Pitching for growth, South Africans need to get creative


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.”