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Ampion is a Berlin-based accelerator and advisory firm promoting technology entrepreneurship in Africa. In this series, Ventureburn follows the organisation’s Ampion Venture Bus tour through Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, in its seven-day bootcamp for entrepreneurs.
The fourth day of our great trek is one none of us will soon forget.
During the previous night’s journey to the Botswana Innovation Hub, our bus driver hit one of the vehicle’s side windows against a tree branch. The extent of the damage wasn’t realised when we exited the bus. It was only when we returned to our seven-day home did we notice a large sheet of plastic taped to where the window used to reside.
On day four it was time to make our way to South Africa and the bus headed for the Botswanan border. Having passports checked was a simple enough process, even if some participants were shouted at by SA border police for taking photographs in front of a “Welcome to South Africa” sign. Ironic, right?
While Botswana was an easy exit, South Africa was a little more different. Some of the South African border police wanted to hold the bus back and have everyone declare their laptops. After a little while and a greaseless hand, the officer’s boss started playing along and let us go.
The broken window needed to be patched up numerous times that morning. It didn’t take long for the makeshift cover to fall into pieces.
We were forced to stop around 20 kilometers outside of Rustenburg. Two brave Ampion leaders, Roger Rosweide and Ifeanyi Oteh took it upon themselves to remove all of the broken glass from the window frame and patch it up once again. With us being in Gauteng, of course, there was a storm brewing overhead. Lightning crashed in the distance and the sound of thunder rolled around us. After some teasing, the clouds opened up to a light drizzle and then a heavier shower.
It was decided that we drive as far into Johannesburg as possible in order to try and meet up with a replacement bus. Plans to replace the window were also in the works. Either way, something had to be done.
The bus crept along at an even 50 kilometers an hour but was slowly increased to 70 as the makeshift window’s integrity was checked against the speed. The ordeal mimicked that of the movie Speed, though instead of driving over a speed limit, the bus driver had to keep under one.
As a treat, the Ampion leaders decided to take the group into Soweto to see the Nelson Mandela house. Unfortunately, the current circumstances were already delaying us by a tremendous amount and we wouldn’t make it. With Johannesburg’s drought finally letting up, there were numerous accidents and standstill traffic withing the city, which was only going to add to our already delayed travels.
Even with all of the delays, the participants championed on, practiced their pitches, and kept working on their ideas.
Not long after patching up the window did we have to stop and refill the bus’s radiator water.
The Pitching Event
It took some time, but the Ampion Venture Bus eventually arrived at JoziHub with all of its participants, mentors, leaders, and single journalist intact. We were treated to supper, which was promptly wolfed down as everyone worked on their pitches.
The event got started with founder of A Better World Network Sam Manclark introducing the Hub and talking about what it does. The incubator has been in existence for three years and tries to create a fertile environment for tech entrepreneurs in Johannesburg. Manclark thinks there should at least be another 50 or so JoziHubs in South Africa’s biggest city. They currently have 36 startups and residents.
Ampion co-founder Ifeanyi Oteh took the stage to speak about what the organisation does. He opened with: “Some of you on the bus may know me as the guy who tries to tape up windows,” from which there was much laughter and jeering.
Both speakers were followed by a representative from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and Melanie Hawken, founder of Lionesses of Africa, talking about the ten female-founded startups she loves.
It was finally time for the participants to give their pitches. Each team, with a focus on agriculture, had three minutes to present followed by another two to three minutes of questions and feedback from the audience.
SheFarms went first and were praised for their preparation, presentation, but needed more practice on making the revenue stream clearer.
Up next was Flow, which according to audience feedback showed no value proposition. The team needed to clearly state that the person they are helping already spends money on water. Another point raise asked what they’re doing different from other borehole companies.
The third pitch of the evening was the drone-based SkEyeFarm. The feedback they received was that the pitch needed to be a pitch and less of a business presentation. They need to work more on the presentation as it’s full of info, some of which wasn’t easy to read. Another point raised is that it might not be completely clear on what they’re selling. They were praised for talking to the audience and not looking at the slides.
The audience wasn’t sold on Bullsurance’s idea and there were a lot of questions about the insurance company’s plan and products.
e.Mkuyu was the only pitch that came in under the allotted time. The negatives for this idea came down to the slide show needing work and what exactly their business model was.
The audience enjoyed the comedic approach that Inventure Safari came up with, but were criticised about it being the wrong approach for an investment fund. A large concern about the idea came from where the investment opportunities would come from.
The second last pitch of the evening was Pulazi, which too were asked how the first suppliers and buyers would be sourced. The team stated they will be working with strategic partners in the industry and working with trade organisations.
The final Johannesburg pitch came from CoCo, which were asked if they were being a better broker to small farmers, and they responded by saying they’re a better middle-man. When asked why brokers weren’t doing for cheap already, they explained that the market has a cartel. The audience wasn’t sold on the idea overall.
Most of the teams had improved upon their pitches and ideas from the previous evening, but still required more practice and training. The seeds are there, but require more nurturing.
After the event, we boarded the bus (now with a fixed window) and arrived at the hotel after 12:30am. There was still much chatter into the evening as teams reflected on their pitches and tried to unwind.
The bus would be heading to Bloemfontein the next day for another pitching session.
For more updates on the Ampion Venture Bus tour through Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, be sure to follow Ventureburn’s Twitter account.