Students speak out on the importance of innovation and entrepreneurship

by  Vukosi Mathale

In the dynamic landscape of innovation and entrepreneurship, students are emerging as a powerful force, armed with fresh perspectives and bold ideas to start new businesses.

Pitching for competitions like Leopards Lair® has become the proving ground for these aspiring young minds.

On 1 September 2023, during the North-West University (NWU) Leopards Lair® 2023 finals, students presented their innovative business ideas to a panel of judges and distinguished guests. This event was hosted by the Technology Transfer and Innovation Support office and received support from the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, the NWU Business School, the Small Business Advisory Bureau, and the bhive Enterprise Development Centre.

The competition provides a meaningful learning experience to NWU students who are interested in pursuing new-venture creation as an alternative to traditional employment or to gain business development experience.

FLeather, the winner of the NWU Leopards Lair® postgraduate category, who also won the inaugural Bongani Foundation Prize for sustainability, showcased their plans for an alternative leather company using mushroom roots as feedstock. The FLeather team comprises Madelein de Jager, Le Roux Bernard and PJ Prinsloo, all three honours-degree students in business management sciences.

Their project promises to revolutionise the high-end leather industry. This will be accomplished by cultivating sustainable mushroom leather, which is made from mycelium, the vegetative part of the mushroom. The manufacturing process includes a 99% reduced water usage compared to conventional animal leather.

Madelein says that participating at the Leopards Lair® 2023 gave them the opportunity to involve external ecosystems to make the project possible.

“This exposure we got from pitching our business idea at the Leopards Lair® competition aided us in the challenge of convincing animal leather lovers to use our more sustainable mushroom leather. We have learned that the best course of action for our business venture is to place our product on a business-to-business (B2B) basis, which will broaden our customer base,” says Madelein. She adds that the team is also approaching potential investors to further amplify their growth to make FLeather a sustainable and secure start-up venture.

Zander van der Watt, an engineering student who won the undergraduate category with his Positech Vending Machine, has revolutionised traditional vending machines, which have remained largely unchanged since the 1980s. He has undertaken a complete redesign, incorporating cutting-edge technologies to enhance reliability and aesthetics. He has manufactured his first three prototype machines, which are currently performing exceptionally well in field trials.

“Leopards Lair® provided a platform to showcase our vending machines' innovation and gather expert and audience feedback. This feedback was instrumental in identifying which aspects of our concept garnered the most attention and what areas needed further refinement, ultimately helping us to fine-tune our business idea,” says Zander.

Leopards Lair® continues to be a launchpad for young innovators, providing them with a platform to turn their bold ideas into reality. The stories of FLeather and the Positech Vending Machine underscore the incredible potential that lies within the student community. With their passion, ingenuity, and determination, the students are poised to make a lasting impact on their respective industries and inspire future generations of entrepreneurs. These young minds are indeed the architects of a brighter, more innovative future.

Watch footage of the formal Leopards Lair® dinner:

The Positech vending machine, winner in the Leopards Lair® competition's undergraduate category.

FLeather, winner in the postgraduate category of the Leopards Lair® competition.

Submitted on Fri, 09/29/2023 - 08:45