Market research startup iSpani Group wins R2.5m in 2019 Social Tech Startup Challenge

Featured image: Social Tech Startup Challenge 2019 Top 15 finalists (Diageo Empowerment Trust of South Africa via Facebook)

Cape Town based on-demand sales force and market research startup iSpani Group has won R2.5-million in seed funding at the Diageo Empowerment Trust SA Social Tech Start-Up Challenge.

Diageo Empowerment Trust SA said in a statement today that the startup, which was founded in 2016 by Patrick Machekera, Ntandoyenkosi Shezi and Prince Nwadeyi, made the strongest impression on judges at a Shark Tank style event that was held in Johannesburg last Thursday (28 November).

Finalists included bursary and scholarship platform Foonda, home security start-up Jonga, on-demand recruitment platform SkillShift and youth-focused sport talent platform BallTalent.

Pre-registrations for the 2020 Social Tech Startup Challenge are now open

The event saw the five finalists pitch their ideas to a panel of judges who then spent the weekend deliberating on how much of the R5-million prize pool each of the five startups that pitched would receive.

Foonda was named first runner-up and was awarded R2.1-million, this while Jonga received R200 000. BallTalent and SkillShift were each awarded R100 000.

The prize money will be awarded as seed funding and distributed in tranches as the businesses grow (see this story).

‘Stunned at quality of innovations’

Diageo SA Empowerment Trust general manager Sinethemba Mafanya said in the same statement that the “central driving force” in the challenge has been to stimulate meaningful strategic growth and innovation in a key industry of the economy.

“We strive to help pave the way for South Africa’s transition from a resource-based economy to a knowledge market that is truly part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

“We were stunned at the quality of the innovations, as each one of the thousands of participants offered a unique solution to major social and economic challenges affecting millions of South Africans and the continent as a whole,” added Mafanya.

The initiative is a year-long programme that assists tech-enabled startups to solve South Africa’s biggest social challenges. Over 2200 applicants applied for the challenge.

Between February and March, applicants submitted their formal applications and began interacting with other entrepreneurs through the online forum.

A strict set of criteria, including feasibility, viability, desirability and whether the idea made commercial sense, was used to shortlist the candidates down to 30 of the most promising innovators.

In April, the top 30 were then invited to a three-day user testing workshop with digital product consultancy Urbian and Nosco in Cape Town and were also registered with the Gordon Institute of Business entrepreneurship programme.

Participants’ ideas were then further refined, and they underwent training on design principles, particularly how to launch a new business using design thinking. Diageo SA Empowerment Trust said the 30 were also guided in assembling teams of three-to-five people to operate their new ventures.

The group was further whittled down to 15 in June using the same criteria. Thereafter the ideas of the 15 finalists were then developed into working prototypes.

‘Ideas launched into real world market’

Then in July, the top five were then selected by a panel of experts and together with Urbian their prototypes were further developed into a minimum viable product (MVP) and tested in the market.

Thursday’s pitch event saw each of the top 15 entrepreneurs showcase their businesses in front of invited investors from various industries, in the hope that investors might be attracted to one of these unique concepts for further investment and development.

Mafanya explained that these ideas have been launched into the real world and some are already getting their first customers.

Pre-registrations for the 2020 Social Tech Startup Challenge are now open and those looking to register can do so here.

Featured image: The 2019 Social Tech Startup Challenge Top 15 finalists (Diageo Empowerment Trust of South Africa via Facebook)



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