Entrepreneurial competitions reward those who believe in themselves and their ideas enough to establish their own businesses by providing seed money, marketing support, networking sessions and other opportunities.
For Bheki Ngema (32), owner of jewellery design and manufacturing outlet Ben & Co, this was what he received when he won the 2009 De Beers DTC Shining Light competition, as well as the 2015 Anglo Platinum-sponsored PlatAfrica jewellery and design initiative.
“After being the front-runner as a student in 2009, my profile was immediately elevated to the general public and companies that are always scouting for new talent. Personally, it was a huge confidence-booster, as it affirmed that I was the best out of more than 600 talented up-and-coming designers. It motivated and inspired me to establish my own company in 2012,” he says.
The Pretoria-based businessman obtained a National Diploma in Jewellery Design & Manufacturing from the Tshwane University of Technology, but always knew he’d have to constantly fight for his name and designs to be distinguished from those of his counterparts. For that reason, he entered and won a second competition, which catapulted Ben & Co into the jewellery design industry.
“Winning the PlatAfrica competition opened many doors for me, right from the outset. Suddenly people trusted me with their dreams and ideas. I was given the opportunity to fly to California, USA, where my bespoke ring was displayed at the coveted pre-Oscars night, so celebrities and other influential individuals saw what I had to showcase. The international exposure helped shape my career.
“The competition also showed me that a ring is much more than that. It’s an emotional purchase and, as a designer, I learnt just how crucial that idea is,” he notes.
One of the advantages of entrepreneurial competitions is that they offer entrants a realistic glimpse into their chosen field and even if they don’t come out victors, they learn valuable life and business lessons. For this reason, Ngema advises budding businessmen to enter them.
“Not too many people know that the very first competition I entered was HotPlat, back in 2007, and I didn’t make it. Losing humbled me and made me focus even more, as I realised just how tough the rivalry is out there. It also helped me position myself not only as a designer, but as an astute businessman.
“I have a retail shop at Menlyn Main’s Central Square precinct in Pretoria, but I’m also working at opening chain stores globally,” he says.