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Stop Bitchin’ Start Pitchin

by Kim Harrisberg / 06.05.2013

“I’m a farmer, I don’t usually do this type of thing!” says Tom, perhaps a lot louder than he would have liked. He is flustered, this is obvious. His hands flutter about as he speaks and his face has flushed a light crimson. He is standing in front of a crowd that, beside from a few awkward chuckles, waits patiently and eagerly for his next words.

“I just want you to understand that I have a passion for the environment and that old systems need to change. Business people don’t invest in passion!” says Tom, his enthusiasm and nerves mingling in a fiery outburst.

Standing in front of a crowd of fellow students, acquaintances and total strangers, Tom has just stripped himself bare. Despite the adrenaline surging through his veins, he has managed to convey something to the crowd this evening: I have an idea, it is fuelled by youthful determination, and I want you to hear it.

This is the general ethos in the Stellenbosch Neelsie tonight. Students have trailed into the Pulp Cinema, not for the usual art-house film and R10 popcorn, but for a different show altogether.
Tonight, five students will put forward their entrepreneurial ideas before a panel and a crowd, as part of the regular ‘Pitchin’ initiative.

PitchIN began three years ago at the UCT graduate school of business. It is now being run at five universities across the country. Every month, students are urged to come forward with their ideas (however outlandish they may sometimes seem) and to open them up before a forum of vocal students. The winner receives R2000.

Charles Maisel, an entrepreneur and one of the founders of the Pitch-In project, envisions eventually facilitating an “Inter-Varsity Pitch”.

“PitchIN is about being bold, it is about being brave,” says Charles, taking a relaxed sip of his beer just before the night’s show. “Students need to be brave to put forward an idea and to hopefully take it somewhere from here.”

Charles is part of the panel that will facilitate the discussion around each pitch and finalise the winner for the evening. “A huge part of tonight is hearing the input from the crowd, that is how we like to run it,” he adds.

He points at a young surfer-looking dude with a mop of hair chatting to his friend. “He won a previous pitch, I’ll call him over so he can tell you why he won.”

Pitch Winnas

Antonio Cicione is his name. What concept made him a PitchIN winner? “I invented a toothbrush with the toothpaste inside the actual brush,” says Antonio with a smile flittering across his face. A seemingly simple idea, but one that Antonio has had patented and a mechanical engineer is now furthering the design. “When everyone could see that this would work, it gave me confidence,” says Antonio.

Tonight, students like Tom and Antonio have come to get their ideas out of their heads, put them before a panel and an audience of their peers and take the first faltering steps towards actually making them happen.

And just like Antonio, Tom’s idea to expand his permaculture garden was watered by hands shooting up to flesh out the seed he had planted: “why not have a veggie patch for students who want fresh veggies but want to save money? They can come and do their grocery shopping in your garden!”. “What about teaching people how to grow their own veggies, you can go into their gardens and teach them the basics that they wouldn’t otherwise know.” Tom is nodding, smiling, more hands are shooting up and dialogue has begun. The idea has taken root.

Berndt Lindner, an engineering student, has designed a website where old exam papers are uploaded and made accessible to all. Gone are the days of scrambling, begging and pillaging for those past exam papers. Berndt hopes, eventually, to charge a small fee for the service.

Then there’s Vida Ryan, a Sport Scientist who wanted to weep when she saw a photo of a young school boy using his knee as a desk. Vida wants to build desks out of basic packaging crates mainly to address what these ‘informal’ desks are doing to young people’s posture and the curvature of their necks. “First I wanted to cry, then I got angry and then I thought what I could do about it,” says Vida confidently.

Human physiology student, Liz Louw, proposed the ‘JAST’ (Just a Sea Thing) initiative. Inspired by her love for the water, Liz hopes to use social media to help protect the ocean environment from pollution. She proposes a viral clean-up campaign, where people post pictures of themselves cleaning up in random poses or unique landscapes. One of her ideas for recycling the rubbish included turning an abandoned milk bottle into a surfboard wax container.

But finally, this evening’s winner was Derrick Trescott, a student who had presented his rough draft at a previous Pitch-In, and returned with a more refined version. He presented the ‘Study Group’ phone app. This would be available to each student for R5 at the beginning of each year. On every phone there would be a calendar complete with lecture venues, essay and test deadlines, notifications and chat rooms. Farwell to the art of student excuses…

One can’t help but get excited sitting in on a pitch session. You will probably find your hand shooting up too, throwing out ideas or questions. The energy of students, who tend towards an optimistic outlook, allows for the free-flow of ideas that fuels these future inventions. PitchIN is a breath of fresh air in a world where it sometimes feels like everything has been thought of already.

Images © Adrian Baillie-Swart.

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