An oft-cited statistic in the world of business is that 96% of small businesses will fail within the first ten years of starting up. Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, the ENGEN Pitch & Polish workshop and competition programme is proud to fall within the 4% that succeed! Considered by many to be the grandfather of pitching competitions, ENGEN Pitch & Polish has remained relevant since its inception and, while other pitching competitions come and go, it has stayed the course and is now more popular than ever.
Over the years, the competition has witnessed a range of business trends; one year saw a predominance of agri-processing ideas and businesses, another was strongly related to green technologies, while a third year saw a focus on youth. The programme reflects trends with a predominance of businesses and business ideas that respond to the market opportunities of the time.
The success of the Pitch & Polish format can be attributed in large measure to the huge value it offers its audiences (or workshop delegates). There is a strong focus on audience learning and participation. In fact, around 40% of workshop delegates are people who return year after year and bring along family and friends when they return to the next year’s event. The opportunity for participants to network with one another is also a drawcard, as is the all-important wild card entrant to the competition (an entrepreneur who is picked on the day by the facilitator and audience members).
A further attraction is that it is not just the major centres which receive all the focus. Since it began sponsoring the programme, Engen has taken Pitch & Polish to many smaller towns across the country which often tend to be overlooked by major events. (A heart-warming by-product of this is the number of regional winners who – when moving on to the semi-final and final rounds in Johannesburg – have been able to experience their very first aeroplane flight and even their first stay in a hotel.)
A Pitch & Polish crew of 20 people puts together a high-end production for each leg of the event, making use of the best sound, visual and other equipment available. Each of the towns selected receives the same standard of glamour, finesse and pizzazz as is seen at the final in Johannesburg. That this is deeply appreciated by the entrepreneurs of each town is proved by the fact that when a workshop starts out with 300 participants, it ends with the same number owing to their genuine enjoyment of the day and the value they receive.
Since inception, the programme has received wonderful support from both local and national media – in particular, Caxton, SAfm and a range of local newspapers. The media has played an essential role in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and the organisers are deeply grateful to these organisations for getting out the word and, more importantly, sharing the success stories of the project’s regional winners and finalists giving them further opportunities for exposure and business growth.
The Pitch & Polish programme – the brainchild of top incubator Raizcorp – would not have seen the success it has were it not for its loyal sponsors, Engen and Nedbank. Allon Raiz, founder and CEO of Raizcorp and the brains behind the concept, says, “Both Engen and Nedbank provide judging teams as part of their sponsorships. Their judges are as passionate and engaged as Raizcorp is, and they come back year after year. At this point they almost feel like members of the crew.”
“The rate of urbanisation and population growth in South Africa increases the level of unemployment, poverty and despair for the majority of poor South Africans. This situation presents a potential crisis if we do not get the fundamentals right, including education and growing an entrepreneurial culture. We must create a supportive environment for these fundamentals to help create jobs and curb poverty. The ENGEN Pitch and polish programme does just that ... entrepreneurial education for thousands of South Africans – boosting business-modelling skills, shaping business ideas into bankable business propositions and increasing the confidence of the emerging entrepreneurs who choose to participate and learn through this amazing interactive programme,” says Unathi Njokweni-Magida, Head of Transformation for Engen Petroleum.
She continues, “It is no secret that South Africa’s economic sovereignty and sustainability depends on the calibre and scale of its entrepreneurs. The more entrepreneurs we support, the more we reduce poverty and unemployment. Engen’s consistent platinum support for the Raizcorp Pitch & Polish programme is simply driven by its desire to nurture extraordinary entrepreneurs and support people with business ideas that, in the past, often end up in the graveyard. This project allows Engen to demonstrates its care and support for emerging entrepreneurs, which in turn will enable South Africa’s socio-economic transformation and sustainability. We aim to reinforce a positive economic cycle for many business ideas and hope, like a virus, it will spread and create flickers of light, fuelling entrepreneurial energy in all the provinces and towns the ENGEN Pitch and Polish programme visits every year across the length and breadth of South Africa.”
Alan Shannon, Nedbank Head of Client Engagement: Professional Banking and Small Business, says, “Nedbank is proud of our decade-long relationship with Raizcorp and being a cosponsor of this inspiring event since 2016. Unlocking the potential of the SME sector is key to economic growth and job creation in South Africa. Pitch & Polish is a great platform that allows participants to refine their skills. We also believe that this sponsorship aligns with our brand purpose to use our financial expertise to enable individuals, families, businesses and society to do good. Through our journey with Raizcorp and various other interventions, we support small business in South Africa by providing them with a platform to fuel their entrepreneurial aspirations.”
This year will see the event hosted in eight towns and cities across the country, starting in Johannesburg on 6 July and ending in Burgersfort on 24 August (this is the first time Pitch & Polish is visiting the town), with the semi-finals and final taking place in Johannesburg. Details on registering for the workshop and entering the competition are available on the website at www.pitchandpolish.com. Everyone is invited!