Lessons from aspiring entrepreneurs

The Centre for Entrepreneurship had the privilege of being the City of Cape Town’s implementing partners for the 2017 YouthStartCT competition.

It entailed implementing training and hosting a pitching competition for 100 young people aged 18 to 35 over a period of five weeks.

Each week saw a module of entrepreneurial training culminating in a pitching competition on the Saturday. As the numbers reduced from 100 to 50, to 25 and then 15, the quality and depth of the business ideas being pitched increased substantially.

During the five weeks, I must acknowledge that a camaraderie among the competitors arose.

Yet it wasn’t the only insight gained through this lovely experience.

There were valuable lessons in the attributes that these young entrepreneurs displayed that I would like to share.

Each of these attributes can be learnt and appropriated by entrepreneurs, and I trust it will get you thinking creatively.

Applying the learning

Entrepreneurs are often autodidactic learners, which means that much of what they know they learned outside of a formal classroom setting.

Autodidactic learners seek out information, ask questions and do personal reading and research to gain knowledge.

They are also quick to learn from their own mistakes, which mean they are less prone to repeating them.

Value the journey

Collectively, the prizes committed by the sponsors were substantial. These ranged from a variety of entrepreneurial training sessions for all 100 entrants to prizes collectively totalling over R500 000 for the top 10. Yet there was another value on offer which needs some clarifying.

The process itself meant that entrepreneurs came in with an initial idea but through the training and the pitching sessions, those that reached the top 50 , the top 25 and the top 15, were able to gain valuable insight and experience which will stand them in good stead in their journey. This would be over and above any prizes they were awarded.

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm,” said Winston Churchill. Aspiring entrepreneurs would do well to find joy in the journey, not just getting to the destination.

Engagement

It was interesting to observe that it was largely those who mindfully engaged, asked questions and even pushed back who proceeded to the next round.

Aspiring entrepreneurs can learn to “up the hustle” and become among the most enthusiastic people they know.

Think team

Team players know how to succeed by working in partnership with others.

Most of the competitors were individuals who brought a business idea to the table.

They were encouraged, though, to think about a broader team whose presence and contribution could raise their credibility. This could include advisory committees, mentors or even experts that they occasionally meet up with.

This is not to suggest “overstating” the role of such members, but where possible, to deliberately include them in your pitch.

The overall winner, Yandisa Langa, included four voluntary mentors and advisors as partners in his pitch.

In addition, I believe our contribution as the implementing partners carried value because of the collective strength of the team.

Responsibility

Rather than viewing a problem as someone else’s responsibility, an entrepreneur owns it and works to find a solution that will leave things in better shape than they were.

However, an effective entrepreneur also knows the difference between healthy responsibility and an inability to delegate.

Attitude

A positive outlook is essential for an entrepreneur. Past shortcomings, failures or disappointments should not become detrimental to future plans.

Consider this quote by author Allen Klein, “Your attitude is like a box of crayons that colour your world. Constantly colour your picture grey, and your picture will always be bleak.

“Try adding some bright colours to the picture by including humour, and your picture begins to lighten up.”

Some of the top 15 contestants left their mark because of the vibrant attitude they showed, both in training and more specifically, in the competition.

Passion

Successful entrepreneurs are passionate and always full of positivity.

They genuinely love their job and are willing to put in those extra hours to make their business grow; they get a genuine sense of pleasure from their work that goes way beyond just cash.

My son Jon, who is a travel photographer, expresses it this way: “I so love what I do, that I would pay to do it.”

That love for his work is evident in the high regard he is held in by travel companies he contracts to.

Passion could also clearly be seen in the pitches on the final Saturday.

Dedication

Entrepreneurs dedicate themselves to their plans, visions, and dreams, and that tenacity of purpose affects their whole business.

One of the biggest reasons that companies fail is because they lose focus. Regardless of the effort required, an entrepreneur brings a single-minded dedication to the task by being committed to a positive outcome and being ready and willing to do what is necessary.

Consider how you may demonstrate your commitment and dedication to future stakeholders in such an impactful and defendable way.

Gratitude

Entrepreneurs don’t take things for granted. This gives them the agility and flexibility to adapt to changes and demands, while it also reminds them that wealth is not just about possessions, but about fulfilment.

It is interesting to note that this attitude is marked as one of the key ones shared by many successful entrepreneurs.

Significantly, embracing this attitude works for you in that it appears that it helps you see and take opportunities more regularly.

Steve Reid is the manager of the Centre for Entrepreneurship (CFE) at False Bay College. His column appears once a month.

Email comments or questions to Steve.Reid@falsebay.org.za or visit www.falsebayincubate.co.za for more about the CFE.