For the past six years, these sounds have reverberated in community halls across South Africa, as entrepreneurs have presented their business ideas to audiences and expert judges.
What began, in Nelspruit in 2010 with an audience of forty people – as a small idea to assist entrepreneurs to hone their business pitches – has grown into a national programme which, in 2015, saw 1680 audience members attend eight workshops and competitions from Cape Town to Klerskdorp.
Now in its seventh year, the ENGEN Pitch & Polish programme has become so successful that Engen Petroleum Ltd. is sponsoring it for a fifth year, with Nedbank coming on board as a major sponsor for 2016.
“Seven is a magic number,” says Unathi Njokweni-Magida Engen’s Group Transformation Manager, “and so we are expecting big things from the ENGEN Pitch & Polish programme this year.”
For Njokweni-Magida, Engen’s motto ‘with us you are number one’ dovetails beautifully with Pitch & Polish’s purpose. “The programme aims to find the number one unsung entrepreneur in South Africa. This is the person who, in Stage 1 of the competition, has a business idea that we think will succeed. The question is whether the entrepreneur has what it takes to learn the lessons offered by the workshops, and polish their pitch to such a point that success is inevitable,” says Njokweni-Magida.
Nhlakanipho Shange was one such entrepreneur. Armed with a dream, he entered ENGEN Pitch & Polish in Wentworth, in KwaZulu-Natal, in 2013. Although Shange did not win the competition, he attributes his success to the experience he gained as he proceeded from the first to the semi-final round of the competition.
“At ENGEN Pitch & Polish I learned that preparation is the key to success,” says Shange.
“As an entrepreneur, you never know when someone will ask you: ‘What does your business do?’ If you are unable to answer this question clearly, in less than 3 minutes, you will not be able to access the resources to grow your business,” he states with the self-assurance of an entrepreneur who has integrated the lessons he learned at the workshop.
The competition gave Shange the confidence to transform his idea into a fully-fledged business. AD.IT Solutions is fast becoming a pioneer in disruptive digital media technology in South Africa. And it all began when Shange dared to enter a competition! This year, AD.IT Solution will be providing advertising services for Pitch & Polish. The competition, which started as his teacher, has now become his client.
“I understand now that entrepreneurship is a journey, not a destination,’” says Shange.
From ‘Dragon’s Den’ to ‘The Apprentice’, we have become accustomed to watching entrepreneurs pitching their ideas. Pitch & Polish is different in that it uniquely combines training, audience participation and a competition to ensure as wide a reach as possible. Because it is not possible for everyone to participate in the actual competition, every Pitch & Polish Day begins with a workshop in which the entire audience is provided with knowledge and skills to equip them to translate their ideas into businesses, or to take their existing businesses to greater heights.
The workshop, based on the best-selling book, ‘Lose the Business Plan’ by Allon Raiz, CEO of Raizcorp, teaches entrepreneurs that starting a business is not about funding. Rather, it is about having a product or service for which people are willing to pay.
“Without a paying customer,” says Raiz, “you don’t have a business. Yet, from workshop to workshop, when asked who their target market is, the standard answer given by entrepreneurs is: ‘Everyone’. Pitch & Polish forces entrepreneurs to question deeply and to find answers to the key questions: ‘What do you sell?’ and ‘Who’s buying?’ If you cannot answer these two questions, you do not have a business,” says Raiz.
Raiz continues, “Pitch & Polish provides a safe environment for entrepreneurs to learn the lessons – before they have to face the dragons!”
Nedbank, one of the sponsors of Pitch & Polish, continues to support SMEs as well as aspirant entrepreneurs through practical solutions. ‘Through our ongoing engagement with small and medium enterprises, we understand the enormous responsibility business owners face in starting up and running their businesses. The Pitch & Polish workshops are a perfect platform to empower businesses with simple tools aimed at refining their ideas and building their confidence for the journey ahead. This is another way we continue to make the things that really matter for businesses happen,’ says Tracy Afonso: Head of Strategy, Small Business and Professional Banking at Nedbank.
Every one of the 1680 people who attended ENGEN Pitch & Polish workshops last year learned something, both about themselves and about business.
“If each participant implements one of the lessons in their business, or passes on the lesson to another, the ripple effect of Pitch & Polish on the economy is enormous,” says Raiz.
For a list of this year’s workshops, and to experience the magic of Pitch & Polish for yourself, visit www.pitchandpolish.com.