Whether or not ideas that become real businesses are rare to come by, there is a growing need to out think. More and more young entrepreneurs are grabbing the opportunity to get the much needed financing in various ways including participating in contests. With advancements on the way investors look for big ideas to fund, just be the best. Convincing an investor to invest in your business is an assurance that you are on the right path.

KCB Lion’s Den, which is a panel of shrewd Kenyan business magnates who have the cash and the know-how of what it takes to succeed, has been the popular challenge trying to fill the gap as far as business funding is concerned. The show allows local entrepreneurs to pitch their smart ideas to investors with an aim of being financed and mentored. At the end of it, the interested investor would share some stake of those companies, usually an agreeable percentage of what a company is valued at, thereby catalyzing their growth.

But recently, a player in petroleum products, Total Kenya Plc, announced an exciting and rewarding opportunity for young entrepreneurs who are expected to submit projects or start-ups from any field or activity that are less than two years old. Participants must be young entrepreneurs aged less than 35 years who should submit their applications online via a dedicated platform and the eventual selected winners will receive exposure, financial support and specific coaching. What lessons can an entrepreneur learn from such a business challenge? Are there individuals who can stand up and say that they found success after giving it a shot? Or perhaps, what is the point of participating in a contest that comes with terse terms and conditions, and only benefit the winners?

It pays to participate in entrepreneurship challenges especially when a business is still at the initial stages of growth where challenges are many and diverse. When you decide to invest, overhead costs can be too high to the point that you take home zero. Try to picture someone who is in the business of selling tomato sauce or mango juice, for example. He needs to process tomatoes (basically known as value addition). If operational costs remain tacitly high, an entrepreneur would need angel investors.

In the first edition of Total challenge, 40 finalists were shortlisted in Kenya with Samuel Rigu scooping the top prize of Sh2.5 million for his project, Safi Organics produces, a soil conditioner derived from farm waste. 

The company has so far developed a patent pending environmentally friendly reactors together with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and unique recipes enabling the low-cost and decentralized conversion of farm waste into carbon negative soil conditioner in just under 2 hours.

The Total start up challenge also made things work for one Susan Okioma who came second, walking away with Sh1.5 million for her SIL Space Solutions, which provides cutting edge solutions that optimize space in constrained environments. Kevin Muriithi from Ecoblocs, a firm that uses waste based materials to develop durable and affordable roofing tiles took the third position, which granted a cash reward of Sh1m.

Those three examples show that when start-ups engage services of successful investors, navigating the tough world of entrepreneurship becomes smooth especially at a time when lack of capital (and even viable ideas) has condemned many young people to failure. Some businesses start well, but stagnate and die, usually in under two years simply because no investor believed in them. A start up (may) need more than the founder if contests like the KCB Lion’s den as well as the Total Startupper of the year challenge are anything to go by.

Total has since 2015 enabled young entrepreneurs realise their dreams thanks to a contest that seeks to promote creative ideas and entrepreneurship. But this time, the petroleum player is on a big mission. Successful start-ups are expected to battle for Sh5m funds in a contest that will be stretching to 55 countries with rewarding opportunities for successful applicants.

Coming back after a break of two years, the 2018/19 Total Startupper Challenge is building on a successful first edition – held in 2015/16 – that attracted over 800 applicants from 34 countries, 40 of them from Kenya. The assessment of the projects will be based on their social and community impact, feasibility and development potential. In Kenya, three winners will be selected with the outstanding applicant receiving Sh2.5 million. The first and second runners-ups, though, will walk away with Sh1.5 million and Sh1 million respectively.

More important, this second edition will designate a top female entrepreneur in each country a move that is aimed at supporting women entrepreneurs. This special award is Total’s subtle way of encouraging women to take part in the challenge.

While things are tough and jobs scarce, it is only creative ideas among young citizens that will turn things around. At the same time, since no one has that foresight, it is not wise to just wait for a loan that’s not forth coming to help boost your business. A smart entrepreneur should look for an investor, then agree on a percentage that you can afford to share out should a deal come through.

These days contests that aim at identifying, rewarding and accompanying the best projects as far as enterprise creation is concerned are capable of taking a start up that was once unpromising to a behemoth. Applications for such contests are generally free and open to any entrepreneur especially those who are still young. Ideas must be realized if something great is to come out of them. Bottom line is: ignore financial support and mentorship at your own peril.

First published here