The advent of COVID-19 has not only affected South Africa but the world at large. It has devastated economies and the social fabric of many countries. Regional Connect has not been immune to the adverse effects of this pandemic, and this has forced us to reimagine how we deliver value to entrepreneurs and SMMEs in a tough regulatory environment.
Regional Connect as a programme identifies entrepreneurs with potentially innovative solutions, and works with them in a competition format to create sustainable, high-impact companies. In the past, the finalists selected through the programme attended a three-day business development training and pitching event that enabled the entrepreneurs to learn from and connect with other industry players.
The Regional Connect team with event participants before COVID-19 restrictions were announced
However, COVID-19 has compelled Regional Connect to envisage a training and pitching event that adheres to new social distancing regulations, and adequately accounts for the health and safety of all parties involved. This meant repositioning the programme to allow it to take place virtually. This move has led to the emergence of a host of new challenges such as zoom fatigue, immediate environment distractions, and bad connectivity.
To enable successful knowledge transfer sessions, the event was changed to take place over two weeks, with only a maximum of two hours of virtual contact per day. It was executed on a suitable virtual learning platform that was able to satisfy all learning needs to maintain the same standard of a physical event. Such needs included participants being able to present, upload, and share files; chat; and join breakout rooms. This enabled the smooth facilitation of learning and allowed for networking amongst the participants. The VEDAMO virtual classroom and learning management system was selected to meet these requirements.
There were 14 finalists set to take part in the virtual event. Finalists were given the option to either partake in the online training or work through the material remotely and only participate in the networking and/or pitching day. Those who were unable to attend the virtual pitching sent through a pre-recorded video of their pitch. Furthermore, a standard operating procedure (SOP) was sent out to all finalists, explaining all the various functions of VEDAMO and the roles and responsibilities of the finalists, facilitators, and judges, respectively. This served to give finalists and judges a chance to get acquainted with the VEDAMO platform before the online event was held.
Regional Connect’s first virtual training and pitching event was a resounding success. The finalists were able to receive quality business development training and pitch their ideas to a panel of judges. There were nine winners, seven of whom were awarded free entry into a three-month incubation programme run by Impact Amplifier, a virtual incubator. Additionally, two winners were awarded the novelty prize because their business ideas did not require an incubation process.
This is a great programme and the initiative to have it virtually was profitable, especially during times like these. – Annaniah Sakala
The overall feedback from the finalists about the virtual platform was positive. Most of the feedback indicated that they were pleased with the virtual platform that had been chosen as it was easy to navigate. The platform made it easy to share knowledge and introduce innovative business techniques to entrepreneurs across the SADC Region. Moreover, the platform fostered an environment where finalists could network virtually.