The first time I didn’t mind losing

GD Industries CEO and founder Gareth Duncan celebrates the experience he picked up during the Seed Academy and City of Cape Town’s recent #YouthStartCT initiative, even though he didn’t win.

YouthStartCT, GD Industries, Gareth Duncan, City of Cape Town, Seed Academy

For those who know me, I hate losing. Whether it’s business or on the poker table, I’m not happy unless I win.

So it was a bit out of character when I felt delighted to see my competitors finish ahead of me in the #YouthStartCT, a youth entrepreneurship initiative managed and hosted by the Seed Academy and the City of Cape Town.

I enjoyed an extraordinary journey, learning entrepreneurship knowledge and skills I wish I gained at school or university level. This helped me deliver one of the best pitches I’ve ever presented during my career as a youth entrepreneur.

My idea? GD Industries’ Community Kickstart – a community-based brand agency franchise that will be based IN our communities, and not force our business owners to travel into the congested CBD. These agencies will provide cost-effective brand-building campaigns including corporate identity modernisation and development, media strategies, website development, social media campaigns and more at prices these business owners can afford.

GDI’s Community Kickstart will also provide services to aspiring youth entrepreneurs, who will need mentorship and guidance during their first few years, which is the most vital stage of their entrepreneurship journey. They will get access to discounted services, as well as possible partnership to make transform their dreams and goals into realistic career path.

So why the hell was I happy that I lost?

Well, you need to understand who my competitors were…

There’s Ayanda Siboto (below, centre) from Gugulethu, who now resides in Mitchell’s Plain. A bubbly, young woman, who I’m sure is going to dominate the beauty and PR industries in South Africa if given enough support and opportunities. You just need to speak to her for five minutes to understand why – she’s sharp, intelligent and knowledgeable when it comes to her field.

She won first place with her brand Zimele Beauty Network – a beauty-focused online service that connects clients and service providers, especially those in urban areas where its needed.

“Women of colour have specific beauty needs, and there’s a big disconnect where this is concerned as these women do not have access to the services required,” Ayanda explains.

“Many professionals in the beauty industry also struggle for regular jobs, despite being qualified. So Zimele is an avenue to create more opportunities to take beauty business to the next level.”

Amanda won R15 000, a prize hamper and continued membership.

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Then theres Arts Alternative, founded by Lyle Dolman (below, centre), who lives in Manenberg with his young famiy. His company is a cost-effective solution to the high pricing of billboard rent and production cost. He offers more affordable options in key landmarks in and around Cape Town, which creates employment opportunities for local painters, which empower those from our communities.

Lyle came second and won R10 000, a prize hamper and continued mentorship.

YouthStartCT, City of Cape Town, Seed Academy
Then there’s Renshia Manuel – a mother of four from Hanover Park (above, second from left). Her vision is to see disadvantaged communities in the Western Cape (and eventually in South Africa) embrace a go-green culture by creating and maintaining their own garden on wheels, which will allow them to grow their own food. This solution to hunger can be achieved via her business Berenjen’s Nursey & Green Works.

Renshia won R5000, a prize hamper and continued mentorship.

There are many more competitors worth the mention, like Buntu Matole and Ayanda Cuba’s Sporting Chance, who aim to use sport and physical education to steer kids in the townships aways from negative influences and to attract corporate sponsors, and Sandile Mshengu (below, left) and Asanda Ndudula’s (below, right) StraightKazi, which provides internet and data to disadvantaged communities.

StraightKazi, YouthStartCT, Seed Academy, City of Cape Town

I was humbled to feature along side them. The daily conversations during the two months allowed me to gain a new perspective of life.

I learned about their challenging circumstances… many obstacles I don’t have to face every day. Social issues like poverty, gangsterism or no transport… even restricted access to the internet, computers and smartphones – things most people coming from advantaged circumstances consider a given.

I saw many of them walking in the rain or cold after each workshop. I offered a lift whenever possible, but my car could only take three or four at a time. Some travelled via the taxis organised by the City of Cape Town. Some managed to get the late bus or train, while others walked lengthy distances back home in surrounding areas to the City Hall.

When I delivered my final pitch, one of the judge’s posed the question: “You’re making money. Why are you applying for funding?”

My immediate reaction was an angry one as I believe ALL start-ups deserve access to funding, especially the SMEs with a proven and profitable track record as they are viable, running businesses, who have the ability to provide employment and needed services to a bigger client base immediately.

However, when I walked back into the conference room, I realised I was surrounded by fellow youth entrepreneurs, many with who needed this prize more than I did.

I applaud the City of Cape Town for running this initiative. However, at the same time, I encourage them to do better research when organising these workshops. They need to understand that there is a need for support for those who are staring businesses and for those who are running businesses – two different fields. It’s unfair to hold them both in one stable.

I also hope they realise that the prize money amounts of R15 000, R10 000 and R5000 is not enough for youth entrepreneurs to finance their businesses. That money will dry up very quickly, without making the necessary financial impact. That’s not even a month’s salary for most professionals in junior positions.

I understand there were extras in the overall prize, but more serious funding needs to be invested in youth entrepreneurs, who will need this money for infrastructure and growth. This will help them create employment and deliver a stronger social impact in the short-term, rather than the long-term or never at all.

With the #YouthStartCT done and dusted, I’ve made the effort to remain in touch with several competitors, who I now consider my friends. I am meeting many of them over the next few weeks to add value to their dreams where possible – from website development to brand building to basic business advice.

Maybe I was wrong to say I lost.

How did I lose when I’ve won new business partners and friendships… more importantly… when I’ve won this new outlook on life?