The Durban Chemicals Cluster (DCC) Business Accelerator held its annual “Dragons’ Den” event at The Pearls in Umhlanga Rocks on Tuesday, 28 November 2023. Emulating the renowned Dragons’ Den format, 11 emerging Black-owned enterprises passionately presented their ventures to a panel of influential ‘Dragons’ who are driving the meaningful transformation of the local chemicals sector; Bridget Bishenden from FFS Refiners, Rudi van Niekerk from H&R, Trevor I’Ons from NCS, and David Lombard from Sherwin-Williams.
Beyond the allure of instant cash prizes, the participating entrepreneurs vied for commercial partnerships with the Dragons’ companies, seed capital infusion, and coveted mentorship opportunities from industry luminaries. Open to all Black entrepreneurs in the chemical sector, from start-ups to established SMMEs, the DCC Business Accelerator attracted close to 100 entries this year. The selection process was rigorous and narrowing the pool to the final 33 candidates was a challenging task.
The chosen qualifiers then underwent a comprehensive one-day capacity-building workshop in Durban on Wednesday, 25 October 2023. This interactive session facilitated networking with established business leaders, providing a platform for knowledge exchange and refining business pitches. They also received invaluable insights and expert advice on mastering the art of public speaking. The top 11 pitches then advanced to the ‘Dragons’ Den’ stage and delivered impressive presentations.
Ravesha Govender, Programme Manager of the Economic Development Unit at eThekwini Municipality, said she was particularly impressed with the quality of the pitches this year, and emphasised the Accelerator’s role in driving localisation and fostering meaningful transformation in the chemicals industry.
Pulse Control Systems claimed the top prize, securing the Best Overall Business Case award and a R35,000 cash prize. A delighted Nimelen Pillay, Managing Director of Pulse Control Systems, from Cowies Hill praised the Durban Chemicals Cluster Accelerator and said, “The DCC has come up with a brilliant and efficient programme that has accelerated my plans for scaling the business through the formulation of a business case as well as exposure to key blue-chip clients.” Pillay also thanked the Durban Chemicals Cluster, the eThekwini Municipality and the private sector lead firms for the invaluable guidance and support received.
The additional R25,000 cash prizes recognising outstanding achievements in specific categories were awarded to the following SMEs:
- Most Relevant to the Chemical Industry: Spot on Fire Controls, Lungani Nene from Cato Manor
- Best Environmental Sustainability Solution: Virenix, Viren Udith from Mount Edgecombe
- Industry Gamechanger: AJ85 Distributors, Anderson Jacobs from Durban
Nevertheless, all 11 SMEs ultimately walked away with a reward. According to Kyle Ballard, Head of the Accelerator, each of them has been granted annual membership to the Durban Chemicals Cluster. This membership entails comprehensive diagnostic assessments and access to coaching by industry experts, essential for aligning with customer demands and effectively scaling their businesses. However, the greater reward is that each SME will also receive support to unlock coveted sales and commercial opportunities with the Dragons and potential customers, improving their growth prospects significantly.
He highlighted the Accelerator’s proven track record in consistently delivering meaningful results and effecting sustainable transformation in the economic landscape. Ballard also expressed his gratification in being able to play a small part in empowering Black-owned SMEs in the local chemicals sector.