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Upstarts

Reel Gardening Warns That Innovation Is Never Easy

A young Johannesburg entrepreneur’s invention of a simple way for people to grow vegetables took a long time to flourish, but its time has come.

Monique Verduyn

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Claire-Reid

Vital stats

  • Player: Claire Reid
  • Company: Reel Gardening
  • Established: 2010
  • Contact: +27 (0)11 782 0661
  • Visit: reelgardening.co.za

Claire Reid was just 16 when she came up with an idea in 2002 that propelled her into the public eye and won her many awards and accolades, as well as a lot of heartache.

The founder and CEO of Reel Gardening – a biodegradable colour-coded paper strip that encloses correctly spaced organic fertiliser and seeds, prevents birds from eating the seeds, and keeps the seeds hydrated – had been struggling to grow a vegetable garden.

Related: Quick Shift Deva Kate Emmerson On Crowdfunding

A seed of an idea

It was her fascination with design and problem-solving that led to the idea of the seed strips, won her first prize at a school science competition, and formed the foundation of what has become a South African success story.

“Planting seed strips is far more successful than regular vegetable gardening as the seeds are protected and nourished,” says Reid. “My goal was to find a way to make it easy for people to grow their own food, especially in poor communities.”

But being a teenage science geek was no fun. She was sent around the country, collecting a series of awards for her innovation, but no-one was prepared to give her the funding needed to start production. She was also teased relentlessly at school. By the end of Grade 12, her dream of leaving academia and starting a business had come to nothing. Instead, she went to study at the University of Pretoria’s School of Architecture, where she excelled. After qualifying, she joined a small firm.

Resurrecting the concept

Reel-Gardening

“I was sent into the field on a new housing project for miners. In chatting to the community, I discovered that many of them wanted to grow their own vegetables.”

She dusted off her original idea and took it to Anglo’s Zimele enterprise development programme, where she was offered a R1 million loan to get Reel Gardening off the ground. In 2010, her husband Sean resigned from his job and the two went to Reid’s aunt’s farm in Tzaneen to set up production. They lived on the farm, making seed tape every day, on one machine.

“We targeted retail stores to begin with, and it was a disaster,” Reid recalls. “Without a merchandiser, we had no-one to ensure that our product was visible or displayed correctly on the shelves. By the end of that first year neither of us could draw a salary, and we had just three weeks of cash flow left. I had employed another six people. I had to tell them to look for another job, and I promised to pay them until they found one. It was the worst day of my life.”

A killer proposal

But the very next day she received an email about the SAB Foundation’s Social Innovation Awards. The prize was R1 million and applications were closing in two days.

“I put everything I had into that application and we killed it,” she says. Reel Gardening won, and suddenly the start-up had some financial breathing room.

“We paid off all the debt and bought raw material. We moved out of retail completely and went into a social development programme with the Independent Development Trust (IDT), giving us the opportunity to do good – which is what I wanted all along – and to build a sustainable business at the same time.”

Related: Sonia Booth Wants You To Reinvent Yourself

Today, Reel Gardening is a thriving social enterprise with Unilever and USAID its biggest clients. They buy seed strips from Reel Gardening and help communities learn about gardening so that they can feed themselves. With several million rand in funding, Reid now aims to scale her social enterprise and turn it into an international business.

“We also have a team of 25 people who sell seed strips in communities around the country as part of what we call a purpose-driven profit initiative,” says Reid. “We are helping to create empowered communities that can grow their own food, and establishing micro enterprises through sustainable community garden projects.”

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+.

Upstarts

Watch List: 11 Teen Entrepreneurs Who Have Launched Successful Businesses

These teens are proving that you don’t need a driver’s licence – or the ability to vote – to create and execute a successful start-up.

Diana Albertyn

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In South Africa youth entrepreneurship is encouraged as the best way to build the economy. Teens are no longer relying on tertiary education to jumpstart their careers, as many high school students become budding entrepreneurs. From make-up to confectionary and tech-centred ventures, youth entrepreneurship is taking the business world by storm.

“It’s easier than ever to become an entrepreneur, and technology has a lot to do with it. You’re a tech-savvy millennial, and Internet and mobile technologies make it easier to connect and identify with people, based on shared values and ideals,” says Michael Freestone, founder of the MJF Group. “All entrepreneurs wonder if their companies will succeed, but you don’t really know until you try. So, do it while you’re young and have little or nothing to lose.”

And that’s exactly what teenagers across the country are doing. While being a teenager is stressful enough, without worrying about marketing and your bottom line – these young entrepreneurs thrive on success, which must be their secret sauce to their winning business ideas.

  1. Rabia Ghoor
  2. Cory Nieves
  3. Nathan Woodrow
  4. Isabella Rose Taylor
  5. Mikaila Ulmer
  6. Moziah Bridges
  7. Tony McPherson
  8. Anthony Veck and Malvin Musanhi
  9. Reabetswe Nkonyane, Phumla Mvila, and Thandokazi Mtshakazana
  10. Omphile Sekwele and Didintle Nkambule
  11. Fisokuhle Lushaba and Wendy Nkosi
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Upstarts

10 Young Entrepreneurs Under 30 Share Their Start-Up Secrets

The future of entrepreneurship has never looked so bright…these young entrepreneurs share their wisdom around building a successful business.

Nicole Crampton

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Natural Talent Can Become Your Success

Thabo-Khumalo

Thabo Khumalo

Thabo Khumalo – ToVch

“I learnt to design and sew while assisting my mother who was a seamstress, and that is when I realised that I had a talent to create,” Thabo Khumalo explains. “But I never knew I was an entrepreneur.” Thabo Khumalo started his company ToVch in 2010 and has since appeared in South African Fashion Week, Soweto Fashion Week and Mpumalanga Fashion Week.

Khumalo has a small but engaged audience, who he communicates directly with. “The brand has a dedicated audience, and the social media presence also allows me to continuously scan the fashion environment to keep up with external forces.”

The Lesson

One of the most challenging aspects of launching his businesses was marketing the brand with limited funds. He used social media and word-of-mouth to market. “On social media, people share your brand with others simply because they want to,” says Khumalo. “It’s a powerful platform, and it does not cost anything.” Khumalo built up his company using support from a strong online network, which became his marketing strategy.

Read more on How Fashion Start-Up ToVch Built A Brand Presence With Only A Little Budget.

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Upstarts

For Founder Of National Tekkie Tax Day Having A Higher (Business) Purpose Keeps Her Driving Forward

The NGO space isn’t easy. It’s a constant uphill battle to connect scarce resources with the vulnerable. Annelise de Jager has persevered in this space because she’s tapped into her personal purpose and values.

Nadine Todd

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annelise-de-jager_women-entrepreneurs

Vital Stats

  • Player: Annelise de Jager
  • Initiative: National Tekkie Tax Day
  • Launched: 2013
  • Visit: www.tekkietax.co.za

Use your purpose to drive you forward

Connect your purpose with what you do, and you’ll find untapped reserves of perseverance and the discipline needed to achieve your goals.

Purpose before profit is not a new concept in business. In fact, it underlines the motivations behind some of the most successful entrepreneurs. It’s also not reserved for social enterprises alone.

However, it is in the social entrepreneurship and charitable spaces that living one’s purpose first found a foothold, mostly because without a strong purpose, the work would just be too hard, and many would give up.

Annelise de Jager, founder of National Tekkie Tax Day, unpacks how she’s used living her purpose to drive her forward, even when she’s faced almost insurmountable challenges and disappointments.

Make ‘living a life that matters’ intrinsic to everything you do.

“I was lucky in that I didn’t ever need to sit down and say, ‘I want my life to matter, so I need to do x, y, z’,” says Annelise. “It was intrinsic for me. However, in the past five years I’ve become acutely aware of it, and I’ve seen how important the ability to look beyond oneself is when you’re facing disappointment and challenges.

“It helps you look beyond the now, find a solution and keep pushing on, because there is a bigger goal at stake. The biggest revelation for me has been that anyone can figure this out and use it as a tool to achieve their dreams and purpose — you just need to trigger your intrinsic motivators.

Related: ReWare Did One Crucial Thing That Most Entrepreneurs Are Too Afraid To Do

“Figure out what’s really important to you, and then align this with what you’re doing, in both your business and personal journeys. Robin Bank’s Mind Power and Shaping your Destiny courses are a great place to start.”

Don’t be afraid to ask what’s next

Critical to Annelise’s journey has been the realisation that when goals are met, we need to ask ourselves: What’s next? “Too many people achieve their goals and then feel adrift. You should meet your goals. Your ultimate vision should change. That’s growth, and it’s critical if you want to keep moving forward.

“Our experiences inform our knowledge base and world views, and so as you live and run your business, that view should be changing, bringing with it new challenges and perceptions. Don’t be scared of it; embrace it.”

Annelise went to Potchefstroom University to study social work where she joined the university’s musical revue group, the Alabama Student Company. “Alabama was given the opportunity to tour Taiwan, but I was about to graduate. Travel is high on my personal values list, so I started a second degree in communications to stay in university — and — in Alabama.”

New experiences can be the source of great ideas and strength

Studying communications opened Annelise to a new discipline that she loved. “Marketing and communications are so filled with energy — an energy social work didn’t possess. I loved both, and I wanted to find a way to meld them together. This would ultimately shape my business, The Marketing Team, after I’d been a social worker for a few years. Don’t be afraid to adjust your plans based on new experiences; they can be the source of our greatest ideas and strengths.”

Related: Reel Gardening Warns That Innovation Is Never Easy

No experience is ever wasted

“We spend too much time trying to plan exactly what we should be doing, where and when, instead of following our hearts and instincts,” says Annelise. “No experience is ever wasted. Once I discovered my love for communications, I questioned whether I’d wasted four years studying social work. I hadn’t.

“Both disciplines became the bedrock of how I would assist the charitable space in South Africa. Experiences open our eyes, our hearts, and our understanding. They give us empathy and patience. They allow us to view things from other perspectives. If you want to really make a difference in other peoples’ lives, these traits are invaluable.”

Be open to finding answers in unexpected places

“By 2004 I felt rudderless,” says Annelise. “I’d been running my own business, handling communications and marketing for NGOs, developing campaigns and even assisting NGOs to run more as businesses than under-funded organisations, but it didn’t feel like I was doing enough.

“Part of the problem was that you can only give people the tools to work with, you can’t make them use them. Another problem was under-funding. Corporates spend billions each year on CSI projects but they don’t like to fund salaries and basic operational expenses.

“It’s frustrating because volunteers can’t do what needs to be done — most households need two breadwinners, which limits the availability of volunteers to assist.

“I was looking for a way to add more value. Should I start my own NGO? Where could I make the biggest impact? I’d been offered an excellent coaching position, which would allow me to walk away from the problems this sector deals with daily. It was tempting, but it wasn’t what I wanted.

“At that time I attended the Global Day of Prayer in Argentina on behalf of a client. It was at that conference that I had an almost supernatural experience. I left knowing exactly what my purpose was.

“How these realisations come to you is less important than the fact that you’re open to them. Deep down I knew what I wanted and needed — I just needed the courage and fortitude to follow my path. My experience in Argentina gave that to me because I allowed it to.”

Always find the strength to persevere.

Nothing worth doing is ever easy. In the NGO space, this is particularly true. “I developed the idea for National Tekkie Tax Day because NGOs constantly asked me to help them develop funding campaigns. I developed this fundraising model when I launched Casual Day and ran the project successfully for 18 years.

“But I also believe the NGO space can benefit from a more unified mindset to overcome donor confusion and fatigue. This is my new focus, but it’s difficult to get organisations to shift their mindsets. National Tekkie Tax Day is a step in this direction.

“It encompasses 12 national NGOs and 1 000 regional organisations across five categories — but there’s one product and one national marketing drive. Donors can choose a category to support.

Related: How Fintech Zoona Is Solving Customers’ Real Problems

“I’ve needed to persevere to help NGOs see the benefits in working collaboratively, and corporates to see the benefits of supporting the operational costs of NGOs.

“I don’t have a high profile job at a top company. People don’t call you back in my world. And yet you need to keep pushing forward against incredible headwinds.

“I wake up each morning and repeat the mantra that my success helps everybody; my failure helps nobody. There won’t always be easy wins, but with the right purpose you can persevere. You can make a difference.”

Support National Tekkie Tax Day on 26 May 2017

12 national charities | 1 000 local charities | 5 sectors to support

Animals, Bring Hope, Children, Disability, Education

Available at Toys R Us, Clicks and Babies R Us or online at www.tekkietax.co.za

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