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Student start-ups re-design education

Tuesday, 28 June 2016   (0 Comments)
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What ideas will shape the future of education in South Africa? A three-day study week, classes in a museum, no homework, performance-based pay for teachers?

For the second year,
UCT Upstarts is driving a ‘student start-up nation’ – and this year, the programme has challenged students to focus their social entrepreneurial prowess on reinventing, reimagining, redesigning and rehumanising our education system.


Following last year’s successful debut programme that resulted in the launch of 12 student start-ups overnight at its signature Idea Auction, UCT Upstarts is again putting young South African social innovators on the map with its 12-week 24-hour social innovation curriculum and a brief to “Re-educate Education”.


UCT Upstarts is the Vice-Chancellor’s Social Innovation Challenge. It is a joint initiative between the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship (a specialised unit at the UCT Graduate School of Business), Super Stage (a social innovation platform for students) and the Office of the Vice Chancellor at the University of Cape Town.


Sponsors and partners-in-kind include the Bertha Foundation, SAB Foundation, Red Bull Amaphiko, Pick n Pay and City Sightseeing (Hop-On Hop-Off Bus).

UCT Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price said: “UCT Upstarts is exactly the kind of initiative that the university is proud to support. As a research-focused institution, we are all about how things can be done differently and in a better way. It is encouraging to see the kind of impact that this initiative has had since being launched last year and we are looking forward to an even bigger and better project this year.”


Social entrepreneur Gina Levy, founder of Upstarts and Super Stage, said the initiative gives students a platform to effect positive change around them. "We are creating a new generation of ‘upstarts’ – students who are solving real world problems from campus – because we believe socially impactful business ideas are the most powerful form of protest.”


“And because opportunity is our currency, we’ve created a life-changing platform that gives students the chance to effect positive change on our continent,” said Levy.

For 12 weeks from April to September, students attend two lunchtime coaching/workshop sessions a week (Mindblowing Mondays and Thriving Thursdays) as ’passengers’ aboard a double-decker bus on UCT’s Upper Campus. The Upstarts’ Coach is the epicentre of social innovation, a 24-hour express bus journey from ‘Upstart to start-up’.


Their ‘drivers’ are inspiring and interactive coaches who deliver talk shops, workshops and do-shops aboard the bus, introducing students to a diverse network of change makers in their own right – and making this journey a trip to remember.


They include handpicked social entrepreneurs and industry leaders such as Gidon Novick (founder of who now heads up Lucid Ventures), ‘out the box’ educators such as Steven Sherman (Living Maths) and Mugendi K, M’Rithaa (President of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design – Icsid), trend specialist John Sanei, and Failure Club creator and venture capitalist Philip Kiracofe (Horizen Ventures Africa).

They share their personal
stories, present counter-culture business methodologies, give practical and experimental workshops, and offer their time for one-on-one guidance.


The 45 like-minded students on the bus were selected after a self-motivating application process. They are passionate self-starters who come from a cross-section of disciplines, ages and backgrounds, and are now part of multifaceted teams of four to five members. They will potentially become future business partners collaborating on innovative solutions to vexing problems in our educational system, thereby becoming job creators instead of job seekers.


The UCT Upstarts ’bus route’ takes the students through a human-centred design process based on empathy and understanding, moving to a definition of the problem, followed by ideation, to prototyping, testing and iterating, and ultimately, pitching for support. This training is provided by the new Hasso Plattner Institute of Design Thinking at UCT (d-school).

Their ‘destination’ is the Idea Auction, where they will pitch their start-up ideas to
an ‘audience of opportunity’. The Idea Auction is a live bidding event where hand-picked movers and shakers will crowd-bid their expertise, resources, networks, incubation spaces, travel opportunities, media exposure and ‘moola’ to launch their revolutionary start-up ideas into action.


Over R110 000 was raised on the floor at last year’s Idea Auction, with additional in-kind support to the approximate value of R500 000 generated too (coaching sessions, resources, office space, transport, camera crews, computers, building materials, expertise, network contacts).

Some of the 2015 start-ups included solutions such as rethinking food wastage (Re-Fresh), to revolutionising South Africa's traditional Stokvel system (Stokvella), a low-cost community-based security system for townships (Jonga), entrepreneurial courses for schoolkids (Reach), a mobile and outdoor art gallery (ReplicArt) and educational DIY furniture (classKIT).


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