According to GEM’s former Research Director, Zoltan Acs, there are two types of entrepreneurs. “Necessity entrepreneurs” appear in a bid to survive when the economy fails to create enough jobs, while “opportunity entrepreneurs” identify and exploit real business opportunities. The latter can help boost failing economies.
So how does one find and activate the opportunity entrepreneurs in a country with low expectations of success? A simple tool used throughout history is competitions. Events like the Ansari X Prize (private reusable spacecraft) or Virgin Earth Challenge (removal of greenhouse gases) powerfully encouraged individuals to express their innovative ideas, and win the backing they need to turn them into reality.
Following a GIBS thought leadership weekend hosted by Prof. Nic Binedell, Raizcorp partnered with Brandhouse Beverages SA to hunt down South Africa’s hidden entrepreneurs. Their target is small rural and peri-urban towns, often the hardest hit in a down economy. Their tool is a workshop and competition called brandhouse™ Pitch & Polish, which tests the entrant’s ability to pitch their idea convincingly to no-nonsense investors.
The competition’s “investors” take the form of a participating audience and panel of judges. Competitors are grilled as their idea is scrutinised and questioned. Should they succeed through to the finals they stand to win a cash prize, R 25 000 in unit trusts from 36ONE Asset Management, and opportunities to be heard by influential entrepreneurs.
However, brandhouse™ Pitch & Polish is more than entertainment. Entrants are coached free of charge on the art of pitching before presenting their idea. They gain valuable knowledge about winning over their benefactors and the audience benefits from witnessing their refinements. The organisers believe that the contest will have a ripple effect in the communities where it’s held, encouraging more people to explore their inner entrepreneur and ultimately uplift the economy in these areas.
“What strikes us most is the intelligence of the questions from the audience,” says Allon Raiz, known business personality and one of the judges. “We’re dealing with people who already have the thinking it takes to potentially run their own business.”
Even though the event has an “Idols” feel to it, the organisers deliberately avoided reality-TV format, which they feel edits out many important insights in favour of dramatic highlights. This allows the audience to understand the thinking behind the judges’ decisions.
Ultimately, both contestants and audience take home real business experience, including the awareness of what it takes to pitch an idea successfully. They also discover that while it’s tough, it’s not impossible to succeed.
Programmes like brandhouse Pitch & Polish provide a safe forum where potential entrepreneurs can challenge themselves as contestants, or get a feel for the process as a member of the audience.
brandhouse Pitch & Polish is currently at semi-final stage for its second successful year running with audience attendance doubling since the previous year.