Lees’ business plan was selected from a shortlist of eight finalists, and a total of 145 entries. The competition was conceived out of a collaboration between Sunday Times’ SPICE editor Greg Ardé and FNB provincial head Preggie Pillay. It is aimed at fostering entrepreneurship in KwaZulu-Natal.

The judging panel, aka “Sharks”, consisted of Terry Rosenberg, the former CEO of McCarthy Retail and current chairman of Oakbrook Investments; Harish Mehta, the chairman of Clearwater Capital and former CEO of Universal Print; Hixonia Nyasulu, former chairman of Sasol; Preggie Pillay of FNB; entrepreneur Merlin Stols; and Guy Brazier, the head of Deloitte in KwaZulu-Natal.

Advantage Learn was started in 2012 to offer an alternative for students who wished to study Advanced Programme (AP) Maths after it was discontinued by the Department of Education. While teaching AP Maths remains a core focus, Advantage Learn is developing a broader educational focus via its online platform which also offers accessibility to distance learners.

Rosenberg commended the group of finalists on their business plans which incorporated a strong theme of “social good as well as making money.” Business plans were judged on: the business concept; where they were in the business cycle whether already in the market, still in infancy, or relatively mature; and scalability. One of the key criteria for choosing the winner was also which business the Sharks would most likely invest in.

Advantage Learn’s first online course realised a R1-million turnover in six months, with the company achieving a 100% year-on-year revenue growth since 2013. The three to five-year goal is to reach more than 100 000 learners.

Presenting the Award, Rosenberg commended Lees saying; “We thought you had a very well thought-out case, and the fact that you’re in the market and that it’s been proven already is a good sign. You’ve also got a good three-year vision.” The scalability was impressive and hopes were that with the rapid growth in the African smartphone market, Advantage Learn would become more accessible to lower LSM’s in the near future.

Lees described the value of the Sunday Times FNB Shark Tank to entrepreneurs by saying; “We appreciate the questions, we appreciate the wisdom [of the judges], as we don’t often get that. As a Durban entrepreneur, we need more of these events.”

As the winner, Lees will receive coaching from some of the province’s best business minds, media exposure, and bank assistance from FNB, all to the value of R150 000.

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