R1.2 million in funding & resources launches ‘Upstarts into Startups’ overnight at Idea Auction

Eight innovative student start-ups that are reimagining the educational landscape in South Africa raised R1.2 million in cash and in-kind support at the UCT Upstarts 2016 Idea Auction on Thursday, 8 September 2016. An overflow crowd of business leaders, tech entrepreneurs, investors, changemakers, creative innovators and education officials showed their support for the student entrepreneurs at the live crowd-bidding event held at the Labia Theatre.

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What makes these start-ups remarkable is that they have all been initiated by students at the University of Cape Town who, rather than wait till after graduation, took their first steps towards becoming social entrepreneurs by participating in UCT Upstarts – a “pop-up” social innovation platform – now in its second year.

UCT Upstarts is the Vice-Chancellor’s Social Innovation Challenge, which this year tasked students to come up with ideas to “Re-educate Education”. Over 12 weeks from April to September 2016, students attended two lunchtime talkshops, workshops and do-shops a week aboard a double-decker bus hub on UCT’s Upper Campus.

The UCT Upstarts programme is a joint initiative between Super Stage (a social innovation platform for students), the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship (a specialised unit at the UCT Graduate School of Business) and the Office of the Vice Chancellor at UCT.

The programme introduced students to a diverse network of innovators, entrepreneurs, industry leaders and design-led innovation educators, such as the director of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design Thinking at UCT (d-school) Richard Perez, Kulula.com founder Gidon Novick, Venezuelan architect Alfredo Brillembourg and trend specialist John Sanei to name a few. They shared their personal stories, gave practical and experimental workshops, and mentored the students through their process.

At the Idea Auction, eight teams of students pitched their ideas to a hand-picked audience of movers and shakers, who committed their expertise, resources, networks, incubation spaces, travel opportunities, media exposure and ‘moola’ to help launch them overnight from Upstarts to start-ups.

Social entrepreneur Gina Levy, founder of Upstarts and Super Stage, hailed the Idea Auction as a great success. “We raised R107 050 in cash at the last count and approximately R1 million as value-in-kind,” she said. “We believe our currency is opportunity – that’s why Upstarts is creating businesses of the future now, ones that will challenge business as usual, influence new ways of thinking and improve the quality of thousands of people’s lives in SA and beyond.”

The eight start-ups launched at this year’s UCT Upstarts Idea Auction are:

  • Pop Print: encourages reading and intellectual development in schoolchildren by using POS (Point of Sale) receipt printers at participating supermarkets (the new ‘library’), to generate locally relevant and affordable stories, puzzles and other resources.
  • Plug-Ed: a low-cost credit-card sized Raspberry Pi computer pre-loaded with grade-appropriate educational content that township school children can plug into their TV’s at home.
  • Dadewethu: (“my sister” in isiZulu) – sells and delivers pregnancy tests, sanitary products, condoms and lubricants to female students on campus, and runs an informational website and Whatsapp/phone line to educate women – and men –about female reproductive health.
  • Feedback: an app that enables learners and peers to evaluate teacher performance and matches professional development opportunities to the teacher’s needs.
  • Lwazi: an online on-demand tutoring platform that matches students to peer tutors on campus either face to face or using live-streaming, for 15 minutes to 1 hour slots.
  • Uniform Exchange: provides affordable second-hand school uniforms to children in underprivileged communities, via pop-up days and voucher incentives.
  • Funda Fund: makes crowdfunding for university tuition more accessible to underprivileged high school students by using the university tutor/school network to select and profile their stories, and run strategic campaigns both on- and offline.
  • En Route: an educational agency that exposes school children to inspiring role models on a bus through motivational talks, and experiential career guidance Saturdays.

Sponsors and partners-in-kind include the Bertha Foundation, HPI d-school at UCT, SAB Foundation, Relate Bracelets, Standard Bank, Red Bull Amaphiko.

Dr. François Bonnici, director of the Bertha Centre, said: “By crowdsourcing funding and resources, UCT Upstarts aims to make a tangible and immediate impact and build a movement of social innovation on campuses around the country.”

UCT Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price hailed the Upstarts participants for having the vision to be job creators rather than simply job seekers. “These students are going out to to be the employers and the innovators and creators of a new society. I was delighted to be part of this initiative again this year.”

Chemical engineering student Cassandra da Cruz, founder of Dadewethu, summed up the impact of the programme: “I didn’t think that something that started as a small idea from people feeling stigmatised could turn into something so big and that people would be so supportive and see the bigger picture. Because that’s what we wanted people to see: how many lives we can affect.”