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UKZN’s Main Hall was transformed into a veritable Dragon’s Den, based on the popular entrepreneurial TV show, complete with judges, contestants and a slew of exciting business pitches.

Hosted by UKZN InQubate, the elevator pitch competition saw students trying to beat the clock, while pitching innovative business ideas to judges comprised primarily of business leaders.

Top spots were scooped by Mr Ndabenhle Moloi for his innovative education App, Hlangana Portal; followed by Mr Tamrat Yimer for a business venture which looks to produce high value materials using waste chicken feathers; and Khuleka Xaba for Tech-Foods – a technique titled aeroponics which uses less water to farm more food.

The competition served as a launch pad for InQubate’s Student Entrepreneurship Skills Programme, ENSPIRE, geared at stimulating economic activity and enhancing job creation.

MEC for the provincial Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Mr Sihle Zikalala, stressed the role of universities in developing the country. ‘Universities need to relate to the fundamental needs of society,’ said Zikalala.

Zikalala hailed UKZN for launching ENSPIRE and emphasised the importance of innovation and education.

UKZN’s Deputy-Vice-Chancellor for Research, Professor Deresh Ramjugernath (who doubled as a judge) said Higher Education needs to address challenges facing the country, with particular emphasis on youth unemployment. ‘We need to produce graduates who are not just job seekers, but job creators,’ said Ramjugernath.

UKZN InQubate’s Director: Intellectual Property and Commercialisation, Ms Suvina Singh, said the programme would contribute to the ‘entrepreneurial development of our students.’

The festivities on the day included praise singing by Thembalethu Ntuli and musical entertainment by UKZN’s School of Music students. Judges included Ms Melanie Veness (CEO, Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Commerce), Ms Dineo Mazibuko (Senior Manager, Transnet Corporate Services), Ms Sharon van den Heever (Director, Hesscon (Pty) Ltd), Mr Barlow Manilal (CEO, Technology Innovation Agency) and Ramjugernath.

Words and photographs: Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer