Businessman puts two puzzles with the image of mon
  • Startup Circle is a business school that connects students to investors and allows them to pitch for investment. 
  • Business owners are taught to pitch to investors in three minutes without the need for a business plan. 
  • The business launched in 2020, and says it has seen five students secure investment worth at least $1 million each for their businesses. 
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Business school Startup Circle says it is helping connect South African entrepreneurs with investors, and – using three-minute pitches – land the money they need, without a business plan.

Learning how to do that will set you back R16,500.

The school – which launched in 2020 and now counts 5,000 students in 50 different counties – takes a practical approach, culminating in 10-slide pitch deck.

According to Startup Circle founder Sandras Phiri, a lot of accelerators and incubator programs that teach entrepreneurship focus mostly on teaching students how to write business plans.

“That’s so archaic,” said Phiri. “Nobody reads business plans and yet most of them are taught to write those things.

“A lot of them can’t write business plans. They pay people to write the business plan, they send the business plans and nobody reads them,” he said.

Instead of writing business plans, students at Startup Circle are taught to pitch to investors and answer questions about their business.  

“We teach them to create a 10-slide pitch and then they present to our investor. We teach them what investors are looking for.

“Just last week on our demo day, one of our students pitched to investors and received investment on the spot because they answer exactly what investors are looking for," said Phiri. 

Student who already have businesses and want to pitch to investors would have to enroll in the Ignition course which costs $1,195 (R16,300).

After the two month course, they will be ready to pitch to investors for a chance to get investment of between $250,000 (R3.4 million) and $1 million (R13.6 million) each.  

Investor-ready checklist 

According to Phiri, in order to meet the investor ready checklist, here are some of the things investors need to hear in your pitch;

  • Founders need to be able to describe their business in one sentence.
  • You need to be able to pitch your whole business in three minutes. This allows you to get straight to the point and people get to understand your business more clearly. 
  • When pitching your business, investors want to see if there is huge market potential, or how big your business can potentially be.
  • Investors want to see traction, which serves as evidence that your business in going somewhere.
  • It is important for investors to know if your business generates revenue, that there are letters of intent, and that people will be willing to buy what you are selling even in the building stages.
  • You need show that you don’t just need money but are making things happen even in the early stages.

“Profit doesn’t matter too much, but mostly revenue,” says Phiri.

The founder also highlighted the importance of not just showing up with ideas.

“Ideas are so many, but what is missing are people who can actually make things happen,” he said.

In just a year, the school has had some successes. Five students managed to raise over $1 million for their businesses during the lockdown. The school itself has also managed to raise money from from Enygma Ventures, a US venture capital firm.

Aspiring entrepreneurs   

One of the other courses included is the Startup Launch Program. This cater for students who only have ideas and need help launching their business, and the Founders Circle, for those who have launched but are still not making money.

The Startup Launch Program, which costs $895 (R12,200) helps students interview customers to find out if they would indeed buy what the startup wants to sell. This helps avoid starting a business that might get little to no support.  

“We teach them to talk to customers before they build anything. If the customers say they will pay, you get them on a waiting list.

“Once investors see that there are people willing to pay once you launch, then they become more interested. It’s good to not build something that no one would buy,” said Phiri.

After this two month course,  entrepreneurs will be ready to pitch in front of investors. 

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