Leaving the capital city, we made our way to the heart of the nation, Gweru in Midlands province. Gweru is a growing city in a province known for mining, cotton farming and cattle ranching so we were excited to find out how the entrepreneurs would fare against this background.  We set up at the Fairmile Motel and were keen to get down to business. 

Our team was a collaboration of different organisations coming together to launch a young Zimbabwean entrepreneur’s business to the next level. The Startup Tour Bus is a program launched by Youth Connekt Zimbabwe, an initiative established and led by the United Nations Development Program in Zimbabwe (UNDP Zimbabwe) and the Ministry of Youth Sports, Arts and Recreation.   

Our participants had been following the tour bus since we started on this journey.  Marvellous Nyongoro, founder of The Housing Hub and a religious follower of the bus, mentioned that he was impressed by the innovations that came from founders in Marondera, Mashonaland East, and Mutare.  The entrepreneurs in the Midlands were ready for us and couldn’t wait for the competition to start.

Day One started with welcoming remarks from the Ministry of Youth, Sports Arts and Recreation representative. The United Nations Development Program in Zimbabwe (UNDP Zimbabwe) gave an introduction of Youth Connekt, explaining the vision and goals of this organisation. The training sessions that followed from our partners were educational and interactive, giving our entrepreneurs a solid foundation on which to grow their businesses. 

In between the training sessions, we discovered that the youth in the Midlands are talented, entertaining us during the breaks. One of them was Tafadzwa, who had the crowd screaming as he showed us his Michael Jackson dance moves. Alongside the training sessions and entertainment, various SMEs were exhibiting their products and services at the exhibition area. 

The founders in the Midlands had prepared well and were ready to battle it out for the ultimate prize US$5,000 in start-up capital. There was an amazing array of innovations which included: a hub for farmers to buy their products online; an intelligent scarecrow that uses technology to keep birds away and a seed ball that allows for multiple trees to grow simultaneously.  A tough call for the judges, but the choice had to be made. The 10 finalists were chosen after the elevator pitch sessions at the end of the day. 

Day Two began with one on one mentoring, business coaching and pitch finalisation led by Impact Hub Harare first thing in the morning. This was to prepare them for the final pitch sessions in front of the judges. The entrepreneurs were well prepared and confident. They each stood a good chance to win the provincial pitch competition.  

The first 5 pitch sessions started mid-morning, giving enough time to entrepreneurs with large or cumbersome products to prepare for the showcase during the second 5 pitch sessions after the break. Just as in previous provinces, the crowd had their favourites and cheered during their pitches. The founders spoke with enthusiasm and energy. They knew their products and their value proposition well. 

The judges rightfully took their time deliberating, while the finalists were waiting in anticipation. Finally, the winners were announced. There was a tie in third place for this provincial final, a first and only record on our tour. The second runners-up were: Sandra Magaya who created a virus-free potato seedling and Marvellous Nyongoro whose startup, The Housing Hub enables university students to secure accommodation through an online platform. The first runner up was Innocent Mpasi who created a community stock exchange, a data-driven system with accurate financial projections for businesses and investors. 

The winner was Saberstian Sibanda whose company Greenworks Solutions developed fodder that grows in 7 days. It was a beautiful moment for him and his family as his wife and mother were in attendance. “This competition is amazing!” he exclaimed. 

The winners were happy and excited about the future. Fun fact, Saberstian was Marvellous’ mentor and seeing them both win highlighted the importance of having a good mentor. At the end of the day, Marvellous Nyongoro remarked, “It’s been amazing meeting new people and we all wanted to win. This has been a great learning experience.” The winners agreed that Saberstian Sibanda would do well at the National Finals in the following month. 

Midlands had shown us that Zimbabwean youth are eager and ready to make a change. We were sad to leave but we had to head to Lupane, Matebeleland North province on a mission to uncover more innovations. 

To relive the bus memories in Midlands click here to visit the album.