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Sani2c: Glen Haw

A dairy farmer and social entrepreneur builds a thriving social entrepreneurship business with the sani2c bike race, creating jobs and changing lives across rural KwaZulu Natal.

Juliet Pitman

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Sani2C

When outdoor adventurer and passionate mountain biker Glen Haw started the sani2c mountain bike race seven years ago, he could never have envisaged that it would grow into the biggest event of its kind in the world.

What started out as a local fundraising event for a small under-resourced rural school in KwaZulu Natal has become a thriving multi-million rand business that creates jobs and supports the education of thousands of rural schoolchildren. “At some schools children’s education is being subsidised at a rate of R400 per child per month, thanks to the race,” says Haw.

Firmly rooted in a social entrepreneurial model, sani2c, presented by BoE Private Clients,  uses the local community and local schools as service providers, paying them an agreed fee to organise everything from pre-registration packs to setting up stations along the route. “They help with the many logistical operations incurred by an event of this magnitude,” says Haw. Activities in this regard include course preparation, bike washing, seconding/food tables, erecting of overnight race villages and catering.

“Wherever possible, we organise sponsorships where large companies donate a range of items that are needed by race participants along the way. This helps the service providers to reduce their costs and to raise even more money, and the sponsors get media coverage whilst being able to contribute to a good cause,” Haw explains, adding that the majority of sponsorships are based on ‘in-kind’ rather than ‘cash’ contracts.

For the majority of organisations involved, the event constitutes their biggest fundraiser. “There are no volunteers – every organisation that works on the event is paid for its services,” says Haw, who describes the model as a foolproof way for the organisations to raise funds while adding value to the event. “The work delivered must conform to a certain standard though,” he adds, “At the end of the day, I need to be able to justify the costs to my riders.”

Since its launch in 2004, sani2c has experienced phenomenal growth, almost doubling the number of entrants each year. A committed focus on the rider experience is partly responsible for the success and significant growth of sani2c. “What’s good for the riders is good for the race is good for everybody,” says Haw, explaining that riders need only arrive with their bikes and their kit. “Everything is provided for them over the three-day period, from tents and mattresses to three daily meals and on-route drinks and snacks,” he says.

That’s no mean feat when you consider that the race covers a 270km off-road route over a  three-day period, taking riders from Underberg near Sani Pass, through the Umkomaas River Valley, to Scottburgh on the KwaZulu Natal south coast.

Being able to attract ever-increasing numbers of participants has enabled sani2c to land large corporate sponsors such as BoE and Subaru, which is why putting the rider first is the business’s core focus.

“When we started out there was not that much competition, but that’s all changed,” says Haw. Keeping sani2c’s position as one of the top events on the mountain-biking calendar requires ongoing innovation. “Every year we introduce something new and exciting, something that provides riders with a unique challenge,” he explains. Many of these innovations are world-firsts, such as the floating bridge constructed across the Umkomaas River in 2011’s race. “It creates a talking point and provides riders with an additional reason to enter,” says Haw.

The increasing demand for entries saw the original event split into two overlapping fixtures in 2011 – a race for serious competitors and an adventure component for social riders. “We’ve split the next race into three fixtures to accommodate the number of entries and ensure that we maintain a unique rider experience that’s not too crowded,” says Haw. Even so, the waiting list for 2012 is longer than it’s ever been. “We thought we’d have saturated the market by now but that doesn’t seem to have happened,” he adds.

What Haw has created in sani2c stands as an example of logistical and business excellence. It also demonstrates just what can be achieved when you harness the power of a community to the benefit of all.

Securing the supply chain

Loyalty to service providers generates good relationships.

Sani2c is officially the world’s largest fully serviced mountain bike stage race. Managing the logistics of such an event is no small undertaking and relies heavily on having a supply chain that’s reliable and consistent. In this regard Haw believes that relationships are key. “For the most part we’re using the same service providers as we’ve always done since the race’s inception. This means they know the race and they understand our service and quality requirements,” he explains. Service providers have also grown with the race and Haw highlights this as an important success factor.

“Every year they have been able to make improvements to their service which ultimately benefits our riders,” he says, adding that the investment made in developing relationships with these service providers has paid dividends tenfold. It’s an important lesson for other entrepreneurs.

If customers and staff form two pillars of business success, suppliers form the third and yet they are often taken for granted. Entrepreneurs who treat their suppliers as business partners instead of adversaries gain multiple advantages for their businesses. Investing in supplier relationships means that suppliers are in a better position to understand the needs of your business and this in turn secures quality, continuity and responsiveness.

By the numbers

BoE Sani2c’s winning formula.

1 Status as world’s largest fully serviced mountain bike stage race

3 Number of days it takes to complete the multi-stage route

76 The number of farms riders cross along the route

763 The number of participants who listed their occupation as ‘entrepreneur’

2000 Number of workers involved in the event

2600 Number of riders who participated in 2010

2007 & 2008 Won Best Cycle Race of the Year award

R2 million Spent on accommodation alone during the 2011 event

R5 million Put back into rural communities between Underberg and Scottburgh

R40 million Estimated indirect spend in the region as a result of the race (Tourism SA)

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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