Anzisha Prize judges share what they look for in the next generation of innovators

Applications for the Anzisha Prize, Africa’s premier award for its youngest entrepreneurs, are now open for 2015. The award is looking for African entrepreneurs between the ages of 15 and 22 who have started and are actively running innovative social ventures or for-profit businesses with potential.

Gossy Ukanwoke, founder of the Beni American University in Nigeria and a past Anzisha Prize judge
Gossy Ukanwoke is the founder of the Beni American University in Nigeria and a past Anzisha Prize judge.

Each year, a host of professionals from across various industries are invited to judge the Anzisha Prize. They are chosen for their expertise, success, diversity and the willingness to share their knowledge. In the past representatives from technology, education, health, business and non- profit have participated. Their years of experience in their fields provide them with a unique angle on what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.

Melissa Mbazo asked four past judges – Charmaine Padayachy (a principal at Omidyar Network Africa), Gossy Ukanwoke (founder of the Beni American University in Nigeria), Naadiya Moosajee (co-founder of SAWomEng in South Africa), Pip Wheaton (founder of enke: Make your Mark in South Africa) – the same three questions to find out what they think the key ingredients are for young entrepreneurial success. Here is what they had to say.

1. What do you look for in a young entrepreneur?
Charmaine Padayachy: I believe passion in what they are doing stands out most to me, followed by energy, enthusiasm and a drive to succeed, no matter the odds.

Gossy Ukanwoke: I look out for creativity, resilience and direction. A young entrepreneur who creatively solves old or new problems who is ready to hold on and withstand any challenges ahead and has clear understanding of how they want to get to their goal.

Naadiya Moosajee: I look for someone who is passionate about their business or cause. Despite their limitations they have a tenacious spirit and a can do attitude. They have a vision for themselves for the future accompanied by a good idea.

Pip Wheaton: I look for three things. [Firstly] a passion for whatever issue they’ve chosen. There is no issue that is more important than the other. If the entrepreneur is passionate, they will want to understand their market inside out. [Secondly] the ability to be realistic. Rather than pursuing 17 things at once, they should understand that their core business is x and understand that if their product has been done before, they need to use a different approach. [Thirdly] the ability to iterate and the ability to ask key questions to test their business/ product accordingly. They should research answers and improve as they test it over time and make changes. They have to be humble enough to take feedback and use it.

2. What do you think it takes for a young person to succeed as an entrepreneur?
Charmaine Padayachy: Patience, determination and confidence. Doing your homework and research and having a business model that is unique and sustainable.

Gossy Ukanwoke: They need to have an understanding of the problem they want to solve, an understanding of the market and its needs and the buying power of the market. If they strike a balance between that, they will succeed in getting a good product to the market that the market is ready to pay for. For social entrepreneurs, they will need to strike a balance between being a charity and remaining sustainable.

Naadiya Moosajee: I call them the four Ps: passion, perseverance (persistence), perspiration (hard work) and people (everyone should have a good team that looks out for them, mentors and good people around them).

Pip Wheaton: They need support and resilience to fall a lot and pick themselves up. Support can take many different forms. It’s more than just funding or training. Having cheerleaders is incredibly important. For young entrepreneurs more than most, people who can help them identify challenges before they arise are invaluable. However, it’s not just from “elders”. Other entrepreneurs can provide technical support and help them through those challenges. For me, that was the critical thing, the peer mentors rather than the expert mentors, that’s what shifted enke from being a startup into a professional organisation.

3. What industries are the most exciting in the modern African context?
Charmaine Padayachy: The mobile phone, considering nearly everyone in Africa owns one. So every industry or product that can be linked to a mobile has huge potential.

Gossy Ukanwoke: Payment (mobile and online) solutions, education and ecommerce.

Naadiya Moosajee: Technology. With the technology growing rapidly on the continent, we can leapfrog a whole lot of infrastructure challenges. And value [addition] on the continent. If we go back to basics, to our natural resources, we can leverage that industry.

Pip Wheaton: Industries that we haven’t seen yet. Technology in Africa has gotten momentum and is about to tip. When technology intersects with traditional industries like education there will be barriers that will be removed.