From the chilly mountains of Matebeleland South, our tour bus headed over to the warmer province of Masvingo, with her endless plains of dry grass and blue, cloudless skies. We arrived in high spirits and immediately made our way to the nearest learning institution, Masvingo Technical College. We were on a mission to share the good news. We wanted to tell as many young people as we could all about Youth Connekt Zimbabwe and the many more initiatives to come.

Their reception of us was heartwarming, we could not have anticipated such enthusiasm and eagerness. Zimbabwe is a breeding ground for entrepreneurs, young people working hard to provide value and create employment. The very kind of youth we were looking for, to aid them in their journey. We wanted to equip them with knowledge and endow the most innovative with USD$5,000 start-up capital. 

Having completed our mission of enlightenment, it was now time for the Startup Tour Bus team to rest and prepare for the two days ahead. The Startup Tour Bus was the first programme launched by Youth Connekt Zimbabwe, an initiative established and led by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Ministry of Youth, Sports, Arts and Recreation. Our team was a mix of individuals from different organisations partnering together to make the vision we had a reality. Partners included Elevate Youth, Higher Life Foundation, Steward Bank’s Millennial Banking, Impact Hub Harare, Micah Foundation, UN Volunteers, Innovators’ Hub Clubs, Zimbabwe Youth Council, Zimbabwe National Chambers of Commerce (ZNCC), Tag Team Productions and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprise Development.

The youth in Masvingo were quite punctual, filling up the hall quickly. As per schedule, the Youth Connekt Project Manager, Ethel Bangwayo, gave the first address, welcoming participants and the representatives from the government provincial office. Our master of ceremonies, Renailo, a multi-linguistic effortlessly switching between Ndebele, as she did in Gwanda, to connecting with the crowd in ChiKaranga (a dialect of Shona) held it down well. We got down to serious business with our training sessions, and when it came to the Pitch Training facilitated by Impact Hub Harare, the entrepreneurs in the room had a slew of questions ready.

This was a vibrant bunch ready to battle it out for the final prize and bragging rights. The array of innovations was stunning, from a newly invented all-purpose poultry feeder, biodiesel to microchips for tracking livestock. At the end of the first round of pitches, it was a tough call for the judges, little did they know that the next day would be even tougher. Day 1 was over before we knew it, and the 10 finalists were announced to resounding applause and excitement.

Day 2 began very early for the chosen ten finalists, with one on one mentoring, business coaching, and pitch finalization. They had to cover the important bases before facing off the judges for 8 minutes, three for the pitch, and another five for the question and answer session. We discovered that Donbosco Masendeke, one of the finalists and inventor of the all purpose poultry feeder was nearly sabotaged by bitter rivals determined to ruin his chances of winning. Fortunately, he realized something was wrong before the provincial finals began. We were outraged on his behalf, and promptly sent away the culprits, but the show still had to go on. Our tour bus wasn’t leaving without a champion. Along with bright, innovative entrepreneurs, we also discovered hidden talent in Masvingo. The youth there were just as artistic as the youth in Matebeleland South and gave them a run for their money with music, dance and poetry. 

The first five pitch sessions commenced mid-morning, with entrepreneurs who had large or cumbersome products given adequate time to showcase them to the judges during the question and answer section of their pitch. Just like in Matebeleland South, the audience had their favourites and cheered heartily during their pitches. The entrepreneurs spoke with knowledge and confidence, they knew their value proposition well. It was a tough call for the judges, and soon enough it was time for the panel to deliberate on a winner and the two runners up. 

A group of high school students who had pitched their biodiesel was disappointed not to have won, but making it to the finals and beating hundreds of other entrepreneurs who had applied was a remarkable feat on its own. They had come a long way and were commended for their efforts. Donbosco Masendeke, ironically after the failed sabotage attempt, won the ultimate prize. He wowed the judges with his impressive pitch and even more impressive all-purpose poultry feeder. He could not contain his tears and spoke about his 5-year journey to that moment. It was a hard-won victory for Donbosco.

We had crowned a new champion and changed one entrepreneur’s life forever, now it was time for the next province, Mashonaland West.

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