SA women are starting their own businesses and changing the face of entrepreneurship

Terrena Rathanlall discusses how business programmes can help entrepreneurs reach their goals and thrive. Picture: Vusi Adonis

Terrena Rathanlall discusses how business programmes can help entrepreneurs reach their goals and thrive. Picture: Vusi Adonis

Published Sep 15, 2022


By Terrena Rathanlall

Johannesburg – The number of women entrepreneurs in Africa is increasing, and the good news is that they are playing an essential and larger role in the South African economy.

According to the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs, South Africa is one of only 12 economies in the world where more women see entrepreneurship as the path to a better future.

In a study of 374 SMEs on Fetola business development (BDS) programmes, women-led businesses grew twice as much as businesses with male founders.

In fact, seven out of the eight award winners at graduation this year were women. Clearly, BDS programmes are key to unlocking growth in small businesses owned by women.

Entrepreneur Sinenhlanhla Ndlela quit her television career to start her dairy-free ice cream company Picture: Supplied

Sinenhlanhla Ndlela started her entrepreneurial journey because she wanted to create the ultimate guilt-free dessert.

This young woman turned her back on a career in TV because she wanted to heal herself and others like her who were lactose intolerant.

“My first batch of ice cream was so bad, I almost quit and went back to work,” she laughs.

She persevered and eight months later, she opened Yococo, a dairy-free, artisanal ice cream company, and her first batch of cookies-and-rooibos flavoured vegan ice cream was sold at the Rosebank Market in Johannesburg.

But building a business was not what she expected

“My first year in business was horrible but also fun. I was filled with doubt; it was scary – I started with big dreams and then realised that I had to adjust my expectations. I realised how much work was needed to make this dream come true,” said Ndlela

So, she looked around and found a business development programme that was the right fit for her needs

“I had to learn how to run a business, especially about the importance of financial management. But perhaps my most important realisation was that it was more important for me to grow as a person than it was for me to grow my business,” said Ndlela .

Knowing how to align her personal vision with her business was just the boost she needed: today Yococo has an online store, supplies stores in Gauteng and KZN and its unusual flavour combinations have won awards.

Similarly, Hajira Mashego, the owner of Fitness Junction, was motivated to improve the lives of those living in townships and rural areas by giving them better access to affordable fitness products and services.

Like others in the industry, Fitness Junction took a hard knock during lockdown – her gym lost many members and she still had to pay rent and salaries.

But she was on a business programme at the time and was part of a network of entrepreneurs who were experiencing very similar challenges. She said it made the journey less lonely, knowing that she could reach out to a skilled mentor or fellow entrepreneur whenever she needed extra support.

Founder of gym franchise Fitness Junction Hajira Mashego. Picture: Supplied

She said: “The programme helped me to re-evaluate my strategy, my costing, and pricing and linked me to a very knowledgeable mentor.”

Hajira and her mentor explored strategies to maintain her cash flow, such as implementing a loyalty programme to attract new and old members, as well as launching a unique concept called Gym in a Bag. This service was aimed at people who prefer to exercise alone and those who did not want to exercise at the gym because of Covid-19.

It was a far cry from when she started her business as it felt like she was “meandering through the entrepreneurship wilderness and encountering horrendous obstacles that I could never have imagined”.

“I started realising that failure was a strong possibility,” she said.

For Hajira, the support she received enabled her to do what she loved on a bigger scale. Her business grew by 168% during the programme. She is now working on franchising opportunities for remote areas, thereby promoting entrepreneurship, job creation and reducing poverty in those areas that desperately need it.

When Bontle Tshole started Baaa Health in 2017, she wanted to promote a healthy lifestyle and tackle lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

Founder of Luminary Thrivist Bontle Tshole. Picture: Supplied

Bontle recently launched Luminary Thrivist, a platform that helps women register their businesses in 10 minutes. She was selected as one of Forbes Africa #30under30 class of 2021 Change Makers.

While she was on the BDS programme her business grew tenfold. She admits that she had to make sacrifices and difficult decisions to get to where she is today but being part of a programme was eye-opening and it helped her grow her business and achieve success. Now she is sharing what she has learnt with other entrepreneurs

“My vision for 2022 is to help 50 young women build legally compliant businesses. We’re getting women investment ready” she said.

There are countless other stories just like this; when entrepreneurs like Sinenhlanhla, Hajira, and Bontle who are serious about success get the right professional help to strengthen and scale their business, they are able to make a positive effect on their community.

They are also able to access tools and support that give them the confidence to build businesses that are sustainable and have long-term generational impacts.

* Terrena Rathanlall is the SME media portfolio manager at Fetola, a company that creates sustainable solutions that help solve unemployment, inequality, and poverty.

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