Cape Town - 140626 - Pictured is Khayalethu Cokoto and Sapho Maqhwazima of UmoyAir. Several entrepreneurs pitched their business ideas to businessmen and women in the industry at an event at the UCT Graduate School Business. Reporter: Chelsea Geach Picture: David Ritchie (083 652 4951)

Cape Town - Picture the Dragon’s Den – only kinder.

Fifteen young entrepreneurs from around South Africa made it through elimination rounds to pitch their business ideas to a panel of industry experts at the UCT Graduate School of Business yesterday.

They each had five minutes and a PowerPoint presentation to sell their idea to the room. The prize is the break they have all been waiting for – a business trip to England to meet industry leaders, buy crucial equipment and close deals.

The 15 hopeful business owners and their 11 companies pleased the City of Cape Town’s David Gretton, who has been a judge for two years.

“I was pretty impressed. The quality of presentations were very professional,” he said.

This year, Gretton’s favourites were the social entrepreneurship of Dale Simons’s Mido Technologies, which seeks to train young IT experts and use their skills to offer solutions to NGOs and community organisations.

He also loved Pretoria-based sisters Yolandi and Natasha van Niekerk’s idea of offering psychometric assessments to companies looking to hire staff. They have already made inroads in the transport industry and have an interview with MyCiT i this week.

“It’s about hiring the right person for the right job,” Natasha said. “I studied psychology, and we then identified a gap in the market.”

The entrepreneurs’ money-making schemes were mostly technology-based, ranging from a service that optimises a business’s presence online to a wi-fi service provider and online university. Some targeted entertainment, such as a video gaming start-up.

A stand-out proposal offered free cellphone calls funded by advertising, simply by sending the company a “please call me” – like the 1.3 billion “please call mes” already sent every month in South Africa.

“We all know somebody who runs out of airtime on a regular basis,” said co-founder Sapho Maqhwazime from Port Elizabeth. “This way, the advertiser gets a captive market, while the user gets a free call.”

The training programme and competition is sponsored by British Telecommunications, and run by local company Medo.

For Medo chief executive Judi Sandrock the initiative is about job creation. She hopes to give entrepreneurs the skills and confidence they need to take their business international.

“We are world class. We don’t want to be patronised. I don’t want them to go into a meeting with a senior executive without the confidence that they are top class.”

After pitching their ideas to another panel of judges in Joburg, the young business owners will find out who among them will win the trip overseas. - Cape Argus