Honouring young entrepreneurs

“Give young people a greater voice. They are the future, and they are much wiser than we give them credit for” – Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

The month of June brings with it a focus on young people. In honour of future leaders, business owners and entrepreneurs, I would like to share this way of giving young people a greater voice.

The City of Cape Town runs an annual competition where contestants are pitted against each other in a period of four to six weeks. There are two categories in the competition.

They are business ideas and existing businesses. This is the seventh year that this wonderful competition is happening. It is my privilege to have been the training facilitator in the existing business category.

In honour of youth this month, I want to draw some key lessons from the event and competition.

The first lesson is that of the importance of partnerships in addressing the challenge of youth unemployment.

The degree of cooperation and collaboration in this relatively short period of time has been remarkable to see.

From the City’s highly efficient Social Development Youth Development and Early Childhood Development Departments to the voluntary adjudicators drawn from corporate and organisations in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, to committed service providers and generous sponsors, a high degree of collaboration has seen many young people been given the opportunity to refine their business idea and scale their business.

It would be strategic if this kind of collaboration was scaled to have a larger impact. It truly takes a village to raise an entrepreneur!

The second lesson that I learn is that of the attitude and participation of the young people in this competition.

While entry and participation in the competition is free, there is still a price to pay for each of the contestants.

This includes overcoming nervousness and fear, being willing to learn and apply quickly, giving up of time to attend the training and the pitching and generally being willing to press the button of engagement.

There is a saying, it is your attitude, not your aptitude that determines your final altitude. My observation is that the attitude embraced by these young people has been positive, engaging and so refreshing to see.

It is events such as the YouthStartCT competition and event that finds and releases future business leaders in this city.

The third lesson reflects the pace of willingness to learn.

There is a business principle with a humorous analogy. It is this, “how do you know when spaghetti is cooked? You take a piece and throw it against the ceiling. When it’s done, it sticks!”

How do we know when the training and pitching exercises are effective? It’s when the learning sticks and the competitor applies the learning.

In the training we repeat principles, give opportunity to workshop and exercise the principle and repeat regularly.

The adjudicators also give valuable feedback and commentary. The litmus test, however, is the following week whether the contestant has embraced and applied the learning.

It is gratifying to see that in most instances learning was internalised and fed back in an authentically, personalised manner.

The final lesson is that of the importance of a growth mindset.

Much of the focus of the learning and the training was on strengthening the competitor’s business model (also called the horse).

Statistically however, reasons for the demise of a business show that up to 70% is attributed to the entrepreneur (also called the jockey).

Thus, this training also needs a healthy emphasis on the entrepreneurial mindset/growth mindset.

One of the first exponents of the growth mindset has this to say about this way of looking at life, challenges, and opportunities.

“In a growth mindset, challenges are exciting rather than threatening. So rather than thinking, oh, I’m going to reveal my weaknesses, you say, wow, here’s a chance to grow,” says psychologist Dr Carol Dweck.

This theme ran through the three training sessions and was strengthened by a thrilling session on “the power of your brain”, by Dr Cobus Oosthuizen of Life Xchange.

My takeaway from these inputs around the growth mindset, is that it is an essential ingredient in raising resilient entrepreneurs who lead strong businesses… that add value to society.

In a way, this event served to be a “cheerleading event” of youth participating in the competition.

Considering the potential that lies in South African youth, it is my hope that efforts to identify, strengthen and raise more entrepreneurial leaders from our youth will increase over the next months and years.

Young people, we salute you.

● Steve Reid runs his own business in support of entrepreneurs, leaders and incubators.

He can be contacted at stevereid1406@gmail.com