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Shela Business Enterprises: Filbert Mokale & Shela Moyo

A construction company reaps the rewards of being proactive

Juliet Pitman

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Filbert Mokale & Shela Moyo of Shela Business Enterprises

There’s a lot to be said for taking the initiative. When lifelong friends Filbert Mokale and Shela Moyo battled to find work after graduating with electronic and civil engineering qualifications respectively, they refused to sit around being idle and filled their time by getting involved in a range of voluntary community projects.

After hearing news of the Alexandria township renewal project, they launched Filbert and Shela Business Enterprises out of a shack in 2002, hoping to access business opportunities in construction. But the early months were tough and business was anything but booming.

Refusing to be demoralised, the partners attended regular community business networking forums, delivered their company profile to government departments and scanned the press for tenders that,without any capital, they had little chance of winning.

But perseverance and proactive behaviour have a way of paying dividends. “We came across a Department of Housing tender which we wanted to tender for but we needed partners to help us meet the skills requirement. We approached one of the companies we met at a networking event and it brought in a third partner,” recalls Mokale.

They won the tender worth R1, 7 million to carry out an audit on the condition of the structure of various existing houses in Alexandria.But, as Mokale explains, he and Moyo had no capital to carry out the job.

“Our partners, who had the financial muscle, said they were aware that we had no money but that because we took the initiative in approaching them and getting them involved in the opportunity, they would split the profit equally three ways and only claim back their costs,” he says.

The project was run successfully and met all its deadlines. As a consequence, the authorities extended the tender to include an even greater percentage of township buildings. A further tender for the Department of Education worth R1 million followed.

With money in their back pockets, Mokale and Moyo set about sourcing office space. “We rented really smart offices but it was a mistake,” says Mokale. The business won another tender, this time for the Department of Education to build a community centre in Soweto, but being inexperienced, particularly in the area of costing, the partners under-quoted on the tender and lost money doing the project.

“We realised half-way that we were going to lose around R300 000 but we took a decision to complete the project anyway. We had made a commitment to do so and knew that if we abandoned it, our reputation would be so negatively affected that we probably wouldn’t be awarded any more tenders by government,” says Mokale.

This, coupled with the overheads incurred by renting beyond their means, meant the business took a hard knock. But in spite of this,Mokale has a positive outlook on the experience. “We’re very proud of that community centre. We may not have made money on it but we finished it on schedule and it stands there as a showcase of our work,” he says philosophically.

A positive attitude allowed the pair to take on board some tough lessons and remain forward-looking. “We met Cyril Ramaphosa at a networking event in 2003 and months later in 2004 his personal assistant called us to request a meeting to discuss opportunities, and the Shanduka Foundation offered to provide us with business mentoring and skills development to help us run the business more professionally,” relates Mokale.

The next time the business won a tender, Shanduka provided it with a loan to execute the project. “This money enabled us to buy materials and run the contract successfully. We were able to repay the loan on time and we donated a portion of our profit to Shanduka’s Trust as a token of our appreciation, because without them we couldn’t have done it,” he explains.

“The mentorship and incubation services provided by Shanduka have helped the business in other ways as well, especially with things like accounting and costing.”Mokale and Moyo have come a long way since the days when they ran their business out of a township shack. Now they have their eyes on big dreams and hope to compete with the big industry players in the coming years.

As their pay-off line states, vision is about seeing the invisible and this duo has what it takes to make it happen.

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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Watch List: 50 Top SA Black Entrepreneurs To Watch

South Africa needs more entrepreneurs to build businesses that can make a positive impact on the economy. These up-and-coming black entrepreneurs are showing how it can be done.

Nicole Crampton

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Early-stage South African entrepreneurial activity is at an all-time high of 11%, according to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, and entrepreneurial intentions have also increased to 11.7%. With both activity and intentions growing significantly year-on-year, there are more businesses opening up around South Africa than ever before.

The increase in entrepreneurship has seen the rise of more black entrepreneurs across numerous sectors. From beauty brands to legal services and even tech start-ups, these are 50 top black entrepreneurs to watch:

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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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