The inaugural University of Pretoria (UP) Vice-Chancellor’s Entrepreneurial Challenge (UPVCC) Awards were recently held to celebrate the winners of the challenge and to acknowledge those who had entered the competition. The event was hosted by UP’s business incubator and accelerator, TuksNovation.
In March 2022, TuksNovation launched the challenge, which aimed to find high-value, commercially viable, high-growth innovations and inventions, and technology-focused start-up ventures that could be cultivated into functioning businesses.
The challenge was opened to students, academics, researchers and entrepreneurs across Africa as a way to put their businesses on the map and give their ventures a jumpstart with UP’s help. Universities around the world have been trying to make an impact on the business market and socio-economically by generating enterprises founded on technologies developed in collaboration with academic institutions.
“The high-tech start-up ventures supported by TuksNovation specialise in fourth industrial revolution technologies by leveraging UP’s rich and diverse academic and business networks,” said UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe during the event. “The UPVCC is part of our contribution to the formation and advancement of small businesses that will in turn create jobs and generate revenue, as well as increase revenues to the national fiscus.”
Of the more than 100 applicants that entered the challenge, 49 were selected, and after a thorough screening process by business adjudicators from industry, six winners were chosen.
From left: Dr Mthokozisi Sibanda, Anne Gabathuse, Phindile Tshabangu, Skhibela Mohlala, Prof Tawana Kupe, Imtiyaaz Riley, Sebastiaan Olivier and Constant Beckerling.
Dr Mthokozisi Sibanda, Director and CEO of African Applied Chemical, and Constant Beckerling, Director and CEO of AgriSmart Engineering, were awarded joint first prize. Skhibela Mohlala, CEO of BakkieHi, was the first runner-up and the second runner-up prize was awarded to Imtiyaaz Riley, founder of Loop.
Sebastiaan Olivier of Electronic Testpapers received the Social Impact Award, while CEO and founder of SeroMed Technologies Anne Gabathuse received the award for women-led businesses.
“Winning the UPVCC award is significant in that peers with a different set of eyes see the value that we are seeing. We are now even more invigorated to pursue product development,” said Dr Sibanda.
The finalists represent the various sectors that UP targeted in the competition. High-growth tech start-ups in the agri-tech, advanced manufacturing and medical devices industries are the type of businesses that the University hopes to invest in.
The lack of guidance and business training is a huge issue for start-ups, said event programme director Zamile Mzizi-Khuzwayo. “We need to put our entrepreneurs in proper incubation programmes where they are monitored and where they are taken from step one to having a successful company.”
During his speech, Prof Kupe also launched the UPVCC 2023. The goal for next year’s challenge is to attract more applications from other parts of Africa, as TuksNovation seeks to bring entrepreneurship from Africa, as a whole, to the forefront.
“There are a number of partnership opportunities that are available for entrepreneurship support at UP and specifically through TuksNovation,” Prof Kupe said.
During an enlightening fireside chat, TuksNovation centre manager Phindile Tshabangu and World Bank consultant Khomotso Grace Legodi touched on the issues around start-up funding and business development.
“There are more than 90 different funding facilities that are supposed to go to entrepreneurs in South Africa,” Legodi said. “Yet I find that there isn’t enough communication that is accessible that makes it easy for entrepreneurs to know about them.”
UP further called upon corporates to become title sponsors of this initiative in order for the UPVCC Awards to continue to produce entrepreneurs who will help curb the high levels of unemployment in South Africa.