YEEP Africa founder decries lack of investments in youth-led startups in South Africa

By Daniel Mpala

Young entrepreneurs are just not getting the support they need — despite the incorporation of the subject in school curriculum, argues Youth Enterprise Exchange Programme (YEEP) Africa founder Alesimo Mwanga.

“There is very little investment directed at supporting the pipeline growth of startups in South Africa, particularly at that age,” said Mwanga, speaking following YEEP Africa’s second annual YEEP Ideas & Pitch Challenge bootcamp (see this story).

The three-day challenge, which concluded earlier this month in Johannesburg, is aimed at aspiring entrepreneurs between the ages of 16 and 30 who are interested in starting or growing a business in the tourism and hospitality, food and beverages and technology and online business sectors.

The challenge organised in partnership in conjunction with a number of partner organisations.

These include: the UN Association of South Africa, the University of Johannesburg, Junior Achievers South Africa, Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) Botswana, Empretec (Zimbabwe), Nest Hubs (Botswana) and Junior Achievers Eswatini, Harambe, youth leadership programme Columba and the SA Youth Chamber of Commerce.

YEEP Africa held the YEEP Ideas & Pitch Challenge bootcamp in Johannesburg last month

Sponsors of the event also include the Mineworkers Development Agency, The African Development Bank, Garden Court Milpark, Rebeth and The International Coaching Federation.

The challenge provides a platform for participants to compete for seed investment, gain market exposure and secure support in the ideation stage.

The initiative aims to promote and develop aspiring startups that have the potential to disrupt the status quo. Eligible countries are Botswana, Lesotho, Kenya, Swaziland, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

‘Saw entrepreneurs grow in 48 hours’

YEEP’s bootcamp offers participants a unique opportunity to strengthen their entrepreneurial skills through workshops on design thinking, sales, pitching as well as managing and assessing risk.

Mwanga said the key challenges that YEEP Africa and its mentors found among participants included cashflow management, sales and access to social networks as well as markets.

She said the highlight of the event was the various rooftop dinners YEEP Africa hosted to allow participants to get to know each other.

Mwanga explained that during the learning exchange sessions between entrepreneurs, ecosystem enablers and mentors, the participants of the bootcamp were able to refine their ideas and thinking on what entrepreneurship is about.

“The pitch day was also a highlight, judges were impressed by the level of thinking and innovative solutions that were pitched. All in all, it was an inspiring and fun experience to host and see participant’s growth in just 48 hours,” she added.

The pitch day saw the top five entrepreneurs at the event each win R10 000 seed grants, an opportunity to be mentored by the International Coaching Federation, as well as marketing support from YEEP Africa.

In addition, the winners will each receive a GoDaddy website domain as well as an opportunity to join the J&B Hive Accelerator programme where they stand to benefit from additional seed investment.

The winners were:

  • Junior Achievers (JA) South Africa’s Future Entrepreneurs’s group:  JA South Africa’s Future Entrepreneurs group of students who recycle paper and cardboard into laundry baskets and bins for household use.
  • Zamani Manqele: Manqele, who is 30 years-old and from Pretoria, has invented Bandle, a handle that helps users carry shopping bags while reducing strain on hands.
  • Kgomotso Moroke: Moroke, who is 19 years-old, has developed ambulance app.
  • Lunje Mengezeleli: Mengezeleli, who is 16 and from Mossel Bay, has invented a plastic catcher which catches waste in storm drains.
  • Khanyisile Mlanzana: A 23-year old participant with Harambe pitched the Ulwakho Lwabantwana Aftercare Programme, which provides services to assist grade R-12 learners with their homework and helps improve their writing and reading skills.

Thabang Legwete, a 28-year old participant with Harambe also received a R10 000 prize to support business development for Slay, a delivery service for cosmetic products.

Applications for YEEP Africa 2020 will open in March, with the finalist shortlist expected to be announced in September. Next year’s edition of the bootcamp is scheduled to be held between 27 and 29 November.

Mwanga believes initiatives like this can accelerate impact at the grassroot level.

“Young people learn about the successes and failures very early and are supported by community of like-minded individuals that share the same goals and visions,” said Mwanga.

Featured image: Participants at the 2019 YEEP Ideas & Pitch Challenge bootcamp