Successful startups are those which find a hitherto unappreciated problem and offer a simple solution. And on that basis, the winner of last night’s annual Pitch&Polish finals, Lebo Selloa, is likely to be very successful indeed.
By profession, Selloa is a diagnostic radiologist for a hospital in the Free State. The problem she’s spotted is that miners, construction workers and brick makers in the area have to undergo regular chest xrays as part of a mandatory physical checkup required by health and safety legislation. Their employers generally pay for these checkups, but in many of the more remote towns there’s no actual health facility capable of providing the service.
So after working a 12 hour shift, employees have to find a way to travel to the nearest hospital, queue for an xray and then return. At their own expense.
Selloa’s plan is to purchase a second-hand xray machine and a decent sized trailer, and take her skills to the miners. She reckons she needs R1.2m investment to get started, but will break even within a year.
And, what’s more, once she moves her new business into profit, Selloa wants to invest further and buy a mammogram machine so she can also offer breast cancer screening services in the towns she visits.
It is, quite frankly, genius. And just one of a number of good ideas to come up last night.
In second place, Port Elizabeth’s Asa Mazomba won R50 000 for his company, Tenderpoint. Tenderpoint is an app for the construction industry designed to help small scale contractors find government tender opportunities without having to go through the costly and confusing process of registering and qualifying for the official list of approved companies first.
In third place, Themba Seshawu’s awesome partially 3D-printed fruit picker – inspired by the problems his mother faced while working on citrus farms – won R10 000. And finally, Ayanda Ntsho is a chartered accountant turned bioengineer who’s building a company that will produce an artificial peat replacement for the mushroom growing industry. The South African government banned the use of peat a couple of years ago because harvesting it is so damaging to the local environment.
There are far more startup competitions in South Africa than we can find the time to cover at the moment, but few come with the glitz and glamour of the SAfm-sponsored Pitch&Polish series of events which concluded last night. Heavily influenced by Idols-style TV shows, Pitch&Polish tours the country looking for entrepreneurs from township backgrounds with good ideas that its team of coaches can help develop presentations that will hopefully win them investment.
The founder of Pitch&Polish, Allon Raiz, says that he believes access to funding is the biggest barrier startups in South Africa face. And the reason entrepreneurs struggle with funding is that they don’t know how to present their business confidently and convincingly to investors.
Entrepreneurs work through a series of heats and finals improving their pitches for a place in the finals, where the grand prize is R60 000 and – of course – a lot of exposure and training along the way. What’s different to other startup events is that there’s a lot of audience participation and a panel of judges who provide feedback and decide who goes through to the next round.
The only problem, of course, is that after competing in Pitch&Polish entrepreneurs still have to go and find the funding they need to get their businesses off the ground. This isn’t Dragon’s Den, after all.
[Main image – Lebo Selloa impresses the judges at Pitch&Polish]