Leveraging education and entrepreneurship to solve SA’s challenges

UCT GSB PRESS OFFICE - 17 February 2020

Entrepreneurs have a special knack for recognising an unmet need – and the nous to fill a gap in the market. But South Africa’s shocking rate of new business failure proves success demands more than a great idea. Estimates say up to 70 percent of local businesses go under in the first two years.

Chris Hosken, co-founder and CEO of Startup School, is determined to reverse this trend by helping entrepreneurs access quality, practical learning and mentorship – two things that have made all the difference in his own career.

He’s one of only 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 believes he’s been recognised because Startup School delivers social impact as well as 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.”

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 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.”

It’s also where he was introduced to his business partner Stewart Cohen, co-founder of Mr Price Group and himself a UCT GSB alumnus. 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 says his Master’s experience taught him there is more to business than profit: “The UCT GSB focuses on sustainable impact in African business and society and it 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.”

Many of Startup School’s own graduates are going on to do this kind of work. Iyeza Express, founded by then-21-year-old Sizwe Nzima, fulfils an important social function delivering much-needed medication to people in Khayelitsha. Code4Kids is another successful new venture that’s delivering coding education to more than 10,000 children weekly. 

The ripple effects of businesses like these on South Africa’s economy and society are all the motivation Hosken needs to continue on his mission. His own business has passed that crucial two-year mark, in part because it’s meeting a real need, in an innovative way.

“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. 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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