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Ecocentric: Jutta Berns-Mumbi

A green buildings consultant combines passion for the environment with good business sense to produce a compelling value proposition.

Juliet Pitman

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Juta Berns-Mumbi of Ecocentric

There’sa new term, coined as a result of the green revolution, that’s currently doingthe rounds. It’s called “greenwashing” and it is to “green” what windowdressing is to BEE. Companies have recognised the considerable marketing andbrand loyalty value to be gained from being green and therefore use anyenvironmentally-friendly activity, however tenuous its link or questionable itstrue environmental impact, to position themselves as such. It’sa trend that gets up Jutta Berns-Mumbi’s nose. “Being green should be about havinga true, measurable, positive impact on the environment,” says the MD ofEcocentric, a green building consultancy which partners with organisations tomake their new and existing premises green. “Of course there is nothing wrongin leveraging your company’s green activities for marketing purposes, but thereality is that most companies that greenwash aren’t interested in making areal change to the environment,” she adds.

Seeing the gap

Inthe United States,greenwashing has quickly led to consumer fatigue and cynicism, and forBerns-Mumbi’s business it presents both challenges and opportunities. On theone hand, there’s the risk of Ecocentric being lumped together with every othercompany that’s looking to make a quick buck out of the green revolution. “Assomeone who was trained as an environmental economist, the environment issomething I have always been passionate about, personally as well asprofessionally. Over the years I’ve seen ‘green’ issues shift from the fringeto being more mainstream, as people have realised the need for urgency inchanging the way we manage the environment,” she says. But what this means isthat suddenly a niche market has become flooded. Onthe other hand, however, there’s a real opportunity for a company likeEcocentric to set itself apart from the herd as the accredited expert in itssector. Which is precisely what Berns-Mumbi has done.

Differentiatingthe business

Inhelping companies come up with strategies to make new and existing buildingsgreen, Ecocentric takes an holistic and integrated approach. “We look ateverything from construction, materials and water and energy resources tooverall greenhouse gases and carbon footprint. A green building is so much morethan one that recycles paper or turns off lights,” she says. Thisintegrated approach is coupled with a strict adherence to principles set out ininternational green building ratings tools, and Ecocentric works together withthe South African and US Green Building councils. “These rating tools are veryimportant because they provide external verification, based on internationallyaccepted benchmarks, that a building is green,” she says. This not only givesclients an expert stamp of approval, but it goes a long way to preventinggreenwashing.

Establishingexpert status

Ecocentric’sposition as a leader has been strengthened by Berns-Mumbi’s own reputation asan expert in the green building and environmental management industry. Along with her degree in environmentaleconomics, she is one of just two people in South Africa to have a LEED(Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) professional accreditation fromthe US Green Building Council. She is in the process of seeking accreditationfrom BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method) in the UK and Green Star in South Africa, and has been invitedto speak at various environmental conferences. She also sits on the technicalcommittee of the Green Directory, a supplier and services list of truly greencompanies, which is currently being compiled by one of her associates. “It willalso help to reduce greenwashing,” she says.

A businessapproach

Butwhile Berns-Mumbi is passionate about the environment, she’s not an eco-hippie.“I’m not about trying to convince people to eat muesli and live in a grass house,”she laughs. “Green buildings make sense for businesses because they reducecosts, and I highlight these benefits to clients. There’s a compelling story tobe told about why it makes sense to go green, and that’s what I focus on.”It’sa story to which big business is starting to pay attention. Ecocentric iscurrently in the process of helping one of South Africa’s leadingtelecommunications providers to pursue LEED certification for its head officebuilding. “Aswe see more companies embracing the fact that green is not about scoringpoints, but about making a real impact, our market is going to grow. Thechallenge is to make sure we keep up and retain our expert status,” she says.Is it a challenge the business is up to? You bet. Contact:www.ecocentric.co.za +27 11 646 8103

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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Watch List: 50 Top SA Small Businesses To Watch

Keep your finger on the pulse of the start-up space by using our comprehensive list of SA small business to watch.

Nicole Crampton

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Entrepreneurship in South Africa is at an all-time high. According to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), total early-stage entrepreneurial activity has increased by 4.1% to 11% in 2017/2018. This means numerous new, exciting and promising small businesses are launching and growing.

To ensure you know who the innovative trailblazers are in the start-up and small business space, here are 50 of South Africa’s top establishing companies to watch, in no particular order:

  1. Livestock Wealth
  2. The Lazy Makoti
  3. Aerobuddies
  4. Mimi Women
  5. i-Pay
  6. AfriTorch Digital
  7. Akili Labs
  8. Native Décor
  9. Aerobotics
  10. Quality Solutions
  11. EM Guidance
  12. Kahvé Road
  13. HSE Matters
  14. VA Virtual Assistant
  15. Famram Solutions and Famram Foundation
  16. BioTech Africa
  17. Brand LAIKI
  18. Plus Fab
  19. LifeQ
  20. Organico
  21. 10dot
  22. Lenoma Legal
  23. Nkukhu-Box
  24. Benji + Moon
  25. Beonics
  26. Brett Naicker Wines
  27. Khalala
  28. Legal Legends
  29. The Power Woman Project
  30. Aviro Health
  31. AnaStellar Brands
  32. Data Innovator
  33. Fo-Sho
  34. Oolala Collection Club
  35. Recomed
  36. VoiceMap
  37. ClockWork
  38. Empty Trips
  39. Vula Mobile
  40. SwiitchBeauty
  41. Pineapple
  42. The Katy Valentine Collection
  43. OfferZen
  44. KHULA
  45. Incitech
  46. Pimp my Book
  47. ART Technologies and ART Call Management
  48. Prosperiprop
  49. WAXIT
  50. The Sun Exchange
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How 28-Year Old Entrepreneur Adam Fine Is Leveraging The Global Phenomenon Of Five-A-Side Football

Adam Fine of Fives Futbol discusses how he leverage a global phenomenon and the value of strategic partnerships in business.

Monique Verduyn

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Vital Stats

Nothing about Adam Fine is by-the-book. The 28-year-old entrepreneur describes himself as a slightly big child. He’s the CEO of one of the most exciting start-ups in South Africa, having leveraged the global phenomenon of five-a-side football to start a business that has grown almost as fast as the game itself. Not bad for a venture that was launched with the princely sum of R85 000 — Fine’s life savings at the time.

He started it in 2011, with a strong focus on corporate social investment and making a positive social impact. It was by forming strategic partnerships that Adam really managed to grow Fives Futbol. He’s opened pitches in prime locations that serve both the school and corporate markets, while still being accessible for social impact interventions in local communities.

Related: 3 Local Entrepreneurs Share Their Business Challenges And How They Overcame Them

Pivoting at the right time is key to growth

The challenge:

In the last 18 months, Fives Futbol has trebled in size, and achieved some amazing milestones — it now employs 50 full-time staff, and 80 part-timers. It’s one of the factors that drives Adam, as many of his employees support up to eight family members. It’s now also represented in four provinces and 15 locations around the country. By September, there will be 18.

Quick growth means you have to be able to pivot quickly when things do not go according to plan, and mostly they don’t, Adam says. “If things are not working you should be able to ‘pivot’, to shift your focus. And do it fast. It’s not a sign that things have gone wrong by any means, on the contrary, it means you have the insight to recognise that there is a problem with the assumptions on which you have built your business model. The decision to pivot is a big one, and not something to be taken lightly. It requires you to take a hard look at your reallocation of resources, and to do it with an open mind.”

The solution:

In Adam’s case, construction delays, councils taking their time to approve, or having to put money into rolling out sites as opposed to marketing, means the promotion of a new site will slow down, for example, because the business does not yet have a large marketing budget.

“When we run behind on the construction of a new site, R40 000 can suddenly become R100 000 — but here’s the thing: If a deal comes along that will probably harm your business in the short-term but enable significant long-term growth, sometimes you have to juggle what you have so you can make it work.”

The Lesson: Choose your investors carefully

Fine says he’s lucky to have a solid group of investors that he has cultivated over six years. “Their input is invaluable. They’ll say, ‘slow down’ or ‘have you thought of this?’, ‘have you factored in that?’ The ability to develop a good relationship with our investors has had a significant impact on the success of the company. Over and above money, they provide wisdom, guidance and connections.”

His relationship with his investors is key. While many entrepreneurs make it just about the money, Adam understood something else — he has a pretty cool brand with a great cause behind it. So, while investors are asked for money all the time, he was able to offer something more than just a business idea — alignment. He generated enthusiasm for the ‘why,’ behind the business. Like most of us, it makes investors happy to know that they are helping to make a positive difference.

And while it’s easy to bandy about the word ‘partnership’, Adam has worked hard to make that a reality. He set out to find like-minded people who are passionate about the business and the cause, which is why they are able to serve as great resources for advice and insight.

Related: Richard Branson’s ABCs Of Business

“The best way to ensure that you and your investors have a valuable and lengthy partnership is to make sure that everyone is aligned on the vision.”

This includes Adam’s team. The internal culture of an organisation is vital to its strength and growth. “Without our team we don’t have a business for investors to support — our people are critical to our success. They’re the executors of the vision at the end of the day.”


The Lesson:  The value of strategic partnerships

Much of the growth of Fives Futbol has been fuelled by finding the right sponsorship partners in key industries. To overcome the challenge of a limited marketing budget, Adam has secured sponsorships with big brands like Adidas, Total Sports, Debonairs, and Klipdrift, allowing Fives Futbol to use their access to communities as a marketing platform to derive income as well as scale. And it works both ways.

“Because we have a national footprint and a team of people, we run activations for our partners, which also provides us with an ancillary revenue stream,” he says. “Knowing how to join forces with other businesses has been a key factor in making the business successful. Our strategic partners have enabled the business to leverage their brand to give us more exposure. When it works well, a strategic partnership can be just what you need to speed up the growth of your business.”

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Watch List: 15 SA eCommerce Entrepreneurs Who Have Built Successful Online Businesses

The advent and advancement of the online marketplace has led these entrepreneurs to successfully build and grow their ecommerce empires.

Diana Albertyn

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South Africa’s ecommerce market is worth R10 billion per year. By 2021, the number of online shoppers is expected to have reached 24.79 million.

“Our recent research on SA shows people are browsing three hours or more on their mobile phones and 25% shop online. They trust local brands,” says Geraldine Mitchley, Visa senior director for digital solutions in sub-Sahara Africa.

These entrepreneurs have cashed in on ecommerce and launched successful online stores that have either established their dominance in the market, or are taking the e-tailing world by storm.

Here’s how these 15 ecommerce capitalists are making money using the Internet:

  1. Aisha Pandor
  2. Andrew Higgins
  3. Kerryn Tremearne
  4. David Davies
  5. Andrew Smith, Paul Galatsis and Shane Dryden
  6. Trevor Gosling
  7. Nicholas Haralambous
  8. Justin Drennan
  9. Neo Lekgabo
  10. Ryan Bacher
  11. Tracy Kruger
  12. Luke Jedeikin
  13. Tarryn Abrahams
  14. Sascha Breuss
  15. Antonio Bruni
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