Four universities make it to the EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity finals for the first time

Published On: 17 November 2021|

Four of Universities South Africa’s 26 member institutions will be participating in the 2021 EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity finals for the first time since the competition was incepted in 2019. The two-day finals will be hosted at the Premier Hotel OR Tambo in Kempton Park, from this Thursday, 18 November.

Namely, the four institutions are the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, the Mangosuthu University of Technology, Walter Sisulu University and the University of the Western Cape. Participating in the first three of the four categories under consideration, these institutions’ competitors will be amongst the 28 finalists representing 18 institutions which made it to the last round of the competition, now in its third year.

The EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity is one of several annual projects being implemented by the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) programme to develop, strengthen, and promote student entrepreneurship while developing entrepreneurship in academia and, ultimately, developing entrepreneurial universities. Further to identifying the top student entrepreneurs at each university and showcasing their running businesses and business ideas, EDHE also attempts, where feasible, to attract investment to this cohort of start-ups. By participating in this activity, universities, in turn, get to demonstrate their entrepreneurship talent and show the role they, as institutions, are playing in support and growth of the next generation of business leaders. Ultimately, the Intervarsity brings exposure to diverse studentpreneur role models who, directly or indirectly, also inspire their peers, nationally, to follow suit.

This year saw a high volume of 4168 registrations from all 26 public universities. Of those, 1468 were found to meet all the requirements – thereby qualifying for entry. The university internal rounds yielded 150 regional participants out of whom the 28 finalists were selected. The names of these finalists were announced at the recent EDHE Lekgotla in October.

On Thursday, 18 November, each of these finalists will be presenting their business ideas or running enterprises to a panel of five judges. They will be battling it out on four category platforms, namely 1) the most innovative business idea; 2) existing business: technology; 3) existing business: social impact; and 4) existing business: general. Each of these carries a winning prize of R20 000. The Student Entrepreneur of the Year Award, with a grand prize of R100 000, will be selected among the four winners emerging from these categories. The winners will be announced over an extended programme that will also feature the Annual EDHE Awards this Friday afternoon.

As the 2021 finalists gear up to put their best foot forward in today’s pitching session, we revisit some 2019/20 winners, who, at the recent EDHE Lekgotla, related anecdotes of how they had benefitted from participating in the Intervarsity and shared a word or two of advice to this year’s finalists.

The competition pulls us out of our comfort zones

Mr Marco Booyse (above left) was a final-year student in the University of Pretoria’s Bachelor of Commerce: General programme in 2020. A 2020 winner in Category One representing the most innovative business idea, Booyse impressed the judges with the business concept around Stu-D-sure (pronounced “Stu-D-sure”), a company he co-founded with a friend and peer in the same UP programme. Study-sure is an insurance product meant to enable university students to insure their study modules. Should a student fail a module, the insurance covers the cost of the repeated module while rewarding good academic performance to incentivize good results. This insurance product seeks to ensure that the students complete their studies and continue their journey to a prosperous future.

Booyse lauded the EDHE Intervarsity for its ability to break student entrepreneurs out of their comfort zones. The idea of Stu-D-sure arose from a conversation he held with Jacques Fourie, now his business partner, after Booyse had failed an accounting module. He wished he had insured his modules because failing resulted in him looking for a holiday job to pay his own way through his second attempt. This conversation sparked an idea. When they researched, they found that no such entity existed, even globally. They also found that up to 40% of university students in South Africa do not complete their degrees, mainly due to sponsors withholding funding when the students failed – hence dropping out.

Entering this competition was a journey of discovery and many lessons, Booyse said. The win, and the exposure that came with it, helped them develop the courage to approach potential mentors for advice and guidance, something they would not ordinarily have done. The duo has since partnered with an actuarial company. Furthermore, they approached all the 26 public universities to access students’ historical data that could potentially inform their target market. The pair hope to roll out this product from 2022.

To the 2021 finalists, Booyse has one simple advice: to enjoy the competition wholly. “It is an amazing opportunity to network, to learn, to be coached, to meet people. Just enjoy it. If you are going to be too stressed about it, you are not going to enjoy it… and I promise you, you will take more from it than you could have ever imagined.”

Intervarsity helped me to structure my business

Mr Denislav Marinov (above) was a University of Cape Town student in 2019, when UCT scooped three of the five contested entrepreneurship awards. Marinov then ran DVM designs, an enterprise that designed 3D printing machines for hobby printing and industrial use. He was the winner in Category 2 representing Existing Technological Business.

According to him, DVM Designs morphed into Amnova Tech, an enterprise which aims to minimise barriers of entry for small to medium businesses by offering technological solutions in creating prototypes, testing out products and getting them to target markets with efficiency and lesser costs than traditional manufacturing processes.

He says the Intervarsity helped him structure his entity to what it is today.

Marinov says he is concerned that South Africa contributes only 2% of the global manufacturing added value, even though richly endowed with mineral resources which it exports for processing and imports them again as finished products, at much higher costs. “I believe in an Africa that has the much higher production capacity and produces locally as opposed to importing. It is no secret that Africa is subjected to a variety of trade policies and trade agreements that covertly hinder our growth. So, it is up to us as a continent to increase our production capacity and become a global manufacturing leader.”

He blames processing our resources offshore for the prohibitive expense that causes on producing locally. That further creates the barrier to innovation and affordable prototyping that Amnova Tech tries to remove. Marinov says their manufacturing services allow small to medium businesses to enter the production space and be the leaders of their businesses’ destinies. All of this happens without having to outsource any of their production needs.

Amnova Tech also manufactures its own 3D printing machines. He said this year, they exported their first commercial 3D printer to a client in California, in the United States. To him, this was testament to Africa’s ability to export. “I think it is about time we changed the narrative that paints Africa as a continent that imports from Europe and America and make America and Europe import from us,” he said.

On his Intervarsity experience, Marinov said it probes participants to think deeper, not only about the business, but about themselves too. These questions range from assessing their passions as studentpreneurs and checking if they are headed in the desired direction. He said EDHE offers a great platform to test out a business idea and subsequently engage with a larger community of entrepreneurs.

One of the lessons he says he learned is that entrepreneurs should take their products to the market as soon as they can and not wait for a perfect product.

He also cautioned finalists that ego plays a big part in start-ups. People want to be founders and to be known to have created phenomenal inventions. He said the most important thing was to share these ideas with other people. He said for him, sharing with others was a panacea to feeling lonely in the entrepreneurial journey. “I cope by bringing people on board and sharing my passion with everyone interested.”

The relationship with EDHE endures way beyond the finals

Also competing to win in 2019 was Mr Mvelo Hlophe (above), then a final year BCom student majoring in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from the University of Cape Town. Hlophe, who came out tops in the Existing Business: Social Impact category, was also the inaugural winner of the much-coveted national Student Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2019. This was all on the banner of Zaio, an information technology company he had founded to teach people how to code, free of charge, through a gamified learning experience where they complete theory and practice- based challenges.

He told the Lekgotla audience that two years after participating in the Entrepreneurship Intervarsity, his interactions with EDHE officials remain intact.

His company also started from a conversation with a friend who had missed out on a job opportunity because he had not built anything in relation to what he studied. Hlophe, who calls himself a problem-solver, saw this as an opportunity to create a product that would benefit society. That was the birth of Zaio, an online learning platform that provides highly interactive digital skills courses with on-demand live support.

In the beginning, Zaio equipped people with coding skills, but the company did not have targeted groups. Now they deal solely with organisations, where they train and equip staff with the latest technologies and still pass on coding skills. He said even though they have pivoted multiple times as a business, the goal remains to cultivate leaders who will drive the future of Africa and global tech innovation.

He was part of the deliberations of the first EDHE Lekgotla that saw the formation of the communities of practice. Since then, Hlophe said, it has been a fruitful journey. He told the finalists that the relationship with EDHE does not end with the competition. He was urging them to utilise the support and access opportunities offered by the Programme. It was also important to bounce ideas off with the EDHE team who possess a wide range of skills and are equipped to offer guidance, or to point one in the appropriate direction.

On the institutional support he had received, Hlophe complimented the business desk at UCT. He said the institution extensively coached their pitching skills and taught them about design thinking and business modelling. “It is pretty comprehensive, the support you get from UCT. I think, by the time that you get to just the regionals even, your business is pretty well refined, and by the time you get to finals, it is just working on the small things.”

Entrepreneurship is scary but take the leap anyway

Ms Kgodiso Lebea (above) from the University of Limpopo and co-founder of JK Foods, manufacturer of Moringa-based food spices, said as scary as entrepreneurship may be, especially for women, strength lies in taking a leap of faith.

She said JK Foods started as a hobby and love for food and was driven by her obsession for healthy eating. However, coming from Limpopo, a rural province, she had to find ways to develop healthier products cost-effectively. That came with the discovery of moringa. She and her co-founder developed a spice blend, which initially was for her personal use. Later, she wanted to share her creation with others.

In 2018, they started working on the brand and eventually registered the entity in 2019. The spices received great responses – thus inspiring the duo to work on growing the business.

Lebea admitted that out of fear, she had not intended to enter the EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity. She did so because of her professor’s encouragement. That and the support from UL helped her overcome her fears. This saw her winning in the Existing Business: General category in 2020.

She remembered being the only female winner among male students, saying that could have been an intimidating factor. The secret in overcoming self-doubt lay with women entrepreneurs owning their ideas and articulating them with courage.

A stickler for women and youth empowerment, Lebea assured women entrepreneurs that “we are as good as our male counterparts. We might be just a little bit smarter than them at times. We might have more powerful opinions or more powerful suggestions…We need to take the leap because if you are sitting there with your idea, and you do not step up or do something, then you are not going to be an example for the next woman.”

Initial failure must inspire you to try again

From almost not pitching the business to scooping the Student Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2020, Mr Promise Nyalungu (above left) said the achievement symbolised that they were offering something valuable to their community. His business, Struu Artzz Entertainment, also won in the Existing Business: Social Impact category.

Nyalungu calls himself a passionate rural developer. He co-founded Struu Artzz with a friend to curb youth idling about, leading them to engage in substance abuse. In the absence of recreational activities, Struu Artzz Entertainment filled the gap. They do this through the arts, cultivating natural talents such as singing, acting, and dancing. He said the goal is to nurture these individuals to grow professionally using their talents.

Using an investment of R120 000, Nyalungu said they have managed to open a studio in Thohoyandou, called Struu Artzz Africa Studio. They now also have a new platform called Struu Artzz Africa Network, where they work with creatives who want to become YouTube bloggers and podcasters. They offer facilities for such activities at affordable rates. They now also offer film and photography services to augment their income and sustain Struu Artzz.

With a staff complement of four, Struu Artzz has grown and will soon be acquiring five interns.

Nyalungu’s journey in the Entrepreneurship Intervarsity is one of resilience. He came through in 2019 but returned empty-handed. Learning from his mistakes and returning in 2020 paid off.

The 2021 Intervarsity finals will be a hybrid event to which people can link in via EDHE’s Facebook page, starting from 12h00 today. At the end of each category’s presentations, the judges will retreat to deliberate on and decide on the winning business in that category. The awards event will also be live streamed via EDHE’s Facebook on Friday, 19 November 2021, from 12:00 noon.

For this event, EDHE has partnered with the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation and the SAB Foundation. The Allan Gray Orbis Foundation supports the Intervarsity in its totality and SAB Foundation is sponsoring the social impact category. This year the partners have added 2nd runner-up and 1st runner-up cash prizes of R5000 and of R10 000, respectively. The runner-up prizes complement the category winner prize of R20 000.

The writer, Nqobile Tembe, is a Communication Consultant contracted to Universities South Africa.