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Launch48 Cape Town: 5 startups that could become real businesses?

Can you come up with an idea, build a business and launch that business in 48 hours? That’s what the folks at Launch48 try to do a monthly basis. Take a bunch of aspiring entrepreneurs, give them a space to work for 48 hours and see that they come up with.

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According to the initiative since its inception in 2009 “Launch48 has helped over 50 startups, with alumni going on to accelerators such as 500 Startups, Seedcamp, Springboard, and Oxygen Accelerator”.

“Launch48 is a valuable part of the startup eco-system and anyone interested in becoming an entrepreneur should look to attend. You will learn more in this 48 hour period than any other time in your career,” said Simon Jenner, CEO of Oxygen Accelerator and regular Launch48 mentor. “We [Oxygen Accelerator] have invested in Launch48 attendees and startups created at Launch48 Weekend events as we know they have been forced to focus on what really matters in a startup.”

This weekend Africa saw it’s very first Launch48 hosted at the Barnwidth Barn organised by Lianne du Toit. Startup Weekends have been going on Cape Town’s tech space for a while most spearheaded by du Toit through the Silicon Cape Initiative. So the idea that a group of developers, designers and marketers can take a concept from idea to execution isn’t foreign in these parts.

Each entrepreneur was given the opportunity to pitch their ideas, create teams and get to work with mentors on hand to answer questions and give feedback. Then they present to a panel of judges and are judged on how well the pitch was, the prototype, customer discovery and how sustainable the business is.

If you put the right types of people in a room these things are not hard to come by. Truth is, it’s not whether or not if you can launch an app or a web service in 48 hours, it is what happens now. Many companies are started in the tech space every week and just as many fail. These ideas may be great but there is no accountability.

The companies that pitched at Launch48 Cape Town all have the potential to be worthwhile businesses with more research, proper consumer discovery and understanding the margin of who actually needs the products they are offering.

“There were 25 pitches in the beginning which was brought down to 5 teams. I think the standard of the pitches was high given they only had 48 hours to produce a working prototype, market research, financials and competitor analysis. I am looking to hopefully be involved in bringing them out again next year, these events are run on sponsorship and we were lucky enough to have BlackBerry and Payfast on board,” says du Toit.

What I found impressive about the event was that most of the companies look at problems that they felt were pertinent in Africa, unemployment, wild life and youth empowerment.

Below are the five finalists that pitched

Biddalo — Winner of the Customer Discover Award
An online bidding site for wildlife auctions. This service wants to revolutionize the current way wildlife is bought and sold in Africa. Currently the process is costly and puts a fair about of stress on the animals and Biddalo wants to stop that. Through its website, buyers and sellers can transact and animals will have less stress and its more cost-effective for sellers. The site takes a commission on every sale. A pretty cool idea for an industry that’s apparently worth billions, though there are huge issues with this, including the ever-present threat of poachers and verifying buyers and sellers. The team says it’s working on these issues.

Airtime4Answers — Winner of the Best Prototype Award
Using airtime as incentives to get users to fill out surveys. This idea isn’t bad. Get people to answer your survey questions and reward them with airtime and sell that data to brands. This is a highly competitive space. Though they were the team that built the best looking and functional prototype, they failed by not doing enough research. They were not able to identify all their competitors and did not contact any brands to see if they would be interested in their data. What’s cool is that they would like to target their surveys rather than just sending out questions to everyone. They have also not taken literacy into account.

From Spacecase to Briefcase
A youth unemployment portal. A social entrepreneurial project. Take South Africa’s youth, give them a platform to help them get internships and skills training, what do you get? A better equipped youth. A good idea and solving a real problem but the research here was lacking. The team wasn’t able to build a prototype in time for the final presentation, they also hadn’t figured out how to monetize the business and if companies would use it.

Sebenzi — Winner of the Judge’s award on sustainability
Bid or buy for semi-skilled casual employment. This team wants to build a platform that allows housekeepers, gardeners and construction workers to find employment rather than standing on the side of the road. Employers can recommend their gardeners and housekeepers to other people for other days of the week. The platform take a commission of all transactions. Employers and employees are vetted and users get discounts the more they use the service.

Shelf Eyes
An app that allows consumers to notify store managers when their shelves are empty. A problematic one. On the surface, this idea seems pretty cool but is fraught with complications. Essentially the team wants to use customers to inform store managers when the store runs out a product. Users can scan the shelf bar code, then a message is sent to the manager who then gives them a reward for doing this. Interesting idea but monetisation seems to be quite tricky and its all smartphone dependent. The business isn’t quite sure if it wants to be a B2B service or a B2C service.

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