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​Race for City’s R1 million green prize heats up

The City of Johannesburg’s R5 million Green City Startup Challenge, which is aimed at unearthing creative green entrepreneurs whose ideas could help boost the City’s green culture, will reach its critical stage this week.

In what could be the City’s own Dragon’s Den or Masterchef competition, 20 contestants – shortlisted from the 86 who entered when the challenge started last year – will pitch their cutting-edge green proposals and ideas before a panel of judges on Wednesday and Thursday this week. They will all be vying for the overall R1 million first prize.

The challenge, the first of its kind in the country, was launched by the City in December in partnership with the University of Johannesburg, the University of Watersrand and Resolution Circle, a UJ-owned private company involved in the conceptualisation and promotion of sustainable development projects. The project invited innovative proposals from entrepreneurs in energy, water, waste management, transport and buildings.

Speaking at a media briefing, Councillor Ruby Mathang, the City’s Member of the Mayoral Committee for Economic Development, said it was a great pleasure to be part of “this exciting development of the green challenge fund”.

“With the fund we aim to accelerate visionary entrepreneurs in the green economy, one of the strategic objectives of the City,” he said.

The media briefing was also attended by Professor Willem Clarke, CEO of Resolution Circle, and Ravi Naidoo, the City’s Executive Director of Economic Development Department.

Naidoo said: “We received 86 highly promising entries for the Green City Startup Challenge. Last week an independent team of entrepreneurs and technical experts shortlisted the 20 as finalists. [On Wednesday and Thursday] the finalists will enter a green ‘Dragon’s Den’, pitching their ideas to an awards panel that will select the first round of five to eight winners.”

This is a small number of extremely promising, highly innovative revolutionary or immediate new business ideas. The fund will provide grants of R250 000 to five to eight winners to improve their ideas.
The shortlisted 20 entrants – 18 men and two women – have been offered in-depth technical support to improve their ideas and help them present their pitches.

The competition will reach its climax in six months' time when one or two of the contestants walk away with R1 million each, which will be used to fund their projects.

MMC Mathang said the aim of the challenge was to stimulate and support entrepreneurship and innovation to position the City as a knowledge-based economy, integrate informal economic initiatives to create sustainable work and business opportunities, facilitate entrepreneurship development and support through capacity and skills development.

He said the City would facilitate access to finance for cooperatives, small, micro and medium enterprises. “We are thus walking the talk with this Green Challenge Fund,” he said.
Naidoo said, not surprisingly, most of the ideas received were on alternative energy sources in the wake of load shedding.

He said the project signified a new approach to “catalysing development – open, flexible, but rigorous, carefully structured and challenging”.

“The development of a green economy is one of the City of Johannesburg’s core strategic objectives. This is aligned with the National Development Plan, which calls for mutual benefits between sustainable development and low carbon, increasing employment, reducing inequality. It is likewise aligned with the provincial strategy, which states ‘we will make the transition towards clean, innovative, resource efficient, low carbon technologies and infrastructure’.”

MMC Mathang said the City’s vision for the green economy was in line with the City Growth and Development Strategy 2040, which calls for a “resilient, liveable, sustainable urban environment underpinned by infrastructure support of a low carbon economy.

It also talks to the City’s Integrated Development Plan, whose emphasis is job creation and income generation through waste recycling, energy diversification, green re-fleeting for the city’s fleet, public and private transport vehicles and the City becoming a leader in innovation in respect of the green economy.