not a prerequisite to success as an entrepreneur. Among the ones I have met, they often come from humble backgrounds and have had to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. It is a mind-set: I know one who started as a cleaner, and built that business into the biggest commercial cleaning business in South Africa, and took the model abroad.
“The common characteristics are being incredibly determined and focused to the point of being single-minded, even obsessive; they won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. It’s about finding a gap in the market or a problem that needs to be solved and developing a business plan around that. They tend to sacrifice money or material status for the business they own. In their early days they didn’t drive smart cars but ploughed money back into the business,” explains Maree.
“They start by experimenting in a small way, they test and learn. They quickly develop a team around them: they learn that it is much easier to be successful through working as a team than alone. They have common sense and financial literacy — even if they have no formal training in it, they instinctively understand cash flow. They also never relied on handouts or government. They typically have good mentors, sounding boards who can give them wisdom,” concluded Maree.
The winning team
A thrilled winning team of Nonjabulo Zikhali and Nolwazi Sindane from Hoerskool Secunda described their winning app: “It allows people to talk about mental health, open up and remove the stigma. The biggest challenge we faced was definitely finance: we needed only R11 500, because we had a free app developer programme. We came up with the idea because we had a best friend struggling with depression, and we found we didn’t know how to deal with it, act around her or help her. She didn’t feel comfortable having personal interactions with the psychologist. We thought, what if there were some online thing that does that?”
They went on to research mental health, watching videos on depression and social isolation, and were shocked to discover the scale of the problem: that one in five teenagers in South Africa are affected.
“We were facing this close up and personal through our best friend, and wanted to do something about it. We wanted to be part of the people that are going to change South Africa’s future for the best. Anyone can download the app from Google App stores, and with the app you can enter your personal details via a function we are still developing called a chat box, for the user to register on our app. We are going to have social workers or university students who need to do community work for their degrees. They can register to help, say, one hour a week, and can select from the registered people who they want to help,” says Zikhali.
On the boot camp experience, Sindane says: “Based on what we learned at boot camp, what we presented now is completely different to our original idea. We learned that it’s okay to regroup and try again, because we completely demolished our initial idea. It’s okay to try new things. When we entered boot camp, the first thing we were told was, ‘change your name, it won’t work’, and we were then ready to go straight home. But we persisted and all the speakers motivated us in our idea. It was games-based learning (edutainment).”
This experience meant that by the time the time the Dragon’s Den occurred it was not as nerve-wracking as it would otherwise have been. “We prepared a lot beforehand, with mock pitches where we received very strong critiques — we had no sleep! Pitch and perfect gave us flash cards which helped a lot, and the mock questions turned out to be much harsher than the real thing.”
As to the future: “We’re not going to try do it, we are going to do it,” they chorus.
The ceremony also included the awarding of the 2019 Primestars Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr Xolani Mkhwanazi. He was recognised for his selfless contribution towards sustaining educational programmes in South Africa.
Primestars is a majority black women owned education organisation, strategically positioned as a private tutor in public education. It specialises in facilitating national youth empowerment programmes for high school learners (reaching 90 000 annually) from under-served communities, making use of Ster-Kinekor cinemas as “theatres of learning”. Its programmes focus on career guidance, financial literacy, maths and science and entrepreneurship. Its success over the last decade is owed to its public/private sector partnerships with the national department of education.
“The impact that Smartbucks and Step Up 2 A Start Up is making in the lives of our youth is made possible by our wonderful corporate sponsors who, through their participation, are building our youth, changing futures and ensuring that in this disruptive digital age, no one is left behind,” said Sweet.
Also present at the event was Abey Tau of the Sasol Global Foundation Community, who said: “Sasol has a keen interest in instilling an entrepreneurial mind set in scholars, because we see that the country needs small businesses in various communities to boost the economy, and the best way to do so is to create a pool of small businesses able to absorb a large percentage of unemployed youth.”
General manager of the MTN SA Foundation, Kusile Mtundzi-Hairwadzi, said: “We are pleased to be part of this initiative that cultivates and nurtures entrepreneurship. At MTN, we believe in harnessing the power of our brand and technologies to foster entrepreneurship, particularly among young people.”
Speaking on behalf of Omnia, a principal sponsor for the Smartbucks programme, Kavita Pema said: “It is always a privilege to be part of something so impactful on the lives of young learners. Financial literacy skills for learners are an essential tool for improving the financial capability of our youth and communities, and ultimately, South Africa as a country. The Omnia Group is proud of every learner who participated in the Primestars Smartbucks programme and would like to congratulate all the winners.”
Seda chief executive Mandisa Tshikwatamba said it was important to equip the youth and expose them to the right information: “Our participation in Step Up 2 A Start Up programme serves as a good foundation, where Seda is part of a value-adding private public partnership for youth entrepreneurship development. We want to multiply and enhance such partnerships across the country to reach more entrepreneurs for better impact and deepen the culture of entrepreneurship in the country.”
Tracey Unser, group executive for corporate citizenship at Liberty, expressed her gratitude for what the Smartbucks programme has managed to achieve over the years. “A lack of proper financial literacy is still a huge concern in South Africa. Consumers young and old still struggle to demonstrate a strong grasp of basic financial management principles; as a result, they are unable to manage their finances properly to avoid being over-indebted. The Smartbucks programme seems to have found a formula that delivers financial literacy in an effective manner that appeals perfectly to the youth.”