Connect with us

Women Entrepreneur Successes

Minimax: Sunet Wagner

Cultivating the arts is all about passion, but creating a sustainable business takes adaptation and flexibility.

Nadine Todd



Sunet Wagner

It took losing her biggest stream of income for Sunet Wagner to sit back and completely re-evaluate her business. “We had no depth,” she says of her theatre production company, Minimax. “We needed different layers to sustain us. Instead, we created end-of-year productions for schools and universities, and we were competing with moms who didn’t work who offered a similar service for free. Our skills were not enough of a differentiator to justify our costs.”

Nevertheless, Sunet knew she had something special to offer, she just needed to work out how to package it. “We needed to take our power back, and the only way to do that was to create a platform for our services.” The solution, once hit upon, seemed obvious. Minimax specialises in conceptualising and creating threatre productions, and instead of relying on other institutions to hire it, it has opened campuses that children of all ages can attend during the holiday season. It has created its own client for its services: itself. With 40 campuses already open in under a year, the business model is growing at an exponential rate, and because the workshops are held during the holiday season, they are hosted at local schools. Parents and both primary and high school students love the concept.

“Programmes run for six months, and parents pay us a monthly subscription for their children to be involved. We host holiday workshops at local schools and perform throughout the year. Previously, holiday months were our dead months, now they are our biggest revenue earners,” says Sunet.

Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.


Women Entrepreneur Successes

Colleen Tshikani Makhubele Talks About Finding Her Edge And Growing In SA’s Oil And Gas Sector

There has been a notable rise in female entrepreneurs in South Africa even with the many obstacles they know they need to overcome.




There has been a notable rise in female entrepreneurs in South Africa even with the many obstacles they know they need to overcome.

This is telling of the untapped ambition in the market against the rise in unemployment and economic conditions. Colleen Tshikani Makhubele always had a desire to be in business particularly because of the idea of ownership that it came with. This is the type of ownership that allowed you to empower, contribute to job creation and most importantly being financially independent – something that fueled Colleen’s passion to become the co-founder and CEO of Mzumbe Oil in established in 2012.

Related: 10 Young Entrepreneurs Under 30 Share Their Start-Up Secrets

“My academic strength initially led me to become an IT Engineering specialist and I was privileged to receive a scholarship from the Telkom foundation to study an equivalent of Computer Science degree in Malaysia, Multimedia University when I was 17 years old”, says Makhubele, “I spent almost 4 years in Malaysia and graduated with an honours degree in BIT: Information systems Engineering.

Exposure to the oil and gas industry back in 2012 sparked Colleen’s interest to do business in the space. She identified a need in the market and an opportunity which was growing, created by our government advocating for transformation of industries to include black businesses, women and youth owned business and also to be socially inclusive.

The drive that interested her the most the one focused on access for black women to opportunities in the industries previously dominated by whites and men.

“I saw this need as an opportunity to offer government and commercial clients relevant solutions while at the same time assist them to meet their transformation targets and empower local communities. Our business is structured such that we are able to do this successfully” states Makhubele.

When Shell Commercial Fuels in South Africa brought its distributor model into SA as part of extending business reach and empowering local entrepreneurs, Colleen grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

“We started our relationship with Shell in 2014, when at the time we received our first contract for Mzumbe Oil with Transnet”, adds Makhubele, “Since then we have kept in close contact until the right opportunity presented itself at the right time in the form of the Shell Enterprise Development (ED) Project.”

There was no second guessing, this was exactly what Mzumbe Oil needed to reposition itself and strengthen its capabilities for service and growth. At the time, the country was in the process of a legislative push for transformation and black women empowerment – the timing was right.

“We understood Shell’s commitment to transformation and how they embraced the empowerment of women in this industry and our visions as well as missions were aligned. It made business sense”, says Makhubele.

Related: 10 Inspirational African Entrepreneurs

Although Mzumbe Oil is in the process of engaging and exploring the full benefits of Shell’s ED programme from a skills development, capability assessments and interventions perspective, there has been noticeable progress and improvements in her business since initial engagement.

“Our technical teams have been empowered substantially and continue to be trained on product knowledge and relevant applicable industries. Our sales team is currently in the Sales Development Programme, which is a duration of 6 months. Post this, we will have teams that are able to sell our products effectively and competitively with the support of in-house technical teams that have the relevant knowledge to advise out customers on the solutions required”, adds Makhubele.

Through Shell’s technical support, we have received great support in presenting our solutions to potential clients and association has opened the Shell network of distributors that has helped reinforce our capacity for storage depot and logistics”, adds Makhubele.

Mzumbe Oil is well on the road to becoming a Shell Branded distributor which will favorably position them in the market with the support of the best of the best oil companies in the market. Makhubele also notes that Mzumbe Oil has gained access to superior products that they now offer to their existing and potential clients.

One thing that stands out for Colleen is how the company has been positioned where they can win big contracts with Shell’s technical support and capability behind us.

Reflectively, Colleen notes the importance of getting women involved in all key industries of our economies in SA and in Africa.

Related: The 10 Strangest Secrets About Millionaires

“Women have a unique value to add based on our skills set and natural nurturing instincts that promote sustainable growth. We are very key in growing these industries to be socially inclusive, retaining talents and bringing new innovative solutions. Women have to start getting involved at Board level, director level and senior management levels. There are opportunities in the upstream in terms of explorations, refining, drilling, manufacturing”.

She is quite happy in her current role as the CEO of Mzumbe Oil but does see herself growing into the role of Chairperson. “This will enable me to network more and focus on growing the company in different product streams such as renewable energy and investing in the upstream activities”.

Continue Reading

Women Entrepreneur Successes

The Masisizane Fund’s CEO Zizipho Nyanga Shares Her Story To Success

Zizipho Nyanga (née Mqwala), CEO of the Masisizane Fund, unpacks how this attitude helps business owners access funding and build sustainable businesses.

Nadine Todd



Masisizane Fund

Vital Stats

  • Player: Zizipho Nyanga (née Mqwala)
  • Company: The Masisizane Fund
  • Position: CEO
  • Qualification: CA(SA)
  • What they do: The Masisizane Fund is an Old Mutual initiative that was established in 2007 following the closure of the Unclaimed Share Schemes Trust in consultation with the National Treasury of South Africa. Masisizane was set up as a non-profit funding company to provide loan financing and support to SMEs.
  • Launched: 2007
  • Visit:

My own career and the path that led me to developmental finance has enhanced the certainty in me that we create our own futures. What you put in is what you get out. I was a CA(SA) who worked within EY’s external audit and risk advisory services. I’ve always wanted to add value and help people in everything I do.

I quickly realised that I enjoyed identifying challenges that companies faced and helping them find and implement solutions. It’s the reason why I left EY to become a financial manager at Kagiso Media. It was an entrepreneurial business in a high growth phase.

From there I joined an investment firm, and then the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC). Each step brought me closer to where I am today, and built on my personal skills and understanding of business and the support that SMEs need. If you’re doing what you love, and you’re willing to build the necessary skills, you’ll forge the right path, whether that’s in a corporate career or your own business.

Related: 5 Key Tactics That Helped Gill Bowen And Tim Hartzenberg Revitalise The Shooshoos Brand

As a dealmaker at the IDC I got my first clear look at why people are rejected for funding. Too often it comes down to a simple lack of preparation: Not preparing an adequate business plan; not taking the time to really understand your market, competitors and even your own positioning; and not researching the funder you’re approaching to ensure their mandate aligns with your business offering.

I was particularly surprised by how many people outsourced their business plans. How do you run your business if someone else does the plan for you? We saw so many entrepreneurs who weren’t willing to do the most basic things. Getting funding requires patience; there’s a lot of necessary legwork.

People want the money, but they’re not willing to do the work to get it, and that’s often just their first big problem. Success takes time. It takes hard work. And it takes a willingness to patiently and systematically follow a growth path. In other words, success begins in the mind.


If you want to be successful, you have to look to the future, keep your eye on the ball, and then painstakingly work towards your goals. From a funding perspective, step one is developing your own business plan and all that this entails.

Step two is researching each organisation you’re thinking of approaching and learning what they offer and what their mandate is. Step three is planning ahead.

So many business owners approach funders when they are under pressure and need cash immediately. Not only does this reveal a detrimental lack of fore-planning, but it means the whole process becomes rushed, and owners approach any and every fund they know about. This means there’s little regard to whether it’s the right funder whose mandate matches the business. The more a business owner does this, the more it discourages them should they be rejected by funders.

Funding takes time. Start your business. Bootstrap it if you can, and begin the process of identifying and approaching the right funders with a goal of securing funding in 18 to 24 months, instead of a few weeks. Those are the businesses that attract attention. If you can show you’re a planner who is willing to go the distance, you’re already ahead in the game.

You need to leave your ego at the door. This is one of the best pieces of advice that I can give to any business owner. Passion is great, but be careful of being too internally focused. If you spend too much time celebrating your business idea and your own cleverness, you won’t focus on how to access your market. Who is going to buy what you’re selling?

Understand that you have to have a market you’re serving, and that this is the single most important thing a funder is interested in, because they know that without a market, you have no business. It’s amazing how many entrepreneurs start with ‘me’ instead of their target market. As a business owner, your goal is to serve someone else’s needs. Who is the customer? And what are their needs?

Entrepreneurs tend to want to run the business alone. We call these ‘one man bands’, and they’re far too prevalent. They’ve had an idea, it’s theirs, and they’re precious about it. So precious that they don’t appreciate a sense of partnership. This can be a technical partner, a financial partner, someone with the necessary business acumen and experience that the entrepreneur might lack.

Related: For Founder Of National Tekkie Tax Day Having A Higher (Business) Purpose Keeps Her Driving Forward

The reality is that no-one has all the skills and experience necessary to build a robust and sustainable business. The best businesses are built by teams who complement each other. If you can leave your ego behind, and find someone who can take a stake and help you scale the business, you’re already well on the path to success.


Success is all about partnerships. I was fortunate to have the experiences I did at the IDC with SMEs looking for funding, because it gave me the peripheral vision I needed to really understand the important role the Masisizane Fund can play in South Africa’s entrepreneurial development. First and foremost, it’s about working with other funders and corporates to achieve our goals. It’s through partnerships that real change is achieved. No one ever achieved real success alone.

We see this within SMEs, and will always support partnerships at the helm of a business and in the roles we play. Our model is to partner with organisations with a similar mindset to our own, such as the SEFA, IDF, Anglo-Zimele and various government departments that offer grants. This allows us to achieve measurable impact and de-risk.

Many entrepreneurs don’t have owner’s contributions and can’t afford 100% debt. They will never be able to repay it and build a sustainable business. We’re an organisation that offers loans, and so we partner with organisations that can assist entrepreneurs with equity/grants. This reduces the debt entrepreneurs are looking at, and increases a business’s chance of success. We’ve found that the right combination of debt, equity and grant solutions gives businesses a real chance at success.

Partnerships go beyond finance however. They’re also about skills, support and mentorship. It’s said that it takes a village to raise a child. The same is true of business. The stronger your network and support system, the higher your chances of success. We’re all about capacity building. We identify entrepreneurs who we believe have the right attitude, mindset, willingness to put in the hard work required, and either technical skills or business acumen — and then we put support systems in place.

This could be through a mentor who co-manages the business, business courses, or placing financial managers in the business. It’s all about identifying what the business needs are. We have a partnership in place with SAICA that places CA(SA) in the SMEs we support, creating jobs for graduates and supporting entrepreneurial businesses simultaneously.

Often, the difference between success and failure is the right support at the right time. This isn’t about waiting for someone to come and assist you though. It’s about walking a journey with the right partners. This begins with accepting that you need assistance, and being willing and able to continuously learn and develop yourself and the business. If you can do that, and you have the patience to see your own goals through, you will be successful.

Ask Yourself

Are you willing to put in the time to really make a success of yourself? Funders look at the entrepreneur as much as the business model. They evaluate the entrepreneur’s mindset. Are you working on yourself as much as you’re working on the business?

Continue Reading

Women Entrepreneur Successes

7 Foundations Monalisa Zwambila Of Riverbed Believes You Must Have In Place To Build A High-Growth Company

Here’s how Monalisa Zwambila learnt to articulate her vision to propel her company’s growth.

Nadine Todd



Monalisa Zwambila

Vital Stats

  • Player: Monalisa Zwambila
  • Company: Riverbed
  • Launched: 2007
  • Turnover: R80 million
  • Awards: Winner of the Regional Business Woman of the Year 2017
  • Visit:

There comes a time in a business’s lifecycle when you realise you are through your start-up journey, and if you want to build a high-growth organisation, you need to put the right foundations in place.

For Monalisa Zwambila, founder of Riverbed, a through-the-line communications agency, that realisation happened in 2013, six years after she had launched the business.

“Four years ago I had an epiphany,” she says. “We had 15 employees and a turnover of R18 million. I realised that if we were ever going to get bigger, I needed to find a way to get my vision out of my head, and into the organisation. It needed to be more than just me working towards a goal. It needed to be the whole organisation working together towards a shared dream.”

Today Riverbed employs 40 people and has a turnover of R80 million, with 100% year-on-year growth. These are the foundations Monalisa has put in place to achieve this growth and they remain the foundations of where she plans to take the business.

Related: Edward Moshole Founder Of Chem-Fresh Started With R68 And Turned It Into A R25 Million Business

1Articulate your vision and get the right people on board


For Monalisa, growth had always been a constant. She had never wanted a two-man operation. But when you’re starting out, it’s not always possible to follow a clear vision. You can have a sense of purpose and fundamentals in place, but you’re also a start-up, and you’ll take what you can get to keep the business operational.

“I was MD of a large communications firm before I struck out on my own,” Monalisa explains.

“I had built a reputation based on excellence, hard work and tenacity, and this opened doors for me, and secured our first two clients. Building an ethical and best-of-breed business has always been important to me. I’m a firm believer that if you continually give your best work, something will come of it, and this is what I look for in my employees. But when you’re launching a business, you also need to be a realist.

“In the early days it was just me, formulating the firm’s strategy, and helping my clients develop the right PR strategy and events for their brand. But I needed people to implement, and when you’re starting out, you’ll take anyone. The shift happened for me when I realised that I couldn’t do it alone. I needed like-minded, great people to get on the journey with me. This would only work if they had a sense of purpose beyond just an ad agency, and I realised that it was up to me to give them that. Once I got it, once I realised that to attract and retain the right people, you need to be able to articulate your vision, it brought about amazing changes, both in the character and the culture of the organisation.”

But articulating your vision is easier said than done, as Monalisa, and countless business owners before her, have learnt. You need to be able to get your vision out of your head and into your employees’ hearts.

Do this: If your goal is growth, having the right people in key strategic areas is vital. To attract and retain the best people for your organisation though, you need a clear vision and culture that they can believe in and add value to.

2Find a clear growth path

To move from where they were, Monalisa recognised a step change was needed for the business. There is only so much room for growth for a PR and eventing agency, and so the next logical move was to become a through-the-line agency. In PR, billings are capped. The advertising space offers a bigger creative outlet, and combining these capabilities makes it possible to offer the same clients more.

“There are two ways to do this. You can either bring in heavy-hitters with a client base and expertise in a different channel to your own, or make an acquisition, and grow the business in that way,” she says.

This is true of any business, operating within any industry. If you want to grow through additional revenue streams and areas of expertise, you can build them slowly and organically, or bring in experts and an existing client base. Monalisa decided to make a strategic acquisition.

“We weren’t a big name in the world of agencies, and didn’t hold the right appeal for a creative with their own clout in the market. We weren’t attractive enough at that time for the level of talent that I was looking for. The only other option was an acquisition. The timing was perfect. The owner of Chillibush Communications wanted to sell the business and exit completely, which suited me well. I didn’t want a partnership; I was looking for new, above-the-line skills and an existing client base. Chilibush had a good reputation in the industry, and a solid client base.”

With the due diligence and an agreement in place, Chillibush and Riverbed merged. Monalisa had achieved her objective of becoming a through-the-line agency, but not without some serious growing pains.

“Chillibush had 30 people, and we had 15. It was a bit like the fish swallowing the whale. I had also debated what we would be called, and I’d settled on keeping Riverbed, instead of Chillibush/Riverbed. I had a very clear vision and purpose, and I didn’t want to dilute that, or lose focus. But it did mean that I was making the conscious choice not to keep the name of an agency that had a good industry reputation, and a larger employee base than my own. Ultimately though, I decided that didn’t matter. There would be teething pains — and there were — but it would be worth it. I just had to stick to my vision.

“It was a challenging time. I was clear about the upside, but it was still challenging. Today we are stronger. We’re clear about our purpose, culture and drive, and what we’re trying to deliver on, but we did lose people during the transition. I learnt a valuable lesson. Once your vision and culture is clear, people are able to determine if it suits them or not. If it does, you have full buy-in. If it doesn’t, it’s better for everyone to move on. It took me time to understand this, and to have the courageous conversations when I needed to. You can’t be everything to everyone. Rather know exactly who you are, and create an incredible space for people who share your vision.”

Do this: Are your decisions short-term money decisions, or long-term growth decisions? From a practical business perspective, Monalisa could have kept the Chillibush name and leveraged it to make money. But even though she believed the acquisition of Chillibush was the best growth move open to her, Monalisa had her own vision — one she worked 16-hour days to achieve. To stay true to this vision, she needed to stay true to the brand she was building. It was a long-term decision, but it’s paid off.

Related: 5 Key Tactics That Helped Gill Bowen And Tim Hartzenberg Revitalise The Shooshoos Brand

3Keep your clients happy


When you’re on a growth path, there’s a fine line between landing big deals and keeping your existing clients happy. This is even more true when it comes to a merger. Riverbed’s team identified the key clients from both businesses, and ensured they were kept happy.

“We needed to win Chillibush’s clients over,” says Monalisa. “We promised it would be a smooth transition — and kept that promise — plus we unpacked the value of what they could now tap into with our additional services, which was to their benefit. These accounts were key — we had higher overheads and a much larger staff complement to take care of. We also made sure we didn’t alienate existing clients.”

Do this: When you’re on a growth path, communicate with your clients often and openly. Be transparent about your plans, and any challenges you’re facing. Unpack the benefits to them, and ask for support when you need it, while giving assurances that any upheavals are short-lived. You never want to alienate existing clients that have supported you up until that point.

4Build your brand

With the right capabilities in place, Riverbed has now focused on brand building. “We’ve been under the radar,” says Monalisa.

“If we want to start securing really big deals, we need to position ourselves in the minds of the right companies. In this industry most pitches are closed tenders, and the process is managed by two or three search companies. We need to be on their radar.”

To achieve this, Riverbed has embarked on its own PR strategy, but this would have been impossible without the ten-year track record that Monalisa and her team have patiently built up.

“The market needs to know who we are. We’re competing against the huge multinationals. We don’t stand a chance unless we get our story out there. We need to let them know that we can do the job just as well, with better local insights, and probably at a better price — but it’s not up to them to find us. It’s up to us to make sure they see us, and can’t ignore us. That takes time — you need to build up a track record. But once you have, it’s time to make use of it, and show your potential clients what you’re made of.”

Do this: Build the right foundations. Most overnight successes are ten years in the making. You need to build credibility and a good reputation. You need the right systems and processes in place to ensure delivery. And you need the confidence to bid for large tenders — and win them.

5Have a purpose — and share it with the world


“We’ve found that to be considered by clients, you need to share your story. People need to notice you, and want to share your story too because it resonates with them,” says Monalisa.

“For us, we’ve launched an initiative called the Greater Good initiative based on my business philosophies. I’ve always held these philosophies, but it took time and experience before I was able to fully articulate them. People and clients have approached me wanting to work with us because we always strive to do Great things for Good. They don’t always remember all the details of what I said, they just know it resonated with them, and that’s the start of the conversation. Ultimately, people do business with people, and so what you care about, and how you do business, matters.”

Monalisa’s path to articulating her vision began with her epiphany four years ago. She realised that all businesses exist within their environments, and impact the world around them. This can either be a force for good or not. “I started thinking about how we can do great things for good,” she explains. “I wanted to align all our campaigns and the clients we choose to work with to this ideal: Where is the good?

“We’ve broken this down into three key areas: Greater good for our clients, which is doing great work and asking what greater good idea can come out of that campaign, and is there a benefit to people?

“Then we look for the greater good for employees. Is there excellence for its own sake? And how do we build, monitor and recognise greatness?

“Finally, is there greater good in the communities we serve? We quantify the pro bono work we do, and we’ve already put two graduates through university. We’ve found that this philosophy gives us purpose, and keeps us all on the same page. We have a benchmark that we can measure our decisions against, and this keeps us on point and all working towards the same goals, which is essential in a growing organisation.”

Do this: Develop a clear vision and purpose, and align this with your core strategy. This gives you a clear point to benchmark all decisions against. What’s your north star and does the current decision support it? This will help you maintain focus and give you and your team fulfilment.

Lessons Learnt

  • It’s all about people. When you go through the process of a structured deal, you tend to do a due diligence on the balance sheets and income statements, but you don’t look at the people, and yet that’s what you’re buying. That’s where the skills lie. This was Monalisa’s biggest mistake – she didn’t spend enough time looking at the people.
  • Leadership is a journey. Recognise that your leadership skills are always a work in progress — and work on them. As the head of your organisation, how you lead your team is essential to your growth prospects.
  • When you make a decision, own it. Monalisa interrogates everything. However, this means that once she makes a decision, she takes complete ownership of it, and never casts blame if it doesn’t work out as planned.
  • Learn to be decisive. When you’re growing a business, you have your head down, working, working, working. And then you look up and realise how many people are now following you. This is often a rough transition for business owners, because you have to own your position — including the tough decisions and conversations that come with it. In this position, decisiveness is crucial. You can’t take time making key decisions that affect your team, business and clients. You need to be decisive.

Key Insights


No man (or woman) is an island                

The greatest entrepreneurs recognise the importance of a team. They know that their role as leader is to articulate their vision in such a way that they attract and retain the right employees, who are ultimately able to execute that vision.

Own your decisions            

Don’t cast blame when things don’t work out as planned. Take the time to evaluate all possible outcomes, weigh your options, and then own your decisions.

As a leader, you need to be decisive, and the best way to make that a habit is to have confidence in your decisions, good and bad.

Remember, ‘no decision’ is worse than the wrong decision.

When you buy a business, you’re buying its skills and people           

Due diligence processes look at a business’s books and finances. They evaluate cash flow, current and potential clients, and growth possibilities. What is often overlooked is the core of the business and what makes it tick: Its people. Spend time getting to know the people — they could be your greatest asset, or your greatest burden.

Continue Reading


FREE E-BOOK: How to Build an Entrepreneurial Mindset

Sign up now for Entrepreneur's Daily Newsletters to Download​​