Women all over the world are the powerhouses behind some of the newest, innovative start-ups and concept businesses. South African businesswomen are gaining momentum in this global arena too, with success stories like the 13 ladies below.
Female-led business growth is happening in South Africa, despite the latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) statistics showing that only 6.2% of South African females take the leap into entrepreneurship.
These 13 black female businesswomen are going against statistical trends and represent some of the rising stars in South Africa’s entrepreneurial landscape.
- Entrepreneur: Boitumelo Ntsoane
- Business: Afrilink HealthCare
- Website: www.afrilink.co.za
Boitumelo Ntsoane calls herself a ‘typical’ township girl; born to a teenage mother who raised her child to go after what she wanted in life.
Ntsoane says that one of the biggest motivators that put her on the path of entrepreneurship early on in her life was her mom threatening that if she didn’t work hard enough, she would end up working in a fish and chips shop for the rest of her life. To prevent the fish and chips shop scenario from becoming a reality, Ntsoane studied hard and received a scholarship to study toward a pharmacist’s degree.
Once Ntsoane joined the working world, she found it very restrictive, and it made her feel trapped because she felt as if she were fulfilling someone else’s vision. Ntsoane decided that she needed more flexibility; this would allow her to follow her vision and still have time for herself.
Her need for independence sparked the creation of Afrilink Healthcare, which began as a small medical centre in a residential area hosting a doctor, dentist, optometrist and a pharmacy.
After two years, Ntsoane re-invested all of her profits back into her business to purchase a fully furnished mobile clinic, which also incorporated an in-house clinic managed by a retired nurse.
Now, Afrilink Healthcare assists Tshwane Department of Health to conduct school-based health campaigns, which has touched 386 schools so far.
A growing number of healthcare centres are opening in mining communities, with a view to improve access to healthcare and health education. Ntsoane sees this as an opportunity to expand and enhance the reach of Afrilink Healthcare.
Boitumelo Ntsoane’s key thought on achieving business success:
“To young entrepreneurs starting out, I would say keep your eyes on the vision, continuously work on yourself and develop those individuals around you, because they will ultimately assist you in achieving success.” – Boitumelo Ntsoane
- Entrepreneur: Phuti Mahanyele
- Business: Sigma Capital
- Website: www.sigmacapital.co.za
Phuti Mahanyele embarked on her entrepreneurial journey after she had successfully navigated the corporate world as an employee. She doubled the Shanduka Group’s net asset value to R8 billion in five years.
Many describe Mahanyele as a titan of industry, and a trailblazer in what many consider to be a predominantly male dominated sector (Finance).
After experiencing a stroke, and having successfully recovered from it, she began to question her priorities in life. She decided to start a business of her own, instead of working for someone else.
Mahanyele founded Sigma Capital in 2015 and the company is already becoming a nimble player in the finance sector, with a strong focus on building sustainable partnerships.
Phuti Mahanyele reveals one of her key secrets to sustainable business success:
“When going into business, you should view yourself as a business person. People treat you the way you treat yourself. If you come in feeling at a disadvantage, you are already at a disadvantage.” – Phuti Mahanyele
- Entrepreneur: DJ Zinhle
- Business: The Firm Understanding of Sound Entertainment Academy (FUSE)
- Website: www.fuse-academy.co.za
DJ Zinhle burst onto the local music scene almost 10 years ago. Born and raised in KwaZulu-Natal, her family used to rely on candles for light.
“If an uncle gave me R5, my mother would make me give it back. It taught me the value of waiting,” recounts Zinhle.
She has served as resident DJ on the SABC1 music show Jika Majika, and she has hosted her own radio show on YFM.
Zinhle diversified her career path by branching into acting; having appeared on television series like Rhythm City and eKasi: Our Stories.
With a view to assist younger generations that want to work in the music and entertainment sectors, Zinhle and her business partner, Nomndeni Mdakhi, launched The Firm Understanding of Sound Entertainment Academy (FUSE). The establishment is the first DJ’ing academy in South Africa that specifically targets female DJs. To date, more than 500 young female DJs have graduated from the academy.
Zinhle has also branched into the fashion sector, with an online accessories shop called Era by DJ Zinhle, which is steadily growing in success.
DJ Zinhle shares her advice on knowing what you want, and taking it:
“My message to women is: stop being lazy. Women can fight harder for the things they want. Dreaming takes guts. It must scare you. Women are so apologetic about making money. We need to get to the point where we are like, ‘We want this big money’.” – DJ Zinhle
Polo Leteka Radebe
- Entrepreneur: Polo Leteka Radebe
- Business: IDF Managers
- Website: www.idf.co.za
Polo Leteka Radebe had an entrepreneurial spirt from a very young age, but she couldn’t quite settle on what she was most passionate about, particularly when it came to pursuing a career as an independent businesswoman.
She ended up working in the corporate sector, while running a few smaller businesses on the side.
After her stint in the corporate sector, she moved on to a position within Government. It was during her tenure in Government that she realised she wanted to have a greater impact in helping South Africans follow their dreams; through opening their own businesses.
Radebe started Capital Partners, a small and medium enterprises advisory and fund managing service firm. She partnered first with Sonja De Bruyn Sebotsa who specialises in investment banking and later on with Sipho Mofokeng who now runs the third business in the company Identity Resources. The company has now evolved into IDF Managers.
Polo Leteka Radebe on how women should think about entrepreneurship:
“We need to socialise the young girls that are coming up differently, to say we too belong, we are equally entitled to be here. That is how we will change and transform our society. We mustn’t wait for an invitation; we must walk into the door ourselves.
“That’s what we did; we walked into a space that was male dominated, but once you’re in, you need to follow through. You can’t just walk in all confident, the quality of the work you do should speak for itself.” – Polo Leteka Radebe
- Entrepreneur: Michelle Okafor
- Company: Michelle Okafor African Designs
- Website: www.michelleokafor.co.za
Michelle Okafor was working as a travel agent when she was first inspired by the beautiful, bright and eye-catching fabrics she saw on a trip to Nigeria.
When she returned home after her trip, she felt a compulsion to create gorgeous pieces of clothing using the fabrics she had seen.
Today, boutique stores and on her online shop hosts her distinctive and colourful designs.
Okafor’s collection includes everything from dresses to jackets, to shoes and accessories. You can clearly see her vision to combine traditional African culture with fashion trends, in every piece she creates.
Michelle Okafor shares her top strategic advice to women wanting to be entrepreneurs:
“You need perseverance; you would need to put in the hours. It is great to have a product on paper and know the whole process, but executing a business plan successfully is critical.
“Always remember why you started your business in the first place, and let that drive you. Don’t give up unless you have exhausted all avenues (and these are endless).” – Michelle Okafor
- Entrepreneur: Sonia Booth
- Business: Bonneventia S Footwear
- Website: www.bonnventiabooth.co.za
Sonia Booth has reinvented herself multiple times, and she always seems to know what her next move is and how she’s going to remain relevant.
She was an international model, which offered her the opportunity to network and meet the right people at a young age. She saw a gap in the market, and decided to branch into designing, producing and manufacturing a local brand of custom handmade shoes.
After establishing the Bonneventia shoe line, Booth moved on to her next step; becoming a renowned author of ‘How to reinvent yourself & stay relevant’. Her book shares practical tips for brand management and innovation. Booth explains in her book that making your brand stand out is a strategic move to assist your business in securing much-coveted contracts or promotions.
Sonia Booth’s three tips to women venturing into business:
- Tip 1: Be a pioneer in your industry.
- Tip 2: Do as much research as you can about your respective industry.
- Tip 3: Don’t consider yourself as the boss, rather consider the whole team. It takes a collective effort; you can’t run the whole business on your own.
- Entrepreneur: Basetsana Kumalo
- Company: Tswelopele Group
- Website: www.basetsanakumalo.com
Basetsana Kumalo’s life changed when she won the Miss South Africa pageant as well as becoming the First Princess in the Miss World Competition. She used this platform wisely, making connections and cultivating a strong network with which she used to launch her professional career.
At only 20, her sense of righteousness helped her to negotiate the deal for Top Billing to become independent, because she believed the show should be doing better than it was. Due to her tenacity and assistance in securing the Top Billing deal she secured a 50% partnership in Top Billing’s production company, Tswelopele Productions.
Her current position is founder and CEO of Basetsana Woman Investment Holdings (Pty) Ltd, where she is focusing mainly in the resources, property, media, telecommunications and IT industries.
Basetsana Kumalo shares strategic advice for future female entrepreneurs:
“When you wake up each morning, you have to think of yourself as a brand and act accordingly, how well you do that will define the brand’s success. If you live the brand well, people start to believe in it and buy into it. Over the years, people have shown great confidence in the Bassie brand and that’s been really humbling.” – Basetsana Kumalo
- Entrepreneur: Sibongile Sambo
- Company: SRS Aviation
- Website: www.srsaviation.co.za
Sibongile Sambo is the founder and managing director of SRS Aviation. Sambo worked for Telkom, City Power and De Beers looking for her passion, until she applied to be an airhostess and got turned down because she didn’t meet the height requirement. So she decided to start her own aviation company.
Today, Sambo is promoting youth and women empowerment globally and is part of a team that is establishing the Southern African Woman in Aviation. This a non-profit company encouraging women to enter the field of Aviation in different levels as well as offering bursaries and scholarships towards fields including Aviation related training.
Sibongile Sambo shares how she, as an entrepreneur, is continuing to promote entrepreneurship:
“I am where I am today because somebody invested in me. It’s my opportunity now to invest in other people.” – Sibongile Sambo
- Entrepreneur: Molemo Kgomo
- Business: Ntombenhledolls
- Website: www.ntombenhledolls.co.za
Molemo Kgomo started her entrepreneurial journey when she wanted to purchase an African doll that would enable her daughters to embrace their heritage and skin colour. However, she couldn’t find anything locally made that she thought was suitable.
So, in true entrepreneurial spirit she decided to create African dolls herself for African people across the whole continent. Initially she sold about 10 and 15 dolls a month, business was picking up but it was slow going. Kgomo then decided to create an online store with which she could reach more people and sure enough the demand was so great it almost overwhelmed her start-up business.
Kgomo is now expanding her product line to include Indian dolls, boy’s dolls and dolls of superheroes that African children can relate to.
Molemo Kgomo shares a valuable entrepreneurship lesson:
“The biggest lesson I’ve learnt as an entrepreneur is to be patient. You’ve got to know what it is you want and you’ve got to have perseverance and faith to carry on no matter how slow it is.” – Molemo Kgomo
- Entrepreneur: Nkhensani Nkosi
- Company: Stoned Cherrie
- Website: www.stonedcherrie.co.za
Nkhensani Nkosi is the founder and designer behind the popular South African brand, Stoned Cherrie. Nkosi has showcased her range at New York Fashion Week and has included the beautiful designs from New York-based South African designer Darryl Jagga.
Stoned Cherrie and Nkosi’s designs and innovative work continue to grow and have become a firm favourite of several African and international icons, including South African pop singer, Lira.
The fashion enterprise has started to attract other ambitious fashion designers, who have a unique voice and interesting point of view to add to the Stoned Cherrie brand.
Nkhensani Nkosi shares advice for budding entrepreneurs:
“I’m a big dreamer – anyone who knows me will tell you that. If you want to achieve anything big in business (or life for that matter) you have to start with a big vision. Sure, you then have to take a step back and analyse what’s realistic, what’s viable, what’s practical, and adapt the picture from there. But for goodness sake start with a vision that’s big!” – Nkhensani Nkosi
- Entrepreneur: Bonang Matheba
- Company: Bonang Matheba Entertainment
- Website: www.bonangmatheba.com
Bonang Matheba is a local example of how celebrities are building themselves into a profitable brand. Starting her illustrious career as a television presenter, she’s now added radio DJ, MC and brand ambassador to her list of accomplishments.
Matheba is one of four women on the planet to be a brand ambassador for Revlon. She has launched her own clothing range with Legit, called Just B, as well as a trendy handbag range called Baby Star. She has also launched a lingerie line called Bonang for Distraction in partnership with Woolworths.
Matheba continues to go from strength to strength, developing profitable business opportunities from what she’s passionate about.
Bonang Matheba shares advice for budding female entrepreneurs:
“If you’re not going to prove yourself, if you’re not going to work hard, if you’re not going to prove why you are worthy, success isn’t going to come to you. No one will help you if you don’t help yourself. If you think you can’t do it then chances are you won’t do it. You need to believe that you are worthy of reaching your goals.”
- Entrepreneur: Matsi Modise
- Company: SiMODiSA
- Website: www.simodisa.org
Matsi Modise started her professional career as an investment banker, but after two years she realised it wasn’t the career for her.
She decided to become an entrepreneur and founded her own company, Furaha Afrika Holding. Furaha Afrika Holding is a Pan-African Advisory company that focuses on entrepreneurship development strategies and coaching; as well as market-entry strategies and investments in business development technologies.
She also co-founded Emerge, a business development advisory business that structures SME development strategies for corporate entities, banks and Institutions of Higher Learning.
Along with her involvement in these two companies, Modise is currently the managing director of SiMODiSA, an industry association with a mission to accelerate entrepreneurship by collaborating with policy makers.
Matsi Modise shares her top advice to budding and future women entrepreneurs:
“Be resilient, the road is tough! No point giving up! Finish what you started! The only security you have is you! Not a job, Not a pay check!” – Matsi Modise
- Entrepreneur: Khanyi Dhlomo
- Company: Ndalo Media
- Website: www.destinyconnect.com
Khanyi Dhlomo started her career in media at the young age of 20. Her first big career break came when she became anchor of the SABC’s prime-time evening news programme.
Today, she is managing director of Ndalo Media, which she founded in collaboration with Media24. Through Ndalo Media, Dhlomo publishes Destiny magazine and Destiny Man. She also started destinyconnect.com, with a view to reach more of her followers.
Along with navigating her personal business successes, Dhlomo is also an Independent Non-Executive Director on the board of The Foschini Group LTD.
Khanyi Dhlomo shares her advice on failure, and success:
“Failure is an opportunity to learn and to do better next time. It’s part of the path to greatness, which was never meant to be smooth.” – Khanyi Dhlomo