Ask any member of what I like to call ‘unrepentant job seekers’ why they do not start businesses instead and the response is reflexive and almost universal: lack of startup capital. There are many valid reasons for not wanting to start your own business but lack of capital is one of the weakest – determined people have started businesses with fewer funds than the costs of the laptops we use to crank out job applications. It gets even better if you are one of those people who are not just content enough to make money but want to do so excitingly and uniquely – the modern day’s beloved innovator. There are countless competitions out there that pit innovators against each other for a chance to get their businesses funded.
However, most of these competitions are once-off events whose brief lives are the result of discontent with the success rates of those startups that get funded. This article lists some of the startup competitions that appear to be here to stay, at least for now.
Total Startupper of the year
The French oil and gas giant decided to give back to some of the African countries in which it operates. This competition was first held back in 2015 and they were happy enough with the results to launch another one in 2018 with even more participating countries.
In each participating country, applicants are weaned down to a few deemed good enough to proceed to a pitch event. From these, three winners are picked. The winnings include benefits such as financial support, publicity and coaching. The competition is only open to those projects which are less than 2 years old with a social and economic impact on the communities they operate in. The competition, like most, is only open to projects led by people younger than 35 so young people should make hay while the sun shines.
This is described as the largest seed-stage startup competition for emerging markets and fast-growing startup scenes. Last year (2019) was its 7th year on the continent. In last year’s event, the finalist entrepreneurs had to attend a Bootcamp before pitching before a local jury panel. Unlike other competitions which dangle money in front of competitors, the main prize for winning your country’s event is an all-expenses-paid aeroplane trip to compete in an even more intimidating arena called the Startup Summit. Startups from several countries compete for the title of Seedstars Global winner which comes with up to $500 000 in equity investments and various other unnamed prices.
CBZ Youth Entrepreneur Program
CBZ in conjunction with an organization called Empowered Life Trust has been running their Youth Entrepreneur Program (Y.E.P) for some time now. This program, which I would like to believe is an effort to spare young entrepreneurs the gruelling process of applying for one of the bank’s loans to start businesses (and also help improve the survival rate of such businesses), is said to have resulted in the registration of more than 400 businesses to date.
Young entrepreneurs, who are between the ages of 18 and 35, get picked and go through several weeks of training and networking. Selected businesses then compete over a selected period until winners are crowned and given seed money. Last year’s biggest prize was ZWL$12 000 dollars (not adjusted for inflation).
ICT Innovation Fund
A few years ago the inaugural ICT Innovation Fund that is overseen by POTRAZ was launched together with the accompanying competitive events to determine who would get their share.
In an apparent rocky start, the first batch of winners was given literal blank cheques. What is normally used as an expression for being showered with money, filled many with a combination of apprehension and disappointment that only an IOU from the government of Zimbabwe can inspire. However, the government came through.
About a year later applications were again invited. However, after the deadline for applications had passed POTRAZ expressed disappointment over the quality of the received proposals. Workshops were organised where they promised to change the whole competition’s format and instead always keep their doors open for applications. So, in theory, you can apply at any time as long as you meet their criteria. However, you have to keep it in mind that these so-called winnings are loans.
In an impressive departure from the typical tech startup competition format, you need a guarantor for this ‘loan’ which has 36-month tenure. Even less likely to amuse the startup veterans who regularly stretch the truth and do the same with their projections, repayments are to be done in line with your cash flow projections (as written in your submitted business plan).
There are many more startup competitions both local and international that entrepreneurs can take advantage of. You just have to remember that in some high profile tech competitions you might have to compete with the so-called ‘pitchpreneurs’. These are companies which despite sounding brilliant on paper are seemingly reluctant to outgrow the label of ‘startup’ and whose only source of revenue appear to be these competitions – most of which they participate in and win.