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Universal Computer Arts Academy: Nuno Martins & Peter Den Hartogh

Cape Town school translates digital creativity into real world skills and accolades

Juliet Pitman



Nuno Martins & Peter Den Hartogh of the Universal Computer Arts Academy

Two things are immediately obvious upon meeting Nuno Martins, principal of The Animation School in Cape Town – he’s fanatical about education and he’s a good businessman. With partner Peter den Hartogh, Martins founded what is South Africa’s only dedicated animation school in 2000 and since that time has built an institution that turns out award-winning graduates who are highly sought after by industry.

The Animation School has a string of accolades to its name – five gold Stone Awards, a first place in the MultiChoice Vuka Awards every year since it started entering in 2002 and a graduate who won an Emmy Award just two years after finishing the school’s course.

These successes are thanks to a combination of vision and hard work. Martins and Den Hartogh left Boston City Campus where they were running an animation course to start their own school. “Animation was something we were passionate about in a way that we didn’t feel other people were and we felt we could add more value by offering the course on our own as a niche focus school,” he explains. But, like setting up a business, setting up a school from scratch is no easy task.

Martins explains how he aggressively targeted high schools, giving talks on careers in animation and raising awareness of what was then called the Universal Computer Arts Academy. He elaborates on some of the biggest challenges presented by those early days of trying to market the concept:

“The thing was that we didn’t actually have a school to show them or any track record of the particular course we were offering. Many people have had their fingers burnt by private education institutions and it was a real challenge to convince them that we were going to deliver what we were promising.”

The partners’ qualifications stood them in good stead during this time. Den Hartogh has a lifetime of experience in production and a string of awards, and Martins was certified in Belgium as an international instructor, which means any institution he works at is also automatically certified internationally. ”These credentials certainly helped to motivate students and parents.

After that it was a matter of delivering on our service promise to gain their loyalty and trust,” says Martins. He welcomes moves being made by government through SAQA (South African Qualifications Authority) to accredit and benchmark all private institution qualifications and has become involved in helping SAQA set up a standard for animation courses.

The school constantly watches global animation trends and benchmarks itself against top animation schools around the world.

Martins is acutely aware of the responsibility he has as an educator and one of his key drivers is to ensure graduates will find work. “We see ourselves as servicing the animation industry and have very close ties with it, which is why so many of our students are employed in top production houses around the country,” he adds.

The Animation School team meets with industry representatives at the end of each year to motivate the case for employing their top students. Such a high number of employed graduates sets the school apart in a climate that sees so many highly qualified graduates from other institutions unable to find work.

Martins is a gifted educator, but he’s a businessman as well, as attested to by the growth of the school, which recently expanded into new premises. “It was always a dream of ours to build a school that would match the curriculum we had set. In the past we rented office space but it didn’t have the campus feeling that we wanted for our students,” he explains, adding that one of the most pressing needs was to provide residences for students, 70% of whom were from out of town and overseas.

“With animation being what it is, it’s also important that students are able to live near the place that they work, because it’s not a nine-to-five job,” he says. The school was initially funded by a bank loan, debt that was paid off after just three years.

This track record with the bank paved the way for another loan to build the new premises. Profits have been ploughed back into the school instead of being used to pay the directors huge dividends each year. “Although we run this as a profitable business and I absolutely see myself as a businessman, what we’re really committed to is providing the service people pay for.”

He’s proud of the fact that, in seven years, the school has never had a complaint from a parent or student about the service or level of instruction being provided.

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.


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




Vital Stats

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.

Related: 8 Codes Of Success That Helped Priven Reddy of Kagiso Interactive Media Achieve A Networth Of Over R4 Billion

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.

Related: Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

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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