Every year the Association of Allan Gray Fellows hosts a Startership Seminar where Fellows have the opportunity to pitch their business ideas to each other and select the best ones. The top three ideas may then be pitched at the E2 Seminar where the winning idea is awarded financing by E2,the captive source of venture capital available to Fellows.
As a precursor to this year’s Startership Seminar Fellows were invited to events held in Cape Town and Johannesburg about two weeks before the time. The purpose of these preliminary events was to impart the important skill of evaluating the customer/problem fit of Fellows’ business ideas. Put another way, Fellows had to establish what problem a potential customer would be solving with their product or service. The remaining time leading up to the Startership Seminar could then be used to conduct interviews with their potential customers to see if they could refine their ideas towards a great product/market fit, which is the ideal situation of having both a good market and a product that satisfies that market.
In addition to hosting regional preliminary events, this year’s Startership Seminar was also unique in that it was set up to simulate a Startup Weekend – an event that starts with the pitching of ideas on the Friday night and culminates in the presentation of a prototype by the Sunday. The Association’s goal with the special format and theme of this edition of the seminar was to provide Fellows with an opportunity to share their ideas more openly and learn a repeatable process for establishing a viable basis for a business by taking them from concept right through to product/market fit.
A fundamental component of a Startership Seminar is the opportunity Fellows have to engage with industry-specialist mentors. In their midst this year were venture capitalist Justin Stanford and Quirk Agency co-founder Craig Raw, who also gave the keynote address. Following the opening address, Fellows had the challenging task of compacting their business ideas into one-minute long pitches. From the 20 ideas that were pitched only 11 were selected to be worked on further. The originators of these ideas used the rest of the weekend to consider and incorporate feedback from their mentors and fellow Fellows in the hope of developing bankable models for their ideas.
The Fellows were enthusiastic throughout – from coming up with ideas and testing their assumptions to providing feedback and voting for the ideas they would be willing to invest in. The 11 voted-for ideas were:
- In My Zone (a web-lifestyle geo-tagging solution)
- Oh My Cake (custom cakes)
- Home HIV Testing Kit
- Sabenza (mobile piece job recruitment)
- African-pattern Formal Clothing
- Student Online Trading portal
- EcoFuel (biofuel marketing)
- An online financial management tool for micro-businesses
- A logistics spare-space bartering system
- An online payment system that provides virtual credit cards for online transactions
- Convenient mobile vegetable gardens for urban dwellings
The originators of the top three ideas will not only have the opportunity to pitch for funding at the upcoming E2 Seminar, but their progress will also be monitored quarterly to consider both the challenges they face and the support they can be given until they can operate sustainably.
The Startership Seminar is an important part of the Association’s work of creating opportunities for entrepreneurial development and equipping Fellows to start enterprises well. It also serves as a platform for Fellows to share and collaborate in the actioning of their ideas and, ultimately, in making a substantial impact on their society.