By Tafi Mhaka
The big and wildly exciting part about being little is having the drive to find grand ideas that can fly.
Ideas that make the world stand back and applaud a man – or a woman’s profound strength of will and sheer creativity.
At just the age of nineteen, Wilbur Wright had a lot of compelling matters weighing on his young inquisitorial mind.
This bright teenager, who was born in 1867, in Millville, Indiana, hadn’t had the sort of upbringing you’d describe as unremarkably average.
He grew up in a household with no running water, no electricity, no telephone, no television.
As a sporty young man – he had unfortunately lost his front teeth playing ice hockey – and he didn’t get his high school diploma.
Although he went to Richmond High School in Indiana for four years, his senior education was abruptly cut short after his family relocated to Orville in Dayton, Ohio – as his father found work there.
It is in Ohio that his mother fell terminally ill with tuberculosis and young Wilbur had to spend his days caring for her.
His father, a bishop in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, often travelled extensively, sometimes spending weeks away from home on church business.
So, young Wilbur, like most of his peers, didn’t have much going for him at all, save for some great ideas: some really great engineering ideas, that is.
Wilbur – and his brother, Orville – had taken a keen interest in science and engineering early in their childhoods.
Milton Wright and Susan Catherine Koerner had done a great job stoking an entrepreneurial spirit in the hearts of the big-eyed children.
“We were lucky enough to grow up in an environment where there was always much encouragement to children to pursue intellectual interests; to investigate whatever aroused curiosity,” said Orville.
In 1892, the Wright brothers – who later designed and patented a bicycle design– opened a bicycle shop, the Wright Cycle Company.
One day, their father, back from a trip away, on business, bought home a toy helicopter, based on an invention by French aeronautical engineer Alphonse Penaud.
This marvel of a toy, planted the seed of a nascent idea that would, with time, grow unimaginably huge, and highly-instrumental in helping to propel modern industrialisation; the idea went on to trigger a passion for flying in the Wright Brothers that, in time, changed the course of the world forever.
In a few years to come, the young men, fuelled by a passionate interest in aeronautical science – invented, built and flew the world’s very first successful airplane.
That is the fly thing about being young and inventive and having bright ideas like the Wright Brothers, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Basetsana Kumalo, Khanyi Dhlomo, and Steve Jobs had as promising entrepreneurs.
Investec CSI, in partnership with Junior Achievement South Africa (JASA) – a non-governmental organisation dedicated to equipping young entrepreneurs with real-life business skills, launched an Entrepreneurship Academy Programme named the Junior Innovators Competition in 2012.
JASA offers quite a number of experiential business mentorship programmes that offer learners a springboard to jumpstarting a great future in full-time entrepreneurship.
The organisation is part of JA Worldwide.
JASA was founded in 1979, and has, throughout the years, mentored thousands of aspiring business executives between the ages of 10-35.
Leading entrepreneur, Wendy Luhabe – a former director of JSE, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, and a former chairman of the IDC, the Industrial Development Corporation, is the patron of the organisation.
According to Investec CSI, the Junior Innovators Competition “stimulates an entrepreneurial mind-set and life skills among Grade 11 learners”.
“In August, learners eagerly submitted their application forms that detailed their business ideas. The idea had to be socially innovative and address a need in their communities. Of these application forms, 45 learners representing four provinces were shortlisted to come to Investec for an entrepreneurship workshop. The workshop exposed the learners to key concepts of being an entrepreneur.
“The learners spent three days at Investec preparing and working on improving their initial business ideas. The learners presented their business ideas to a panel of judges. Some of the finalists are currently running businesses and some have collaborated in opening up their own companies and are continuing with selling their products.”
The 2015 Grand Winner of the Junior Innovators Competition, Sifiso Motaung, a Sandtonview High School pupil who lives in Lombardy, east of Johannesburg, won R60 000 in prize money, which will go towards his tertiary fees.
His award-winning idea is an organic fertiliser made from purified urine, which he calls Urea fertiliser.
Linda McClure, Managing Director of Junior Achievement South Africa, says, “The Junior Innovators Competition is a fantastic opportunity for learners who have participated in a Junior Achievement Programme. The intensive four-day workshop exposes learners to various aspects of entrepreneurship and the structure of the competition ensures that learners have to work in teams as well as individually. The experience for the learners is invaluable and great appreciation goes to Investec for making this possible.”
The awards ceremony for the 2016 edition of the Junior Innovators Competition will be held on Thursday, October 6 at Investec’s offices in Grayston drive in Sandton.
Let us hope Sifiso – and this year’s 45 learners – and others out there who harbour plans to become awe-inspiring world-renowned entrepreneurs, will rise to the lofty heights reached by the famous Wright Brothers.