SA’s Startups Turn Heads in Washington

SA’s Startups Turn Heads in Washington


Three South African startups, Mellowcab, SquirrelThat, and Khaya Power, recently won awards at the prestigious 1776dc Challenge Festival in the USA.

Mellow Cab won the international prize for international startups in the Smart Cities category, SquirrelThat won the Readers Choice Hottest Educational startup and Khaya Power won the Peace Award. This is a great example of South African ideas and entrepreneurs making an impact on the international business stage.

“Being in the company of 64 exciting startups from 16 different cities was an eye opening experience,” says Willie Maritz, co-founder of SquirrelThat.

“The innovation, industry disruption and tenacity displayed to build a scalable business [on the part of all competitors] were impressive.

We learnt that having a great business concept is no longer enough to secure vital investment. Being able to explain your business in a minute and proving traction is just as important.”

Wow the crowd

The crowd is crucial in selling your product and your business pitch has to wow them. A powerful pitch grabs listener’s attention and keeps them engaged.

Investors are perhaps the hardest individuals to ‘sell’ your idea to. They spend a large amount of time being hounded for investment so you have to make sure that your point is clear, attractive, and most importantly; quick. So how do you make sure your pitch hits its target?

  1. You must be solving a recognizable problem or disrupting an already established industry.
  2. Your business model must be as compelling as your business product.
  3. Financial projections must be realistic and credible.
  4. If you are asking for something, be specific: what do you want, and what do you want it for?
  5. Be ready to answer probing questions with good answers.
  6. And finally: practice, practice, and practice.

Stand out in the pack

The South African startups stood out from the rest of the competition because they displayed real social benefits and were also viable businesses.

Mellowcab has created an eco-friendly urban micro taxi with a tech powered advertising model. SquirrelThat is a mobile platform that allows users to capture their learning immediately on any device and apply real world, useful actions to this learning.

Khaya Power brings light to the people through a 12V rechargeable power-pack housed in a 5 liter plastic container with a business model that enables community members to sell on power like in the LP gas industry.

It is clear that South African entrepreneurs have some great ideas. Getting into the right room with the right people is only half the battle to ensuring business success. Once there, you need to bring the best possible pitch for the best possible results.

Willie Maritz, co-founder of SquirrelThat, presenting at the Washington Peace Centre on the final day of the Festival.
Willie Maritz, co-founder of SquirrelThat, presenting at the Washington Peace Centre on the final day of the Festival.






Brad Arden
Brad Arden can best be described as a maverick in the learning and education industry. He has over 20 years’ experience in people development working both locally and internationally. He has built a formidable reputation for challenging the status quo through his creation of ‘out of the box’ learning designs that maximise learner engagement. He is now applying his years of experience in disrupting the EduTech sector.