By Susan Miller
Graham Rowe won the first season of reality TV show the Big Break Legacy, a programme that awards the "ultimate entrepreneur" with R5 million.
The show founded by Ezra Ndwandwe seeks to find South Africa's best entrepreneur.
Graham is a man that believes in learning business from the ground-up and knows how important it is to polish and perfect your business pitch.
We recently caught up with him and talked about his success on the show, and plans for the future.
With the second season due to air on SABC 2, he had some tips for other entrants...
When did you decide to enter the Big Break Legacy?
My business partner Richard Johnson and I started our first company, Biped Personal BioTech, by running it on evenings and weekends, as we both had full time jobs. We were constrained in terms of time and found we were unable to do all the things that we wanted, so when we heard about the show, we decided we had nothing to lose.
What was being on the show like?
It started out as quite a surreal experience but surprisingly became the norm! I remember it felt very strange the first time someone put make-up on me, and the first time I had a TV camera in my face. However, the fact is that if you want to become an entrepreneur then you have to have an appetite for new things. To be honest it suited me and my personality. It was actually a lot of fun!
How did you prepare for it?
I got in touch with someone who had won South African Survivor. She said 'you'll waste your energy trying to be someone that you think you should be'. I decided to focus that energy into the game itself.
So, your advice to future entrants is to 'be yourself'?
Self-belief is crucial. There were contestants who tried too hard to be strategic or too clever and I would say that it cost them a lot in terms of energy.
Did you eventually get used to being on camera?
You completely switch off after a while. You do see people doing crazy stuff on reality TV but contestants become oblivious to the camera and have usually forgotten it is there. They shoot a lot of footage and then only show a fraction of it. What you see on TV is the most dynamic stuff spliced together in a one-hour slot.
You obviously won in the end. What was that like?
That 'walking-on-air' thing is not a myth! The night that I won, my wife and I celebrated, but we couldn't share it with anyone else as the result was under an embargo for a week until it went live on TV.
Will the prize money be going into your new company Sancreed?
Absolutely, it goes into the new business account.
What does R5 million buy you nowadays?
Your own time. Richard and I were both working full-time jobs but we now have more free time. That's the minimum starting point. The sort of business that we are doing is based around software development, IT and the healthcare system. Now we can spend time developing resources. It also buys you a hell of a lot of credibility in the eyes of potential customers – you've got an investor and R5 million backing. We feel we've jumped to a completely different level.
What makes a good entrepreneur?
You have to have self-belief. Self-belief is at the core.
Is having a business partner important for you?
One plus one gives you ten, in my case anyway. A lot of investors that put money into early-stage companies have a policy of not banking on single founders.
How will Sancreed have a social impact on people's lives and is that important?
In terms of Big Break Legacy, there was a big drive around social impact and building a business with a heart. In Sancreed we are basically creating tools that allow doctors to manage and help their chronically ill patients better. For instance, if a patient has hypertension, we're making it much easier for doctors to keep track of them and help them manage diseases better. It is a financial challenge but there is opportunity for people who can find solutions and by improving the health of the nation; it will be a fundamental good.
How big could Sancreed get?
At the moment we are 100 percent focused on South Africa and once we make a success of it here there are huge international opportunities. Healthcare is pretty much the fastest growing industry worldwide. In the United States, something like 20 percent of GDP is healthcare. It's a trillion dollar industry; there are huge opportunities.
So what's next?
Initially the only employees are Richard and I. At the beginning you want to stay flexible, so we have outsource partners who provide us with IT development services on a contract and project basis.
Do you think there is a strong entrepreneurial spirit in South Africa?
I think there is. There's a bit of a frontier culture. We make the rules as we go along but I believe that lends itself to a more entrepreneurial outlook.
What's the best way forward for local entrepreneurs?
It's the execution of an idea that gives business success. There are the things that sound boring like admin, management and process - which I think most entrepreneurs aren't natural fans of - and that's the place where people tend to fall over. The idea is one percent of the journey and the rest are all the challenges and obstacles that come up and how you deal with those in a systematic way. It's hard to communicate that aspect of business because, even on a TV show about entrepreneurship, you don't see someone sitting with pen and paper planning things. It doesn't look very glamorous!
What advice do you have for the contestants on the new season of BBL?
It sounds like a silly answer but just do it. Go ahead and enter. It may not be the deepest advice but it's where people fail before they even start. If you don't try then you have already failed at the first mark.
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