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Market Research Startup iSpani Group Takes Home R2.5m in 2019 Social Tech Startup Challenge


TechInAfrica — An on-demand sales force and market research startup iSpani Group has won R2.5-million in seed funding at the Diageo Empowerment Trust SA Social Tech Start-Up Challenge.

Diageo Empowerment Trust SA stated that the startup, which was founded in 2016 by Patrick Machekera, Ntandoyenkosi Shezi and Prince Nwadeyi, impressed judges at a Shark Tank-style event that was held in Johannesburg on November 28.

The event’s finalists included bursary and scholarship platform Foonda, home security start-up Jonga, on-demand recruitment platform SkillShift and youth-focused sports talent platform BallTalent.

Five finalists pitched their ideas to a panel of judges who then spent the weekend discussing on how much of the R5-million prize pool each of the five startups that pitched would receive.

Foonda was named first runner-up and was awarded R2.1-million, this while Jonga received R200,000. BallTalent and SkillShift were each awarded R100,000.

As the businesses grow, the prize money will be awarded as seed funding and distributed in a number of tranches.

Diageo SA Empowerment Trust general manager Sinethemba Mafanya said in the same statement that the “central driving force” in the challenge has been to stimulate meaningful strategic growth and innovation in a key industry of the economy.

“We strive to help pave the way for South Africa’s transition from a resource-based economy to a knowledge market that is truly part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

“We were stunned at the quality of the innovations, as each one of the thousands of participants offered a unique solution to major social and economic challenges affecting millions of South Africans and the continent as a whole,” Mafanya said.

The initiative is a program that assists tech-enabled startups to solve South Africa’s biggest social challenges. More than 2,200 applicants applied for the year-long challenge.

In February and March, applicants submitted their formal applications and began interacting with other entrepreneurs through the online forum.

To shortlist the candidates down to 30 of the most promising innovators, a strict set of criteria, including feasibility, viability, desirability, and whether the idea made commercial sense, was used.

In April, the top 30 ventures were invited to a three-day user testing workshop with digital product consultancy Urbian and Nosco in Cape Town. They were also registered with the Gordon Institute of Business entrepreneurship program.

After the further refining of participants’ ideas, they underwent training on design principles, particularly on how to launch a new business using design thinking. Diageo SA Empowerment Trust said the 30 selected ventures were also guided in assembling teams of three-to-five people to operate their new ventures.

The group was then tightened to 15 in June using the same criteria. The ideas of the 15 finalists were then developed into working prototypes.

Then in July, the top five were selected by a panel of experts and together with Urbian their prototypes were further developed into a minimum viable product (MVP) and tested in the market.

Each of the top 15 entrepreneurs showcases their businesses in front of invited investors from various industries in Thursday’s pitch event, hoping to attract investors to one of these unique concepts for further investment and development.

These ideas have been launched into the real world and some are already getting their first customers, Mafanya explained.

Pre-registrations for the 2020 Social Tech Startup Challenge are now open and accessible here.



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