Simba Savannah is  a Zimbabwean reality TV format featuring entrepreneurs pitching their business ideas in order to secure investment finance from a panel of venture capitalists called Simbas from the Swahili word meaning lions. The show is sculptured around Dragon’s Den which first premiered in Japan in 2001 as “Money Tigers” or “Tigers of Money” and has since been adopted in more than 30 countries. The show was made a mainstream success by BBC in 2005 when Dragon’s Den made its debut in the United Kingdom. The show has also been franchised in the USA under the title Shark Tank featuring the celebrity Fubu founder Daymond John and other millionaires.

All the aforementioned names for the show allude to animals, with the investors referred to as those “animals”. The names were chosen particularly because of the aggression and ferociousness of the animals which is meant to reflect the ruthless personality of the rich and successful entrepreneurs who will be the venture capitalists in the show. Each episode of Simba Savannah has two budding entrepreneurs tossing an idea to 5 Zimbabwean “business” leaders; the “simbas” for investment and mentorship. The 5 Simbas are Chamu Chiwanza, Florence Ziumbe, Gary Thompson, Nigel Chanakira and Ritesh Anand. Though Simba Savannah maybe modelled along the lines of Dragons Den, Shark Tank etc…there are glaring differences which I will articulate in this piece.

In the western editions of the show; the contestants will be seeking funding and/or mentorship and they state a specific amount of money they seek and the shareholding percentage they are willing to cede for that capital. The rules are such that it is an all or nothing game, the full amount should be picked up or there is no deal. In return, the contestant gives the dragons a percentage of the company’s equity, which is the chief point of negotiation. The investors probe the idea once the contestant has made a presentation seeking to find out about the product or service, forecasted sales, margins, valuation in relation to profits, intellectual property, equity up for grabs etc.

The Zimbabwean edition however, is a far cry from the norms which the predecessor shows set. On Simba Savannah, the venture capitalists shockingly offer their various skill sets for equity which I strongly feel is deplorable. A start-up business needs money to be set-up and launched and no amount of advise and mentorship can replace that. Menthorship, experience and contacts and other non-monetary help can only come in and have an economic impact after the business structures have been set in place and these can then assist in catapulting the business to the next level.

In the western versions of the show; the investors after having agreed to invest in a business (in monetary terms) will dedicate their time and energy in imparting their business acumen to their new found protégés. The format is flawed in every respect because the Simbas are selling their expertise for shareholding when in most cases what is needed especially in this illiquid market are the evasive greenbacks. I found it ludicrous that one of the Simbas wanted equity for linking up a contestant with a strategic business partner. It puts many things into perspective, are the Simbas as wealthy as they claim to be? Of the Simbas, who has a tangible and viable business at the present moment?

Whilst I salute this start-up support platform, it would be lovely to see proven entrepreneurs like Strive Masiyiwa, Doug Munatsi, Zed Koudonaris, George Manyere and others who have proven capacity to make monetary investments on the show.


The “Simbas”