Top honours for co-founder of SA school for startups | Fin24

Top honours for co-founder of SA school for startups

Feb 27 2020 18:27

Entrepreneurs have a special knack for recognising an unmet need and filling a gap in the market. But South Africa’s shocking rate of new business failure – at nearly 80% – means success requires more than a great idea.

Chris Hosken, co-founder and CEO of Startup School, wants to help entrepreneurs reverse the trend by providing access to a high standard of practical learning and mentorship – two things he says have made all the difference in his own career.

His efforts haven't gone unnoticed. He’s one of just 25 people globally to be honoured as a 2020 Influential Leader by the AACSB, an international accreditation institute for business schools. Influential Leaders are business school alumni who’ve shown a commitment to lead or innovate in their industry, impact their community or society, and inspire future business leaders.

Hosken, who was nominated by the UCT Graduate School of Business, believes he was recognised because Startup School offers something beyond commercial value. "Business schools are starting to produce more impact-oriented leaders who think beyond pure profit. This is how businesses will need to operate in the future, especially in a country like South Africa where we have so many deep-rooted challenges," he says.

Hosken was nominated by the UCT Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB) and credits his Master’s in Philosophy specialising in Inclusive Innovation that he studied at the school as the perfect incubator for his Startup School venture.

The school is founded by some of SA's most successful entrepreneurs, and backed by Investec, with online courses supported by education, coaching and entrepreneurial specialists. Students can learn remotely and at their own pace. As a sweetener, it offers students the chance to compete for a prize of R100 000 in funding upon successfully completing the course. Bursaries are also on offer.

Students are given access to "mentors" who offer time and guidance.

"The programme gave me the chance to do a real, practical project within a framework of academic rigour. It became a lab environment where I could develop and test ideas quickly and it connected me with an incredibly diverse group of classmates from all corners of the world," says Hosken.

It’s also where he was introduced to his business partner Stewart Cohen, co-founder of Mr Price Group. The two shared similar ideas about wanting to nurture and support SA’s budding entrepreneurs and joined forces to open Startup School in 2016. The business offers online training with an emphasis on practical application and personalised mentoring.

"We quickly realised it would be impractical to send all entrepreneurs to business school. We developed an online model that helps us run a lean operation and keep costs down while reaching more people in more places.

"Mentorship and support networks are a key aspect of our approach; the entrepreneurial journey can be a lonely place without the right support."

Hosken credits his Master’s in Philosophy (Inclusive Innovation) from the GSB with a crucial change in perspective, saying the focus on sustainable impact "gave me the mindset shift I needed to start looking at challenges differently".

"People see South Africa’s many issues and think they are for the government and NGOs to tackle, but if you can fulfil a real need, you can build a sustainable business. There is a ton of meaningful work to be done here," he says.

Many of Startup School’s own graduates are going on to do this kind of work. Code4Kids is an example of a successful new social venture that’s delivering highly impactful coding education to more than 10 00 children weekly. 

Iyeza Express is another example of social challenges being solved through innovative enterprise, founded by then-21-year-old Sizwe Nzima, fulfils an important social function delivering much-needed medication to people in Khayelitsha, Cape Town.

"I’m a firm believer that entrepreneurship and education are the two biggest levers we can pull on to solve many of our challenges in South Africa and on the continent," says Hosken. "The talent is out there; we need to nurture that talent and develop leaders who are willing to take on the challenges."



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