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Want to join UCT’s incubator programme? Here’s what you need to consider

Interested in joining the UCT Graduate School of Business MTN Solution Space’s Venture Incubation Programme? Startups should be prepared to fail many times and not give up, says Andrew Valentine one of the senior advisors at the incubator.

Valentine (pictured), who is an entrepreneur-in-residence at the MTN Solution Space, says entrepreneurs who are keen to join the incubator should understand that running your own business is challenging and a full-time affair.

Since the centre launched the programme last year it has held four cohorts in both its summer and winter schools and incubated a total of 20 startups overall, most of which have evolved into profitable businesses, says Valentine.

“A number of the startups we work with are being recognised which is always exciting, Lakheni which is based at our Solution Space in Philippi was recognised recently at the Innovation Prize for Africa, while Feastfox received $175 000 from Sillicon Valley investors,” he added.

Read more: SA eating out app Feastfox nets $175 000 from Silicon Valley investors

Startups accepted into the programme get access to free co-working space, access to funding and specialist advisory services. Participating startups are given access to one-on-one sessions with mentors and are expected to attend all of the incubator’s events.

To be accepted into the accelerator startups are assessed on their investment potential, market research conducted, stage of their idea and the startup team’s ability and commitment.

So what else should startups aspiring to join the incubator know or consider before applying for the three month incubation programme?

Valentine says it’s crucial for entrepreneurs to have a clear focus on the development of their startup and to be able to clearly communicate why they are applying to the incubator and how they will benefit from it.

Applicants should to ask themselves if their teams have shown signs of determination and achieved results before they consider getting into the incubator.

Be clear on why you are applying to the incubator and how you intend to benefit from the programme

Valentine says it’s also important for entrepreneurs to be honest with themselves as to whether their team has the right mix of skills and ability to build, test and deliver on the opportunity they plan to pursue.

Identifying an initial target market is also key. “Startups need to be clear on who their customer is, this means that they have to exclude initial customer segments. This is something we’ve seen startups struggle with,” he says.

He adds that it was important that startups understand what the real customer needs are and cautioned entrepreneurs to never assume that they know it all.

Although an idea alone could have great potential, the value an entrepreneur can derive from the programme is minimal if founders are not open to being coached and to receiving advice from others.

What’s happening at the incubator

This year’s winter school will comprise 10 startups in fields including healthtech, transportation, edtech, ecommerce and other sectors. The next cohort kicks off with a five-day bootcamp next Monday (4 September).

Earlier this month the incubator opened a second Cape Town hub in Philippi. The new hub focuses on solutions that can make a social impact. Starting in September, the incubator will for the next three months host a monthly series of Pitch Nights and Learning Lunches.

The Pitch Nights will act as a platform for startups taking part in the incubator programme to train on how to pitch in front of a panel and other established entrepreneurs. The first event will be on 21 September.

The Learning Lunches, the first of which will be held on 27 September, will see legal, financial and marketing experts train interested entrepreneurs. Tsepo Ngwenyama, who is part of the team at the MTN Solution Space, says a similar event held earlier this year had been of a digital marketing masterclass.

Incubation logbook

Ngwenyam says the centre is also planning to publish a venture incubation logbook of its first two VIP cohorts next month, which he describes as “a compilation of learnings on incubation” and how to help startups in a South African context.

The logbook, which is currently under peer review, will capture the journey of developing an incubator and the key lessons learnt along the way. Ngwenyama says in a space where a lot of incubators are coming up and where people wonder if they are effective, the logbook is a way to measure how successful the incubator has been.

Featured image: Andrew Valentine, entrepreneur-in-residence at the UCT’s Graduate School of Business’ MTN Solution Space (Supplied)