ACT’s 2019 Business Growth Program

Greetings fellow entrepreneurs!

It’s been a month since our last contact, and we hope you enjoyed our last post on the HCD training program.

This month’s post might be more relevant to all you entrepreneurs out there as we will be covering the 2019 Business Growth Program. “What is the link between the HCD training Program and the Business Growth Program? “, you might ask. As you know, Human-Centered Design (or HCD) is part of ACT’s DNA and this is what links the two programs. We employ the HCD researchers we have trained in the HCD research training program to assist the businesses participating in the Business Growth program to get closer to their customer. This approach is what makes our program unique in Zimbabwe, and the Southern African region.

As we suggested earlier this year, we have entirely re-structured our business growth program, which now consists of 4 bootcamps over an 8-month period instead of the four-week marathon that we ran last year. Another novelty is the requirement to report financial information every month so that we can track businesses’ progress over the course of the program. We hear you grumble and sigh, but this is a vital component of our work together. You cannot measure what you cannot see, and ultimately a business’ success is based on financial metrics. By collecting financial data on a monthly basis, you will have better control of your business, be able to communicate to potential financiers in a more informed manner and be better able to plan for the future. The additional effort is a small price to pay for the reward.

This year from the businesses that applied for the business growth program, we accepted 6 businesses into the programs: Ezee Kleen Detergents, an organization that manufactures and supplies cleaning detergents; Jabulani Earthmoving, an engineering company that focuses on the maintenance and repair of earthmoving machines; GMF Interiors, an interior design company that offers personalized interior designs for homes and corporate spaces; VitaNectar, an agribusiness that brokers for horticulture farmers within the country by creating synergies and partnerships with potential buyers; Amandla Brands, a company that offers organic peanut butter and nuts and a strong advocate for the environment and healthy living, and finally 143 Communications, a digital media house that offers its clients a one-stop shop for managing their social media presence and websites.

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During the first bootcamp, participants were thrown in at the deep end and asked to pitch to our friendly group of “sharks”. This exercise served to establish a baseline for the ACT team to measure progress over the course of the next months. Participants were also introduced to design thinking, value creation, and the business model canvas, which we used to unpack the fundamental assumptions underlying their businesses. This exercise forced our entrepreneurs to question the very foundations of their start-ups.

One entrepreneur described the value creation exercise as follows:

“we were given $5 and we were told to go to Avondale shopping centre and the conditions were we had to come back with the $5 and come back with a profit within 45 minutes. I think it was the highlight because my team; we didn’t use the money, but we came back with money. It showed that looking at the situation we have in Zimbabwe you ask yourself am I going to run my business with what I have? It taught me that it's not about what you have or the situation, it's about what you do with the situation and how innovative you are…”

Bootcamp 2 was a pivotal moment in the program, as this is when the HCD researchers trained during the HCD Research program reported the results of their initial findings to the entrepreneurs and validated or disproved the fundamental assumptions uncovered in BC 1.

The researchers’ feedback allowed the entrepreneurs to hone their value propositions, refine their target market, and develop prototypes that could be tested by the researchers over the course of the following weeks.

At the beginning of Bootcamp 3, the researchers presented their findings to each entrepreneur. Equipped with data from the end-user, the participants were able to refine their product, articulate strategies to enhance their sales, develop financial projections, and prepare and present a second pitch to our friendly “sharks” (by this time we called them dolphins). We think it is fair to say that the pitches were of much greater quality than when the entrepreneurs pitched for the first time at the start of the program.

The Business Growth program is still in full swing, and participants will meet for a final bootcamp on November 14 and 15, during which they will pitch to our dolphins one last time and share learnings in a supportive environment. We look forward to telling you how this final bootcamp went, and in the meantime leave you with some comments from our participants:

Thomas, 42, Owner of Jabulani Earthmoving;

“This program opens your minds. It makes you understand your shortcomings. My researchers were great. They were very autonomous, came up with great ideas and always let me know where they were in their research and if there was anything, they needed help with.”

Geraldine, 34, Founder of Ezee Kleen Detergents;

         “In the first field research, the researchers put up a pop-up shop and tested different label and product designs. They asked consumers about their preference and why they would by my cleaning products. I didn’t hesitate and used the new design directly after Bootcamp 2 – and the sales for all of my products more than doubled. Following this change, I have also managed to get my products in the main supermarket chain in Zimbabwe. I am now preparing to scale. It’s a bit scary, but I am looking forward to it.”

Geraldine, 33, Founder of 143 Communications;

“Some of the research findings are uncomfortable and you do not want to hear them - but it helps. It forces you to take a step back and look at your business and the options you have - based on the research gathered.”

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Until next month!

The ACT team

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