BUSINESS

Washington here we come

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Three South African startups, Mellowcab, SquirrelThat, and Khaya Power, recently won awards at the prestigious 1776dc Challenge Festival in the USA. Mellow Cab won the international prize for international startups in the Smart Cities category, SquirrelThat won the Readers Choice Hottest Educational startup and Khaya Power won the Peace Award. This is a fine example of South African ideas and entrepreneurs making an impact on the international business stage.

The statistics surrounding startup success are daunting to say the least. Of the 500 000 plus businesses launched in 2012, only a small fraction succeed internationally. Winning on an international stage is therefore a significant achievement and is encouraging for other budding entrepreneurs in South Africa.

“Being in the company of 64 exciting startups from 16 different cities was an eye opening experience,” says Willie Maritz, co-founder of SquirrelThat. “The innovation, industry disruption and tenacity displayed to build a scalable business [on the part of all competitors] was impressive. We learnt that having a great business concept is no longer enough to secure vital investment. Being able to explain your business in a minute and proving traction is just as important.”

A key learning is that standing out of the crowd is crucial. The most important way to do this is through your business pitch. A powerful pitch grabs listeners attention and keeps them listening. Investors are perhaps the hardest individuals to ‘sell’ your idea to. They spend a large amount of time being hounded for investment so you have to make sure that your point is clear, attractive, and most importantly: quick. So how do you make sure your pitch hits its target?

  1. You must be solving a recognizable problem or disrupting an already established industry.
  2. Your business model must be as compelling as your business product.
  3. Financial projections must be realistic and credible.
  4. If you are asking for something, be specific: what do you want, and what do you want it for?
  5. Be ready to answer probing questions with good answers.
  6. And finally: practice, practice, and practice.

Our South African startups stood out for two reasons: they had real social benefits but were also viable businesses. Mellowcab has created an eco-friendly urban micro taxi with a tech powered advertising model. SquirrelThat is a mobile platform that allows users to capture their learning immediately on any device and apply real world, useful actions to this learning. Khaya Power brings light to the people through a 12V rechargeable power-pack housed in a 5 liter plastic container with a business model that enables community members to sell on power like in the LP gas industry.

It is clear that South African entrepreneurs have some great ideas. Getting into the right room with the right people is only half the battle to ensuring business success. Once there, you need to bring the best possible pitch for the best possible results.

Brad Arden

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