Our second pit-stop was Matebeleland South, in the sleepy little town of Gwanda, with near stunning vistas and a chilly bite in the air. After the warmer weather of Mashonaland Central, we were assailed by the drastic change in temperatures. Unsurprisingly, we were prepared, because who tours a whole country without packing all-weather clothing? Thankfully, journeys almost always feel shorter when you’re having fun; before we knew it, the 7-hour journey from the capital city had ended.
When you travel over 500 kilometres you can’t help but be excited about the prospects. The first day of the Tour had us up early enough to catch the sunrise en route to the venue. We watched the beautiful African sun colour the sky a dusky rose as we made our way to train 100 entrepreneurs and scout for an innovation champion in Mat South.
Despite our excitement and early start, the day started out slow, with whispers of a failed event. Our entrepreneurs trickled in at an almost leisurely pace as if they were hesitant to believe we would truly fulfil our promises. It’s not uncommon for young people in Zimbabwe to be promised pies in the sky in exchange for their presence, ideas and pictures for evidence.
We would like to believe our energy and authenticity won them over because soon enough the trickles became a steady flow. It goes without saying that the partnering of UNDP Zimbabwe and the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation lent credibility to our cause. With strong partnerships powering the event including Impact Hub Harare, Steward Bank, Elevate, Micah Foundation, Elevate Trust, ZNCC and Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprise Development, Day 1 finally began to move along.
The liveliest session went to Steward Bank; with cash prizes to be won from the facilitators, our attendees were literally jumping out of their seats to answer questions, money being a powerful motivator in this case. But it wasn’t merely about the money, it was about the excitement and talent, we soon realized that residents of Mat South have a flair for music and dance. Short performances at intervals spiced up the training sessions, adding to the relaxed and fun environment.
“Youth Connekt…We connect!” was the new mantra, a slogan born spontaneously during the Mashonaland Central Tour in Bindura. The chant reverberated through the room punctured by creative verses from a young rap artist. One young dancer was unable to contain himself anymore and he treated us to quite the performance.
The pitch competition, the highly anticipated moment for the first day, finally began towards late afternoon. The participants each had one minute to pitch their business to the judges. The pitches in Mat South were heavily skewed towards agri-business (although the winners were not necessarily in agri-business, but keep reading, no spoilers). This winning team almost missed the competition! (Again, more on that later.) As per our rules, round one in pitch competitions was made up of a maximum of 20 selected participants. After the first round, 10 would proceed to the finals on the next day..
Unfortunately in this province, the registered number of competing participants was lower than the maximum. Despite our encouragement to the attendees to register for impromptu participation in the competition, they resisted the urge, largely due to a lack of confidence. One brave gentleman seized the opportunity and became the 12th competitor. The audience listened captivated by the entrepreneurs’ pitches. They rallied behind their own, cheering on when an entrepreneur faltered, dropping into an attentive silence when it was time to listen and breaking into applause after a particularly innovative pitch.
Day 1 came to a close with the announcement of the finalists scheduled to pitch for the ultimate prize, $5,000 cash prize in seed capital. On Day 2 of the tour, we arrived at our venue fired up and ready to go, but our energy was no match for the participants. The mix of anticipation and just a tinge of anxiety were heavy in the air. Competitors closely surveyed the competition and attending participants each had a favourite. Despite the jitters, the entrepreneurs soaked up the training material from the remaining session before we dived into the finals. Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) wrapped up the training with a session on mentorship and business association networks – “It’s ok to lean on others”, a lesson that any entrepreneur worth his or her salt takes firmly to heart.
Finally, at 9 am, it was time for the provincial pitch finals and our entrepreneurs were ready, having spent the morning receiving one on one coaching, mentoring, business plan refinement and finalising their pitches with Impact Hub Harare coaches. With three minutes to wow the judges, and another five to defend their pitches, the entrepreneurs gave it all they had. Bi’pluz took the prize for their eco-friendly briquettes. The team was vibrant and clearly knew their facts. This was not just a concept they were pitching, but a fully formed product that they had made, tested and produced for sale, albeit on a small scale.
Ironically we had caught up with the winners the day before (we didn’t know they would win and neither did they). Only two of the team members were interviewed Andrew Mupandasekwa and David Mahachi, but they shared their thoughts candidly.
Having found our winners, we were off to our next stop, Masvingo province! To relive the experience click here to view the album.