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Just Like We Bet On Horses, Let’s Also Bet On Our Startups

Kizito Okechukwu

Kizito Okechukwu | July 3, 2023

Last year was my first time at the Durban July, an event I have always deemed to be for the who’s-who in the entertainment industry, other high-profile celebs and wealthy horse breeders.

A few days prior, I mentioned to my dad that I was going. He had never heard of it – and when I mentioned horse-racing, he was perplexed, asking if am racing or betting. I allayed his fears, informing him that I would just be a spectator in a demarcated area, networking with my peers. He still could not comprehend the concept about betting on horses.


At my second attendance at the July few days ago, I discovered that the celebs started design their outfits months ahead. I’ve worn my current outfit once – and who cares? People seemed to like my traditional outfit and I fitted in well with the oldies. I met with various private and public sector stakeholders and also the queens and kings of celeb world.


I also met a ‘new friend Rajesh’ (not his real name), who told me that he has been attending the July for over a decade and bets each year. Unfortunately, he’s not very lucky and has never really won anything substantial to brag about. I asked why he keeps betting then and his simple reply was he just enjoys it. He also said that he looks at the name of the horses and then decides which to pick. This I found quite fascinating that just a name of a horse gets you to bet on it!!!


The July weekend really does boost Durban’s economy. Pubs, restaurants, BnB’s and hotels were all filled to capacity and plebs like us struggled to find accommodation because rates sky-rocket at that time. In addition, many other small businesses were also raking it in – including street hawkers that sold merchandise – and even cameramen that take a snap and charge R30 per digital picture, which you can transfer to your phone in hi-res in a matter of seconds. The more pictures you take, the more you pay and all can be transferred to you digitally.


Near the track, various private sector companies had their own marquees and engaged with their clients and partners on business and collaboration areas. As I watched all the ‘commercial’ goings-on, I thought of our startups, especially those in seed stages that have not launched. I think of my new friend Rajesh who has been betting on horses for years with no substantial win – but keeps betting. Sometimes I wish we can all be like Rajesh – just keep betting and keep believing.


I also wish that we continue to back our startups and SMMEs, and even if they may falter or fail, time and time again, let’s help them get back in the saddle. The resilience that Rajesh has shown is a good lesson for up-and-coming startups and small businesses, but also a lesson for private and public sector stakeholders to keep backing the ‘horses’ (i.e. our startups and small businesses).


I also gave Rajesh a little advice though, recommending that he use a little more ‘science’ other than just horse names in his future horse selections (i.e. trainer/owner/jockey), which I hope will stand him in good stead next year!


So, let’s start betting on and backing our startups and SMMEs.


Kizito Okechukwu is the Executive Head of 22 On Sloane and co-Chair of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) Africa.


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