The Vice-Chancellor’s Student Innovative Business Idea Awards, an initiative offering students with promising business ideas an opportunity to transform their ideas into business enterprises, will be launched at the Soweto Campus of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) on Wednesday, 31 July 2013.

“Students who face a future without prospects of formal employment stand a chance to benefit from this new student entrepreneurial initiative that forms part of the University’s Centre for Small Business Development (CSBD),” says Molotsi Moipone, the Director of the CSBD.

The initiative, in partnership with the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA), focuses on developing fledgling student business start-up ideas and nurturing business skills and life skills in equal measure among UJ students between the ages of 18 and 35, thus growing future-fit entrepreneurship. Annually, the University will be investing more than R300 000 towards the Awards in order to help students ignite the growth of entrepreneurship.

Participating students will need to submit their business idea. The summited plans will be reviewed by a panel of judges that include representatives from the University’s Vice-Chancellor’s office, business partners and industry. The student with the best business idea will receive the R100 000 cash-prize sponsored by the NYDA, and second and third place will each receive R50 000 and R30 000 respectively. Furthermore, seven participants will each receive R20 000. The prize money must be used for business set-up costs.

Yershen Pillay, NYDA Executive Chairperson, says supporting initiatives that seek to increase South Africa’s entrepreneurship culture is part of the NYDA’s activities. “Too often self-employment is seen as the last option when the individual cannot find a job, it’s encouraging to see UJ conducting such an initiative at tertiary education level and we hope that other tertiary institutions will follow suit,” Pilllay indicates.

According to Molotsi, budding entrepreneurs can benefit from day-to-day help and advice and share ideas with other future entrepreneurs. “Students can undergo business idea generation and business planning idea training programmes that assist in building both entrepreneurial acumen and self-confidence in students. This dual emphasis is a key part of the philosophy behind CSBD. We believe that by building self-confidence alongside functional skills, our students will be in a better position to overcome challenging obstacles. The learning will thus be deeply grounded in students’ own lives and realities,” says Molotsi.

Molotsi concludes, “This initiative reflects UJ’s commitment to social responsibility and highlights the significant role education plays in leading change in emergent markets which was prioritised in the New Growth Path driven by Economic Development Minister, Ebrahim Patel. This initiative is a strong launch-pad for student businesses which could have brilliant potential but face future hurdles. These hurdles could be anything from the lack of understanding business concepts that include intellectual property or company and product law, access to finance, pitching for funding or technical skills that include software development and marketing. One could say we are de-risking people who already have ideas worth millions.”