South Africa: Big Businesses Challenge Entrepreneurs to Step Up

……… brandhouse Pitch & Polish tackles the entrepreneurial skills gap head-on – Despite the numerous business skills development programmes on offer from training institutions, the much-discussed skills shortage remains a major crisis for South Africa’s small business community, which in turn affects the macro-economic environment. An article published by prominent SMME researcher Prof. Christian Rogerson entitled “Tracking SMME Development in South Africa: Issues of Finance, Training and the Regulatory Environment” indicates that, for small entrepreneurs, particularly those without a great deal of formal education, training programs are often poorly planned and fail to provide SMME owner-managers with the skill sets they need.

Pitch & Polish

Pitch & Polish

Other research by Prof. Gideon Nieman, a researcher based at the University of Pretoria, states that, “The supply-driven (rather than demand-driven) nature of these training programs has tended to result in the proliferation of programs that provide highly technical training on concepts that are appropriate for the operation of large enterprises – e.g. sophisticated marketing techniques – but which have little to do with the common challenges facing small entrepreneurs.”

In this context, the upcoming 2012 brandhouse Pitch & Polish event is a ray of hope for small business owners. Half workshop and half competition, brandhouse Pitch & Polish is a pioneering entrepreneurial training project developed by the internationally recognised South African for-profit business incubator, Raizcorp.

Raizcorp’s ongoing involvement with hundreds of small and medium businesses nationally in providing entrepreneurial skills development, business support services, and hands-on mentoring and guiding has enabled them to identify a major skills gap for potential and existing small business owners – an inability to package and present their ideas convincingly to potential investors.

In their presentations to investors, entrepreneurs need to be able to articulate their business ideas clearly, provide reasoned assessments of their viability, convey the strengths of their plans, and demonstrate an awareness of how external factors may impact on business growth. To empower entrepreneurs to achieve these outcomes, Raizcorp developed the unique Pitch & Polish integrated workshop and competition programme.

First presented in 2010, the annual brandhouse Pitch & Polish competition has rapidly established itself as a highlight of the year for the small business community nationwide. One of the strengths of the Pitch & Polish format, as well as contributing to its popularity, is that the audience learns as much as the contestants – everyone leaves the event enriched.

The format of the workshop and competition is based on contestants pitching their businesses or business ideas to an audience who have been primed to act as investors and bankers. Throughout the workshop, the facilitator, in conjunction with the audience, works with the contestants to polish their pitches.

The process highlights the current inadequacies and gaps that contestants have in their pitches. Through a combination of the workshop, audience participation, and the facilitator’s probing, contestants develop the skills required to produce compelling, well-rounded pitches, which are then assessed and judged by a panel of experts.

The spectacular popularity of brandhouse Pitch & Polish is reflected in its burgeoning audience figures: from 1 092 audience members in 2010, the show was presented to 1 485 audience members in 2011, and it is expected to attract an audience of 2 400 to this year’s event.

The immense appeal of the format is not only due to its highly accessible edutainment structure, which reflects the massively popular style of various reality TV shows, such as Idols. Another significant factor is the entrepreneurial mindset itself: by nature, entrepreneurs tend to be highly competitive. The co-operation of the event’s sponsors, Brandhouse Beverages and Engen Petroleum Ltd,  allow Raizcorp to make a glitzy, high-stakes competition the centrepiece of the event.

To ensure that the event has the biggest impact possible in the smaller, often impoverished communities in which it is presented, participation in both the workshop and the competition is free. This allows small business owners from any educational or socioeconomic background to benefit from Raizcorp’s internationally recognised entrepreneurial training methodologies.