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Enko Education Investments Matches Money With Passion

Eric Pignot and Cyrille Nkontchou from Enko Education Investments is finding investment opportunities in unexpected places.

Monique Verduyn



Eric Pignot

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South Africa’s education system is often described as being in crisis, so it’s encouraging to know that a start-up led by founders with impressive business credentials has committed to making a difference.

Enko Education Investments (EEI) – founded by Cameroonian Cyrille Nkontchou, a seasoned entrepreneur who holds an MBA from Harvard, and French-born Eric Pignot, a former management consultant with an MBA from MIT Sloan – has set out to build a large network of private schools that serve the emerging middle class. Given the gap in the market, it’s also a great business opportunity.

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Drawn by Possibility

Pignot, COO of the company, left a successful career in the European telecoms industry to build a business model that invests in existing private schools and helps them achieve their full potential.

“There is zero to 1% growth in Europe at the moment,” he says. “I had enough of helping companies to downsize and cut costs. I wanted to do something that enabled meaningful business growth. There is nowhere better than Africa to do that right now, and South Africa is the perfect springboard for the rest of the continent.”

It was as part of MIT Sloan’s Global Entrepreneurship Lab (G-Lab), which links students with entrepreneurs in emerging markets, that Pignot met Nkontchou. They had in common a wish to use technology to help improve access to high-quality education in Africa.

Together, they devised a plan to provide investors with opportunities to invest in private education, which was launched in 2013. EEI has since formed its first partnership with Amazing Grace Private School in Randburg, which has 260 learners.

When Pignot and his team approached the founder, they discovered that the school had financial difficulties. As a result of the partnership, the school has benefited from better management and financial controls. It has also moved to more affordable premises.

Innovation at Work

“We apply business-minded thinking to the education environment,” says Pignot.

“There are many private schools targeted at the previously disadvantaged, so there is no need to create more schools. What is lacking is professionalism, which is where Enko comes in. Teachers and school founders are generally not entrepreneurially minded. By giving them access to more affordable finance, as well as the management skills needed to run a business, we can help them to scale and become more profitable.”

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The profitability of partner schools is critical to the EEI business model. Pignot aims to build a network of 50 schools, comprising 20 000 learners across the continent. It’s this network that will provide EEI investors with a healthy return on investment. Doing good is great, but investors want to see returns too.

Overcoming Early Challenges

For EEI to achieve its goal, school founders have to be willing to accept that the growth and long-term sustainability of a business requires the owner to relinquish total control, and apply more of an entrepreneurial approach to attracting investment.

To gain parents’ trust, which is not easy for a new organisation, Pignot spends a lot of time communicating the benefits of the partnership, as well as the legitimacy of EEI. One of the main advantages for leaners is the curriculum on offer, which is the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme.

This equips them with an international diploma that is recognised by top universities on the continent and around the world.

Pignot and his team are proving that a creative, socially responsible business can offer investors a solid return, while doing something positive for the future of the country.

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“The private sector can offer the education system improved quality, systems and innovation,” he says.

“There are many sectors where this type of thinking can be applied. It’s a question of discovering the opportunities the continent has to offer, and then making the most of them.”

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton



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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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Colin Timmis Says ‘Position Yourself For Success By Starting With The Numbers’

People pay first who they feel pressure from, so people will pay you when they feel pressure from you.






Entrepreneur Colin Timmis founded South Africa’s first cloud accounting practice in 2011, Real Time Accounting. Then, a few years after being appointed as South Africa’s first Xero partner Colin became Xero Country Manager South Africa. Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services.

Related: Pat Pillai On How He’s Helped Over 5000 Entrepreneurs Using 3 Key Steps

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Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform

The Merge vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

Merge Connect




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It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.

“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.

Merge is a social platform that connects entrepreneurs and investors. It aims to simplify, refine and accelerate the process of finding investment for entrepreneurs, and the process of finding investment opportunities for investors. From idea to developed, the platform allows entrepreneurs to present a brief outline of their venture to a network of all investor types. While doing this, entrepreneurs are able to browse through, and connect with investor profiles that suit their requirements.

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From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.

The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.


“We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we believed in our vision and that we were really trying to make a difference, and if we could get others to see that, they would be onboard.” said Zander.

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Chris Peters is one of these individuals that bought into their vision, and became Merge’s first investor. As a successful entrepreneur and part time investor , Chris saw how much value the platform could bring to all entrepreneurs and investors alike. His marketing and strategic background gave him insight into how Merge could play a vital role in a lucrative space, Brand involvement.

“Entrepreneurship and SME development are two key factors that drive economic growth in developing countries like South Africa. That is why brands are currently getting involved, and looking to support entrepreneurs through various means. We have built a platform that allows these brands to successfully market, and execute on the programmes they have created to assist entrepreneurs.” said Chris

Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.

Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

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