Rushana Hartnick is the founder and director of Little Mermaids Swim School situated in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town. The school, which started out in 2012, teaches children and adults the basics of swimming. Prior to 2012, Rushana was a swimming instructor at a suburban school in Cape Town but her dream was to help the children in her area who didn’t have access to a pool, learn to swim.
Her mother was the first person to invest in her business and then, in 2011, she won a bakkie in a competition which she was able to sell to start her swim school. By February 2012, she had a heated pool at the front of her mother’s house and had 35 swimmers signed up.
Rushana’s belief in her dream has kept her motivated. She was born and raised in Mitchells Plain and says that many of her neighbors thought that, in order to be successful, they needed to travel outside the area. Through her efforts, she believes that she has inspired some community members to start their own local businesses. She also employs locals as swimming instructors and is happy to be able to contribute to upliftment in the area.
When Rushana started, she didn’t know much about owning and managing a business. She struggled with the business administration as she didn’t have the necessary knowledge and experience. That is when she decided to study and in 2014, she enrolled at the Stellenbosch Business School’s Small Business Academy, which helped her establish a foundation for her business and learn how to structure it in a way that would work for her. In 2016, she was accepted onto the SAB Foundation Tholoana Enterprise Programme, which Rushana believes has contributed significantly to the successful development of her business.
“Being part of the programme has really helped me and my business. I was fortunate to get a mentor that truly understands me and the workshops allowed me to further develop my business knowledge. I was never good at finances but through the workshops I was able to change that. I am now on top form and I have a better understanding of financial matters,” says Rushana.
With the funding, she received from SAB Foundation, Rushana invested in a better filtration system for her swimming pool, which enabled her to accommodate more swimmers.
Little Mermaids now services 500 swimmers a week, including 15 schools who use the swimming school for extra mural activities. She has employed eight permanent members of staff who are all from Mitchells Plain and her turnover growth has increased by 152% in the past year. This is something that Rushana is really proud of and she looks back at her journey with a happy and grateful heart, not only because she has grown her turnover, but also because she is the first person to open a heated indoor swimming centre in Mitchells Plain – which is open all year round.
According to Rushana, her journey was not an easy one and she had to overcome many challenges. “The most recent challenge was the drought that we experienced in the Western Cape. We had to source alternative water as we couldn’t use municipal supplies. This became very expensive, exhausting and created havoc at our swimming school. We also had people resigning because they were uncertain about their jobs,” she explains.
However, she is now in the process of recruiting new staff members for the summer season. She believes her business survived because she had the help of a mentor from the SAB Foundation and collectively they came up with strategies for how to handle the drought. Rushana also relies on the support of her husband and hard-working team of employees to help her keep things running smoothly, particularly when she is at school studying.
Rushana is a woman who knows what she wants, she is passionate about her business and improving the lives of those in her community. In the next three to five years, she sees her business growing on a much bigger scale and believes that her school is set for further development. She envisions her swimming school having a swimming club, hosting swimming galas, water safety programmes and participating in an international exchange programme for instructors and swimmers.
Rushana concludes by encouraging anyone who wants to start their own business to definitely go for it and follow their passion. Her top tip for any entrepreneur is, “be focused, be open to learn every day and always believe in yourself”.