Competitions help build entrepreneurial capacity

Have you ever wondered how important competitions are to aspiring entrepreneurs?

What are the possible benefits of participating in a competition?

Is this a “fad” or can it possibly add substantially to your own growth, insight and business?

Over the past 13 years I have had the privilege of hosting, facilitating, and adjudicating in quite a few entrepreneurial competitions.

The greater Cape Town area sees many competitions being held throughout the year.

It’s all about knowing for whom and when they are being held and purposefully throwing your hat into the arena.

This year I am facilitating the existing business category for the City’s YouthStartCT competition.

This fantastic event, now in its seventh year, has seen hundreds of young people begin or strengthen their business.

I absolutely endorse participating in these competitions and share these possible benefits for you to consider:

● Leaving the comfort zone

The comfort zone is a behavioural space, or a mental space, where your activities and behaviours fit inside a familiar routine and pattern that minimises stress and risk. It provides a state of mental security.

Yet it can also limit that desire to achieve, that ability to explore opportunities because they come with some risks.

I believe that the aspiring entrepreneur should embrace the opportunity to learn with both hands and face whatever fears and uncertainties arise by showing up within the “competitive environment” of these events. It could radically change your perspective.

“A ship in a harbour is safe, but it’s not fulfilling its potential,” said psychologist Susan Jeffers.

● Confidence

An aspiring entrepreneur doesn’t grow confidence in a vacuum. It is formed and tested as they test their ideas, adjust, fail fast, learn, endure, and repeat.

As entrepreneur Richard Branson quipped, “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.”

Participating in competitions is a very real way to sow the seeds from which your confidence can sprout. It is stepping out of the usual, not slipping into the familiar, but facing up to opportunities that build confidence.

● Compelling pitch or value offering

Yes, most competitions use pitching in some format to hone, train and sharpen the entrepreneur with their value offering.

Yet having a well-rehearsed, compelling pitch is essential in offering value to clients, possible funders and even to concretise and communicate the vision to your staff.

“The purpose of an elevator pitch is to describe a situation or solution so compelling that the person you’re with wants to hear more even after the elevator ride is over,” says author Seth Godin.

Doing the hard yards around learning to pitch is an important skill that all successful entrepreneurs have mastered. How about you?

● Coachability

It has also been my joy to coach quite a few entrepreneurs over the past two decades.

Not all “coachees” have the same teachable or coachable attitude. Those that do tend to grasp things faster; adjust quicker and pivot and grow more agilely.

In attending a competition that is spread over a period, being coachable is an asset that you can leverage into your future journey.

Ask yourself the question if you have the patience and character to suck it up and learn from others? Always be learning is a motto I learnt from Raizcorp, a business incubator, and I hold fast to this value.

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young,” said industrialist Henry Ford.

● Community, networking, and exposure

The entrepreneurial journey can be taxing, frightening and a lonely place. Yet, there is an amazing informal community of entrepreneurs that you could meet when you attend and participate in these competitions.

There are many mini stories I could relate of how many aspiring entrepreneurs have grown their network, gone on to secure work with new clients; found encouragement and resources in “their tribe” and generally, taken a step up in collaboration.

“Networking is not about just connecting people. It’s about connecting people with people, people with ideas, and people with opportunities,” says author Michele Jennae.

All these benefits came because of contesting, committing and being willing to step outside their comfort zone. I trust you will step up too.

● Steve Reid runs his own business in support of entrepreneurs, leaders and incubators.

He can be contacted at