After Mashonaland West, the Start-up Tour Bus made its way to the city of Mutare, the capital in Manicaland Province. The city is roughly 8 km from the shared border with Mozambique, and just 290 km from the Mozambican port of Beira, earning Mutare the title of “Zimbabwe’s Gateway to the Sea”, although a more appropriate title would be the moniker, “Gateway to the Eastern Highlands”. The province is a beautiful place to live, and beauty has been said to inspire genius. We had high expectations of entrepreneurs in Manicaland, and they didn’t disappoint.

Youth Connekt Zimbabwe is a youth empowerment, entrepreneurial and skills development initiative launched by UNDP Zimbabwe and the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation. It’s centralized on three fundamentals; entrepreneurship, skills development and dialogue. At each stop during the tour, we held a two-day event jam-packed with training sessions, and the main attraction, the pitch competition. Each competing entrepreneur had one minute to impress the judges and earn a spot in the provincial finals slated for Day 2. 

Micah Foundation opened the session with a compelling presentation on “Getting Started”, Entrepreneurship 101, setting the tone for the event. Impact Hub Harare emphasized the importance of pitching well, which was the essence of the pitch competition. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development (MWACSMED) demonstrated how easily entrepreneurs face major setbacks in businesses because they neglect their books and underestimate the value of record keeping.  

The youth in Mutare revealed new heights of innovation through their pitch presentations. One such innovation was from Prince Tarasada, who pitched electricity generation using kinetic energy created by the movement of cars, a genius idea for renewable energy. 18-year-old high school student Panashe Madzudo was impressive with his AllApp, an application that digitizes school and university applications in Zimbabwe. These creations merely hint at the high level of innovation the Manicaland youth are fostering. 

The judges expressed how difficult it was choosing finalists because of the pool and quality of talent in the province. If they could place everyone in the final, they would, but the cut had to be made. After much deliberation, 10 finalists were finally chosen to progress to the provincial pitch finals. Those who did not quite make the cut we encouraged to continue investing in their startups, the Startup Tour Bus was just one in an endless pool of opportunities that would come their way.

Day 2 started bright and early with finalists arriving ahead of time, a testament to anxious anticipation and their desire to win. Finalists had the privilege of receiving one-on-one coaching, mentoring and business plan refinement from Impact Hub Harare, an early morning session meant to prepare them for the provincial pitch finals. They were then divided into two groups of five, each group was given the opportunity to pitch their business ideas individually in front of the judges in a race to outshine the rest. A well-deserved break afforded us all time to soak in what we had heard and seen from the first 5 pitches and gave the judges a brief reprieve.

After our Top 10 finalists had made their final show of excellence it was time for the judges to decide. Family and friends in attendance were proud of the finalists and each was hopeful that their own would be victorious. The judges had some hard decisions to make. The rest of us, meanwhile, sang along to Mudiwa Hood’s frenetic performance of his hit song, “Ndaita Mari”. The gospel rapper sure knows how to keep a crowd captivated.

Vhusani Mtethwa and his innovation of  automated bins from scrap materials won third place and Prince Tarasada placed second. Panashe Madzudo snagged the ultimate prize for All-App, becoming the youngest person so far to win a provincial pitch final. This young entrepreneur had proven that age has no bearing in the pursuit of brilliance and innovation. We were sad to leave the Highlands, but were excited about the five more stops ahead! 

To relive the experience in Manicaland click here to visit the album.