Bheki Kunene Presents at “Forbes Under 30 Summit”

IMG_1202by Bheki Kunene

In June of 2015 I appeared on the cover of Forbes Africa magazine. Earlier that year, I had been featured on their “Forbes 30 under 30” list. This, apparently, led to a friend request on Facebook from a fellow named Richard Behar, an absolute stranger to me. He would later send me a message asking if I was keen to be a speaker at the “Forbes Under 30 Summit” in Israel.

What puzzled me was why Forbes had chosen me to represent the entire African continent. There was a large and diverse pool of entrepreneurs and Mr. Behar could have chosen any one of them instead of me. Mr. Behar, however, believed in my story and said I was best suited to address the theme of the summit: “Investing in Ideation: How Great Entrepreneurs Unlock Creativity.” I gladly agreed to participate.

On arrival in Tel Aviv, I joined other young innovators and startup gurus from around the world — all of us brought together to stimulate critical thinking and entrepreneurship.

Oleg, aged 21, had developed robots that responded to spoken instructions. Jessica, 19, had invented a soccer ball that collected kinetic energy that could be used as a source of electricity after soccer matches. David, now 21, told his parents when he was nine years old that school was too easy and he wanted to teach himself through self-study on the internet. When he was 12, David started his own business. This way of thinking was unheard of in my country. Had I told my mother I wanted to quit school and teach myself at home, I would have been backslapped and told I had been bewitched!

Throughout the summit I engaged with new friends from multicultural backgrounds. Like sponges, we all exchanged ideas, shared insights and encouraged each other. The atmosphere was charged with enthusiasm and optimism. But all of this was just the beginning. The highlight for me would be sharing the stage with the former president of Israel, Shimon Perez, and participating in a panel discussion on the summit’s general topic, “How Great Entrepreneurs Unlock Creativity.”

I couldn’t sleep the night before our panel discussion — too many questions were running through my mind. Would I live up to the standards of an audience of international entrepreneurs? Was I good enough to share the stage with Nobel Prize-winners? Did I have the courage, as the only African, to represent my entire continent?

When our discussion started, I felt uncomfortable, displaced and had self-doubts. Then I remembered that all I needed was to stay true to who I am. The person I am, and the way I conduct myself, was what brought me to this summit. I didn’t need to try to fit in. I could just be myself.

Our panel discussion was thought provoking. My peers and I shared insights on how we had built our businesses from mere ideas to, in some cases, multi-million dollar empires. A situation that had been intimidating at first became exciting. We had a great reception from the audience.

The entire summit was a positive experience. I grew personally and developed professionally. I enhanced my network with new colleagues from around the globe. I found myself bursting with new ideas on how to strategically grow my business while remaining inspired.

My friends at Acacia Global encouraged me to attend the summit and contributed to help defer some of my travel costs. It’s an investment that will have rewards for my company, Mind Trix Media, and me.