Stories

BRIAN MAKWAIBA AND OSCAR MONAMA - VULEKA MOBILE APP

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I AM EMERGE is a creative agency founded by Brian Makwaiba and Oscar Monama. This agency comes up with creative concepts to enable access between township businesses and the bigger markets outside their horizons. It is with this idea in mind that in 2012, I AM SERGE developed their creative idea and founded the Vuleka Mobile App.

The Vuleka Mobile App is an app through which spaza shop traders place orders for fast moving consumer goods that Vuleka then delivers in bulk to their doorsteps. Bundling these orders together in bulk purchases enables Vuleka to obtain discounts, which are then passed on to the individual shop owners. The app is also linked to a virtual wallet payment system so that all payments are cashless.

Makwaiba and Monama started their business after seeing how traders in Alex struggled to buy their stock in bulk, spending time and money travelling to their suppliers and usually paying a higher price than necessary. The two founders started with just R3 000 in their pockets and initially struggled to make a profit because any income was used to purchase more stock for their traders.

Three years later, the business is thriving and expanded into other townships including, Thembisa and Soweto, and are now getting more orders than ever before. According to Makwaiba they receive orders of R3 000 per spaza shop on a weekly basis, which brings them an income of between R60 000 and R180 000 each month.

In 2017, Vuleka Mobile was awarded R150 000 at the SAB Foundation Social Innovation and Disability Empowerment Awards. Makwaiba claims that winning this prize has changed their lives for the better and being recognised by the SAB Foundation has boosted their status in the industry.

“Being part of the SAB Foundation programme has helped us scale into two other townships and we have increased our customer based almost three-fold. We have moved to a bigger warehousing space meaning we can carry more stock and can therefore service more spaza shops. Before the programme we only had three employees but we have now managed to grow to 13”, shared Makwaiba.

When I AM EMERGE was founded, they wanted to do more than just service spaza shops, they wanted to make an impact in the communities they serve. The business understands that their main customer base is the older market, most of whom are not technologically savvy. When they received complaints from clients who were struggling to operate the app and didn’t have smartphones, the founders decided to employ Field Service Agents (youth marketers) living in their areas of operation to take orders manually from the spaza shops and help to arrange deliveries.

The founders say that being part of the SAB Foundation was an amazing journey and that they will be forever grateful for the opportunity. Makwaiba shares that the SAB Foundation did not only assist them with funding but also equipped them with essential tools to help them grow their business. Through the workshops they attended they picked up entrepreneurial skills including financial management, which they had struggled with before the programme.

With the SAB Foundation funding they received, they have moved into a new warehousing space which acts as a central distribution centre for their goods into different communities. They also bought marketing material for their business and several computers for their staff members.

According to Makwaiba, starting a business is not an easy task, and is a stressful journey that requires hard work. However, he still believes it to be a worthwhile endeavour and says that people who have passion to start their own ventures should definitely go for it.

“Don’t be afraid to fail and experiment and do thorough research about the field you want to go into and seek guidance from mentors or people who have been on the same journey,” shares Makwaiba.

In the next three to five years, I AM EMERGE plans on expanding their business into even more areas. “I see us having expanded into the rest of the country and also into some countries in the rest of Africa. “I see us impacting many lives and growing informal businesses and lives in townships, and I also see the business expanding to other informal businesses apart from just spaza shops,” concludes Makwaiba.

BONGINKOSI SHONGWE - SHONGWE MOTOR SPARES AND TYRES

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After graduating from the University of Johannesburg, Bonginkosi decided to open a motor spares shop, on a recommendation from his father and, in 2013, Shongwe Motor Spares and Tyres was born.

Bonginkosi opened his first business, specialising in motor spares, in his home village of Schoemansdal. With a grand vision for his business, Bonginkosi soon expanded into tyre services and opened a second branch in Jeppes Reef. His future plans include further expansion, and in March 2019 he will be opening another store in Boschfontein. He also hopes to expand his business outside Mpumalanga and dreams of his business being recognised on a much bigger scale.

“I want to make it a well-known brand not only in my village or Mpumalanga but across South Africa. I want to compete with established brands like Midas and Tiger Wheel and Tyre, and expand as far as I can. I want my brand to be known even when I’m no longer alive, I want to leave a legacy,” he explains.

Bonginkosi believes that his father was his biggest motivator when it came to growing his business. As well as providing him with a micro-loan, which he used to buy machinery, his father taught him how to manage the business, save his profits and work hard to secure a successful enterprise.

Bonginkosi believes that a turning point for the expansion of his business came when he was accepted into the SAB Foundation Tholoana Enterprise Programme and awarded R200 000 in grant funding for his business. “The grant funding helped me buy a better wheel alignment equipment, a wheel balancer, tyre changer and battery testers and chargers in order to sell and recharge batteries,” he explains.

According to Bonginkosi, the Tholoana Programme assisted me with funding; the programme also taught him how to run a successful business by providing instruction on key topics such as costing and pricing, marketing, public relations, human resources and financial management. The programme also provided him with a business mentor, Ntando Maseko, who was on-hand to provide advice and answer any questions.

“The business workshops are breath-taking,” said Bonginkosi. “I learned that there was a lot more I needed to do in order to manage my business and staff efficiently and effectively. I now have systems in place and I understand the labour laws”.

Since starting the SAB Foundation Tholoana Enterprise Programme, Bonginkosi’s turnover has increased by 145% and his workforce has grown by 40%. The programme was also instrumental in him being able to open his second branch in Jeppes Reef on the border of South Africa and Swaziland. “We are the first motor spares shop people see when they come through the area, so now instead of travelling to Malelane, they come to us,” concludes Bonginkosi.

For more information about Shongwe Motor Spares and Tyres, contact Bonginkosi Shongwe on his email address, bshongwe111@gmail.com or call him on 082 092 9262.

UGAN PILLAY - VALLEY MUSHROOMS

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The Valley Mushrooms premises overlooks the best of KZN, and is a calming, tranquil space. It was founded by Ugan Pillay, who has always loved the taste of mushrooms, and saw a need in the market for the exotic kind. 

He began his research on how to produce the best oyster mushrooms and visited the likes of Thailand to realise the best techniques. Before starting the business in 2013, he was a Project Manager in the I.T sector living in Johannesburg. Much has changed since then, and he says with conviction that it would not have been possible without the funding and mentorship from the SAB Foundation. He formed this relationship in 2015 after a work colleague forwarded him an email with the entry details.

He is in awe of the recognition and has used the money to grow the business. The funds enabled the purchase of racking for the bags, and has allowed for an increase in volume produced. Ugan was able to employ more staff and use his idea to uplift the community – a component he feels most strongly about.

Customers find the business easily, and he is currently suppling to many private clients as well as Spar, Checkers, Oxford Fresh Market and other fresh market mushroom broker within a 20 km radius of the farm.

In terms of challenges, obtaining quality spawn and keeping up with orders are on top of the list. In future, he would like to develop a great marketing plan and become the “Denny of exotic mushrooms”. The biggest success, he says, is having got the business to where it is today. He can’t wait to see what the future holds.

NICK SMIT AND NICOLE VERGOS - SMERGOS

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The company, which was awarded R300 000 at last year’s Disability Empowerment Awards, is dedicated to creating a range of wheelchair bags and other accessories that provide much needed functionality to wheelchair users. They provide a choice of simple, personalised bag designs that fit neatly onto any wheelchair, giving their customers a safe and easily-accessible way of carrying their belongings.

Watch the video below to find out more from co-founders, Nick Smit and Nicole Vergos.

NICK DE LA HUNT - FINGER TALK

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Last year Finger Talk, South Africa's first mobile app for learning South African Sign Language (SASL), was awarded R150 000 at the Disability Empowerment Awards. The app was developed to get SASL into the hands of the masses and provide more than 400 000 deaf South Africans as well as their families and friend with a means to communicate. 

Watch the video below to find out more from founder, Nick de la Hunt.

AHLEY UYS - MEDICAL DIAGNOSTIC

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At the tender age of twenty-four Ashely Uys left his internship in industry to pursue the start of his own business. Challenges such as being taken seriously by investors made the get going difficult. That was five years ago.

Today, Ashley has been a judge for the SAB Foundation and has an employee count of thirty-five. It was through the Business Incubator in 2008 that Ashley became acquainted with the work of the SAB Foundation and through this award that he was able to purchase assets for manufacturing, improve cash flow and grow his business as a whole.

The majority of his consumers have made contact with the business through media exposure. The public relations exposure he received at events and competitions allowed him to boast business visibility and grow both consumer and potential consumer connections. The majority of his products are exported, and the demand for the offering is just increasing.

The malaria test kit was one of the first innovations which put Ashley on the medical map. He has a strong background in bio-technology and is passionate about the diagnostic industry possibilities. He saw the gap and was brave enough to put his might and efforts towards achieving his goal.

Ashley is proud of how the company has grown and flourished and is happy that the product performs so well. It is a technical dream when a product can display whether or not a treatment is working, and with the technology Ashley puts forward, the product can do just that. 

 

PHYTO - DR. YASHEEN SINGH

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Dr. Yasheen Singh is the founder of PhytoPro, a local producer of plant-based nutritional products made from premium, pea protein isolate. Dr Singh, believes that his medical background played an important role in his decision to start manufacturing PhytoPro. During consultations with his patients, he would often recommend plant-based products because of their healing anti-inflammatory properties. Dr Singh believes that food is medicine and people should always opt for healthier alternatives that benefit the body.

After researching the market and engaging with his patients interested in plant-based diets, Dr Singh discovered there was a shortage of high-quality, affordable products in South Africa and launched PhytoPro in 2014.

The business started with products being manufactured exclusively for Dr Singh’s patients and after seeing results with his patients, the products were launched to the broader market to meet increasing demand. “The rest is history,” Dr Singh says.

Looking back on his journey, Dr Singh is happy with how his business has progressed, and the impact his products have had on his patients and customers. He is proud to see how far his business has grown over the past four years and describes his journey unforgettable. As a recent graduate of the SAB Foundation Tholoana Enterprise Programme, he acknowledges that the SAB Foundation played a significant role in shaping PhytoPro.

“I decided to give it a try in 2017 and my application was successful. I was so excited to have joined the programme because I felt it will be a great fit for my business, and I knew I would benefit enormously throughout the duration of the programme,” Singh explains.

Dr Singh describes his journey with the SAB Foundation as a one of a kind experiences for which he will always be grateful.

“The programme did not only focus on funding, but also included tailored mentorship which was invaluable for the business as it gave us a chance to learn about operations and how to ensure that your business remains sustainable throughout the years,” says Dr Singh.

Dr Singh says that, through attending the workshops, his confidence was boosted tremendously, helping him implement strategies which laid a concrete foundation to develop his business even further.

The workshops also made Dr Singh realise the business needed additional support and hired two part-time employees to work on relationship management and promotions. As well as hiring additional staff, Dr Singh used the grant funding to secure new warehouse space and further enhance his operations.

Dr Singh advises all aspirational entrepreneurs who are eager to start their own business not to waste any time with getting started. However, he also recommends patience because being a business owner is not always smooth sailing.

“Accept that you will make mistakes along your journey and you will go through a few stumbling blocks before you reap the rewards of your hard work. Do not expect to be the perfect entrepreneur from the word go. Laugh and learn from your mistakes and eventually your hard work will pay off,” he advises.

Dr Singh concluded by giving the following tips for entrepreneurial success:

  • Start from a place of passion. When the going gets tough, it is the passion in your heart that will get you through to the other side.

  • Educate yourself, both on the product or industry you are working in and the art of doing business.

  • Actively relax. A relaxed mind is more receptive to new ideas and can adapt to change and new ways of working.

  • Open up to receiving support. This can either be from friends, family, employees, mentors or fellow entrepreneurs.

Find Dr Singh and Phyto Pro products at https://phytopro.co.za

MOLEBOGENG MOTEBELE - THE LAUNDRY ROOM

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The Laundry Room is a laundry service business, founded by Molebogeng Motebele, based in Kwena Moloto, Polokwane.

Before going through the SAB Foundation’s Tholoana Enterprise Programme, Molebogeng’s monthly income was tight, and she also had limited business skills and has a shortage of equipment.

The grant from the SAB Foundation allowed her to purchase new equipment, including a new security system, a steam iron, industrial washer extractor and a tumble dryer. She was also able to service existing washers and dryers.

The mentorship she received also allowed her to become fully compliant, and implement a financial management system.

Since being part of the programme, she has also seen a 488% increase in turnover, and taken on new clients, including Tiger Brands and the Musina Hotel.

KGANTSHI NGOATO - KGANTSHI PRINTING SOLUTIONS

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Kgantshi is based in Polokwane, Limpopo and runs a printing and graphic design business. When she joined the SAB Foundation programme in July 2015 her turnover was low. Her challenge was limited production capacity due to lack of equipment – she had to outsource a big portion of orders. She also struggled with poor understanding of financial management.

After taking part in the Tholoana Enterprise Programme, Kgantshi’s business has grown from strength to strength. The funding allowed her to purchase a large scale printing machine, which has contributed to her monthly income increase by 2 088%.

Other successful outcomes from the programme include the implementation of new financial management systems, allowing her improved financial control a full rework of costing and pricing, resulting in increased profitability; and a wider client base and service offering.

LAST MILE DISTRIBUTION

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Last Mile Distribution is a global term used by socio economic development practitioners and refers to how you get goods and services out to the last rural mile. There are many social innovation products which aim to offer quality of life improvements for people in these areas for example solar lights, cleaning burning stoves for indoor cooking, fortified nutrition, water carriers, affordable health and hygiene products, to name but a few. The biggest challenges to working with this market are: how do you distribute products to this given that there are no conventional logistics channels; how do they afford products which are expensive upfront but will save them money in the longer term and lastly; how do you educate people about the benefits. People with very limited income are reluctant to change from something familiar which they trust to something new for example, moving from paraffin to solar.

MR LEFIPHA  - SMALLHOLDING FARMER

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“I am speechless. SaveAct’s savings and enterprise programme has helped me with everything. Now I live the life of an employed person, whereas before I was unemployed. I came home from the mines as I was retrenched. Through savings groups and enterprise training I have been able to become self-employed. I can provide for my family. My children can go to school. It’s like I am a working person, while I don’t need to move from home.” Mr Lefipha, a smallholding farmer from a rural village outside Matatiele.