Women all over the world are the powerhouses behind some of the newest, innovative start-ups and concept businesses. South African businesswomen are gaining momentum in this global arena too, with success stories like the 13 ladies below.
Female-led business growth is happening in South Africa, despite the latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) statistics showing that only 6.2% of South African females take the leap into entrepreneurship.
These 13 black female businesswomen are going against statistical trends and represent some of the rising stars in South Africa’s entrepreneurial landscape.
- Entrepreneur: Boitumelo Ntsoane
- Business: Afrilink HealthCare
- Website: www.afrilink.co.za
Boitumelo Ntsoane calls herself a ‘typical’ township girl; born to a teenage mother who raised her child to go after what she wanted in life.
Ntsoane says that one of the biggest motivators that put her on the path of entrepreneurship early on in her life was her mom threatening that if she didn’t work hard enough, she would end up working in a fish and chips shop for the rest of her life. To prevent the fish and chips shop scenario from becoming a reality, Ntsoane studied hard and received a scholarship to study toward a pharmacist’s degree.
Once Ntsoane joined the working world, she found it very restrictive, and it made her feel trapped because she felt as if she were fulfilling someone else’s vision. Ntsoane decided that she needed more flexibility; this would allow her to follow her vision and still have time for herself.
Her need for independence sparked the creation of Afrilink Healthcare, which began as a small medical centre in a residential area hosting a doctor, dentist, optometrist and a pharmacy.
After two years, Ntsoane re-invested all of her profits back into her business to purchase a fully furnished mobile clinic, which also incorporated an in-house clinic managed by a retired nurse.
Now, Afrilink Healthcare assists Tshwane Department of Health to conduct school-based health campaigns, which has touched 386 schools so far.
A growing number of healthcare centres are opening in mining communities, with a view to improve access to healthcare and health education. Ntsoane sees this as an opportunity to expand and enhance the reach of Afrilink Healthcare.
Boitumelo Ntsoane’s key thought on achieving business success:
“To young entrepreneurs starting out, I would say keep your eyes on the vision, continuously work on yourself and develop those individuals around you, because they will ultimately assist you in achieving success.” – Boitumelo Ntsoane
- Entrepreneur: Phuti Mahanyele
- Business: Sigma Capital
- Website: www.sigmacapital.co.za
Phuti Mahanyele embarked on her entrepreneurial journey after she had successfully navigated the corporate world as an employee. She doubled the Shanduka Group’s net asset value to R8 billion in five years.
Many describe Mahanyele as a titan of industry, and a trailblazer in what many consider to be a predominantly male dominated sector (Finance).
After experiencing a stroke, and having successfully recovered from it, she began to question her priorities in life. She decided to start a business of her own, instead of working for someone else.
Mahanyele founded Sigma Capital in 2015 and the company is already becoming a nimble player in the finance sector, with a strong focus on building sustainable partnerships.
Phuti Mahanyele reveals one of her key secrets to sustainable business success:
“When going into business, you should view yourself as a business person. People treat you the way you treat yourself. If you come in feeling at a disadvantage, you are already at a disadvantage.” – Phuti Mahanyele
- Entrepreneur: DJ Zinhle
- Business: The Firm Understanding of Sound Entertainment Academy (FUSE)
- Website: www.fuse-academy.co.za
DJ Zinhle burst onto the local music scene almost 10 years ago. Born and raised in KwaZulu-Natal, her family used to rely on candles for light.
“If an uncle gave me R5, my mother would make me give it back. It taught me the value of waiting,” recounts Zinhle.
She has served as resident DJ on the SABC1 music show Jika Majika, and she has hosted her own radio show on YFM.
Zinhle diversified her career path by branching into acting; having appeared on television series like Rhythm City and eKasi: Our Stories.
With a view to assist younger generations that want to work in the music and entertainment sectors, Zinhle and her business partner, Nomndeni Mdakhi, launched The Firm Understanding of Sound Entertainment Academy (FUSE). The establishment is the first DJ’ing academy in South Africa that specifically targets female DJs. To date, more than 500 young female DJs have graduated from the academy.
Zinhle has also branched into the fashion sector, with an online accessories shop called Era by DJ Zinhle, which is steadily growing in success.
DJ Zinhle shares her advice on knowing what you want, and taking it:
“My message to women is: stop being lazy. Women can fight harder for the things they want. Dreaming takes guts. It must scare you. Women are so apologetic about making money. We need to get to the point where we are like, ‘We want this big money’.” – DJ Zinhle
Polo Leteka Radebe
- Entrepreneur: Polo Leteka Radebe
- Business: IDF Managers
- Website: www.idf.co.za
Polo Leteka Radebe had an entrepreneurial spirt from a very young age, but she couldn’t quite settle on what she was most passionate about, particularly when it came to pursuing a career as an independent businesswoman.
She ended up working in the corporate sector, while running a few smaller businesses on the side.
After her stint in the corporate sector, she moved on to a position within Government. It was during her tenure in Government that she realised she wanted to have a greater impact in helping South Africans follow their dreams; through opening their own businesses.
Radebe started Capital Partners, a small and medium enterprises advisory and fund managing service firm. She partnered first with Sonja De Bruyn Sebotsa who specialises in investment banking and later on with Sipho Mofokeng who now runs the third business in the company Identity Resources. The company has now evolved into IDF Managers.
Polo Leteka Radebe on how women should think about entrepreneurship:
“We need to socialise the young girls that are coming up differently, to say we too belong, we are equally entitled to be here. That is how we will change and transform our society. We mustn’t wait for an invitation; we must walk into the door ourselves.
“That’s what we did; we walked into a space that was male dominated, but once you’re in, you need to follow through. You can’t just walk in all confident, the quality of the work you do should speak for itself.” – Polo Leteka Radebe
- Entrepreneur: Michelle Okafor
- Company: Michelle Okafor African Designs
- Website: www.michelleokafor.co.za
Michelle Okafor was working as a travel agent when she was first inspired by the beautiful, bright and eye-catching fabrics she saw on a trip to Nigeria.
When she returned home after her trip, she felt a compulsion to create gorgeous pieces of clothing using the fabrics she had seen.
Today, boutique stores and on her online shop hosts her distinctive and colourful designs.
Okafor’s collection includes everything from dresses to jackets, to shoes and accessories. You can clearly see her vision to combine traditional African culture with fashion trends, in every piece she creates.
Michelle Okafor shares her top strategic advice to women wanting to be entrepreneurs:
“You need perseverance; you would need to put in the hours. It is great to have a product on paper and know the whole process, but executing a business plan successfully is critical.
“Always remember why you started your business in the first place, and let that drive you. Don’t give up unless you have exhausted all avenues (and these are endless).” – Michelle Okafor
- Entrepreneur: Sonia Booth
- Business: Bonneventia S Footwear
- Website: www.bonnventiabooth.co.za
Sonia Booth has reinvented herself multiple times, and she always seems to know what her next move is and how she’s going to remain relevant.
She was an international model, which offered her the opportunity to network and meet the right people at a young age. She saw a gap in the market, and decided to branch into designing, producing and manufacturing a local brand of custom handmade shoes.
After establishing the Bonneventia shoe line, Booth moved on to her next step; becoming a renowned author of ‘How to reinvent yourself & stay relevant’. Her book shares practical tips for brand management and innovation. Booth explains in her book that making your brand stand out is a strategic move to assist your business in securing much-coveted contracts or promotions.
Sonia Booth’s three tips to women venturing into business:
- Tip 1: Be a pioneer in your industry.
- Tip 2: Do as much research as you can about your respective industry.
- Tip 3: Don’t consider yourself as the boss, rather consider the whole team. It takes a collective effort; you can’t run the whole business on your own.
- Entrepreneur: Basetsana Kumalo
- Company: Tswelopele Group
- Website: www.basetsanakumalo.com
Basetsana Kumalo’s life changed when she won the Miss South Africa pageant as well as becoming the First Princess in the Miss World Competition. She used this platform wisely, making connections and cultivating a strong network with which she used to launch her professional career.
At only 20, her sense of righteousness helped her to negotiate the deal for Top Billing to become independent, because she believed the show should be doing better than it was. Due to her tenacity and assistance in securing the Top Billing deal she secured a 50% partnership in Top Billing’s production company, Tswelopele Productions.
Her current position is founder and CEO of Basetsana Woman Investment Holdings (Pty) Ltd, where she is focusing mainly in the resources, property, media, telecommunications and IT industries.
Basetsana Kumalo shares strategic advice for future female entrepreneurs:
“When you wake up each morning, you have to think of yourself as a brand and act accordingly, how well you do that will define the brand’s success. If you live the brand well, people start to believe in it and buy into it. Over the years, people have shown great confidence in the Bassie brand and that’s been really humbling.” – Basetsana Kumalo
- Entrepreneur: Sibongile Sambo
- Company: SRS Aviation
- Website: www.srsaviation.co.za
Sibongile Sambo is the founder and managing director of SRS Aviation. Sambo worked for Telkom, City Power and De Beers looking for her passion, until she applied to be an airhostess and got turned down because she didn’t meet the height requirement. So she decided to start her own aviation company.
Today, Sambo is promoting youth and women empowerment globally and is part of a team that is establishing the Southern African Woman in Aviation. This a non-profit company encouraging women to enter the field of Aviation in different levels as well as offering bursaries and scholarships towards fields including Aviation related training.
Sibongile Sambo shares how she, as an entrepreneur, is continuing to promote entrepreneurship:
“I am where I am today because somebody invested in me. It’s my opportunity now to invest in other people.” – Sibongile Sambo
- Entrepreneur: Molemo Kgomo
- Business: Ntombenhledolls
- Website: www.ntombenhledolls.co.za
Molemo Kgomo started her entrepreneurial journey when she wanted to purchase an African doll that would enable her daughters to embrace their heritage and skin colour. However, she couldn’t find anything locally made that she thought was suitable.
So, in true entrepreneurial spirit she decided to create African dolls herself for African people across the whole continent. Initially she sold about 10 and 15 dolls a month, business was picking up but it was slow going. Kgomo then decided to create an online store with which she could reach more people and sure enough the demand was so great it almost overwhelmed her start-up business.
Kgomo is now expanding her product line to include Indian dolls, boy’s dolls and dolls of superheroes that African children can relate to.
Molemo Kgomo shares a valuable entrepreneurship lesson:
“The biggest lesson I’ve learnt as an entrepreneur is to be patient. You’ve got to know what it is you want and you’ve got to have perseverance and faith to carry on no matter how slow it is.” – Molemo Kgomo
- Entrepreneur: Nkhensani Nkosi
- Company: Stoned Cherrie
- Website: www.stonedcherrie.co.za
Nkhensani Nkosi is the founder and designer behind the popular South African brand, Stoned Cherrie. Nkosi has showcased her range at New York Fashion Week and has included the beautiful designs from New York-based South African designer Darryl Jagga.
Stoned Cherrie and Nkosi’s designs and innovative work continue to grow and have become a firm favourite of several African and international icons, including South African pop singer, Lira.
The fashion enterprise has started to attract other ambitious fashion designers, who have a unique voice and interesting point of view to add to the Stoned Cherrie brand.
Nkhensani Nkosi shares advice for budding entrepreneurs:
“I’m a big dreamer – anyone who knows me will tell you that. If you want to achieve anything big in business (or life for that matter) you have to start with a big vision. Sure, you then have to take a step back and analyse what’s realistic, what’s viable, what’s practical, and adapt the picture from there. But for goodness sake start with a vision that’s big!” – Nkhensani Nkosi
- Entrepreneur: Bonang Matheba
- Company: Bonang Matheba Entertainment
- Website: www.bonangmatheba.com
Bonang Matheba is a local example of how celebrities are building themselves into a profitable brand. Starting her illustrious career as a television presenter, she’s now added radio DJ, MC and brand ambassador to her list of accomplishments.
Matheba is one of four women on the planet to be a brand ambassador for Revlon. She has launched her own clothing range with Legit, called Just B, as well as a trendy handbag range called Baby Star. She has also launched a lingerie line called Bonang for Distraction in partnership with Woolworths.
Matheba continues to go from strength to strength, developing profitable business opportunities from what she’s passionate about.
Bonang Matheba shares advice for budding female entrepreneurs:
“If you’re not going to prove yourself, if you’re not going to work hard, if you’re not going to prove why you are worthy, success isn’t going to come to you. No one will help you if you don’t help yourself. If you think you can’t do it then chances are you won’t do it. You need to believe that you are worthy of reaching your goals.”
- Entrepreneur: Matsi Modise
- Company: SiMODiSA
- Website: www.simodisa.org
Matsi Modise started her professional career as an investment banker, but after two years she realised it wasn’t the career for her.
She decided to become an entrepreneur and founded her own company, Furaha Afrika Holding. Furaha Afrika Holding is a Pan-African Advisory company that focuses on entrepreneurship development strategies and coaching; as well as market-entry strategies and investments in business development technologies.
She also co-founded Emerge, a business development advisory business that structures SME development strategies for corporate entities, banks and Institutions of Higher Learning.
Along with her involvement in these two companies, Modise is currently the managing director of SiMODiSA, an industry association with a mission to accelerate entrepreneurship by collaborating with policy makers.
Matsi Modise shares her top advice to budding and future women entrepreneurs:
“Be resilient, the road is tough! No point giving up! Finish what you started! The only security you have is you! Not a job, Not a pay check!” – Matsi Modise
- Entrepreneur: Khanyi Dhlomo
- Company: Ndalo Media
- Website: www.destinyconnect.com
Khanyi Dhlomo started her career in media at the young age of 20. Her first big career break came when she became anchor of the SABC’s prime-time evening news programme.
Today, she is managing director of Ndalo Media, which she founded in collaboration with Media24. Through Ndalo Media, Dhlomo publishes Destiny magazine and Destiny Man. She also started destinyconnect.com, with a view to reach more of her followers.
Along with navigating her personal business successes, Dhlomo is also an Independent Non-Executive Director on the board of The Foschini Group LTD.
Khanyi Dhlomo shares her advice on failure, and success:
“Failure is an opportunity to learn and to do better next time. It’s part of the path to greatness, which was never meant to be smooth.” – Khanyi Dhlomo
This Podcast Interview Will Inspire Every Business Women
Fumani Mthembi and Teresa Oakley-Smith, both MDs and founders of their own successful businesses, share their personal stories of fighting gender and racial stereotypes in pursuit of a dream. Mthembi and Oakley-Smith, spoke at an Investec Women in Leadership event, entitled, “The Courage to Change.” We bring you this inspirational podcast.
International Women’s Day highlights the imperative role women play in business, the economy and households. Whilst women have come a long way in terms of recognising their worth, we’ve got a long way to go – and that starts in the boardroom. According to an EY study, there is overwhelming evidence that links gender parity to innovation and improved financial performance.
Businesses with women in top management roles experienced an increase in “innovation intensity” and were worth, on average, about US$40m more than companies with only male leaders. Yet on average, in SA, women earn about 73% of what men earn. (Ipsos 2017 survey)
In a frank and honest chat with Investec, two inspirational female leaders, Fumani Mthembi and Teresa Oakley-Smith, share their extraordinary business journey from having “a big dream” to surviving through the mean and lean times.
Fumani Mthembi, is a founding member of the Pele Energy Group – South Africa’s largest 100% black-owned independent power production and development firm – and MD of its research and development subsidiary, Knowledge Pele (KP), and Teresa Oakley-Smith, is the founder of Diversi-T, a change management consultancy with a focus on transformation and diversity training.
Listen to the podcast below for the full interview.
Here are some of the stand-out highlights from the interview:
1. Overcoming challenges female entrepreneurs face
Both Fumani and Teresa believe that, based on their respective experiences, men don’t take women seriously.
“It’s very common in my industry to attend a meeting and have all the men address each other and not you,” says Fumani.“So I’ll be sitting there and they’ll all have their backs turned and they’ll be having a conversation amongst themselves.”
“I’ve had to work twice or three times as hard as male competitors to gain a contract; I’ve had to bend over backwards to actually make sure that my delivery is ten times better,” says Teresa.
2. Breaking down stereotypes
“In households of dual income, often the woman is bringing in more than the man, yet when we have to approach institutions of power, we feel somehow belittled, or we somehow lack our courage in an appreciation of the power we actually hold,” says Teresa.
“One of my clients is a very large retail company and they only have one woman out of a board of 40, and I was challenging them by saying: Who does the shopping? Women hold the purse strings, women go to the supermarkets, so why are they not represented? Why are their voices not heard?”
3. Encouraging diversity in the workplace
Teresa work centres around helping employers create work environments that encourage intersectionality, and recognise women’s unique needs.
“Does your company provide proper facilities for breastfeeding women and supply feminine hygiene products in case a female staff member is in need?” asks Teresa.
4. Educating about the need for empowerment
Fumani’s aim when starting her company was to transform society through knowledge and power and make a difference through a legacy that creates a new kind of context in which people like herself – a young, black female entrepreneur – could operate. “We wanted to spread the justice dividend and to use our privilege responsibly,” she says.
In her experience, banks struggle to recognise the need for women to seek finance for start-ups, because “they don’t need to take on that kind of risk. And that’s the thing about this dual economy, and as women we represent that second economy,” she says
“We’re a new risk; the things we want to do in this economy are new. Everything we do and present is new and we can be disruptive. So while we can ask for change, we can also be the change, and we can create these institutions that really understand us.”
5. Seizing the power within you
Both women agree that recognising the challenge of being a woman in South Africa, should lead to women standing together and reclaiming their power. “We can only own our power if we join together as women of all races, ages and abilities and understand each other,” says Teresa.
Out of Fumani’s 25-strong staff complement, only five employees are men. She puts that down to the talent and intellect shown by her women employees. But this female-male mix is far from the norm. Why? “What I’ve often seen is that women are very risk averse they’re incredibly bright.
We just don’t want to take a bet on ourselves,” says Fumani. “All these institutions are growing on the back women’s efforts. There’s a reason why 54% of graduate are women – we can do it, it’s just a matter of taking that chance on yourself.”
A Great Time To Be A Woman In Business
South Africa’s growing band of female entrepreneurs have many lessons to teach us all.
South Africa’s growing band of female entrepreneurs have many lessons to teach us all. In our first article in this feature, Marine Louw showed us the power of passion.
In this article, Cresi Heslop offers living proof that opportunities are everywhere – if we can see them and are prepared to seize them. She is building a business by identifying opportunities as they open up and then working hard to exploit them.
“It’s all about using what you have and thinking a bit laterally,” Heslop says.
Heslop and her husband started a youth sports blog in order to provide a motivational platform for a new generation of South African sportsmen and – women. They saw the blog, Heslop Sports, as a labour of love, with no commercial intent. However, spending so much time among athletes did reveal a potential commercial idea: a towel specially designed with sports in mind and that South African athletes could use with pride, especially at international events.
The result was a new business, Wonder Towel. Its flagship product is a microfibre towel designed to look like the South African flag, supplemented with a range of other microfibre products.
“Microfibre is environment-friendly because it’s so absorbent – it dries easily and stays fresh longer, and it takes less water to wash,” she says. “It’s also super light, thus great for travelling.”
Since then, the business has grown, selling primarily to the travel, beauty, baby and household markets, as well as the sports industry. Much of the selling is done via her online store and agents in Cape Town, Durban and Pretoria – as well as the e-commerce platforms. She singles out Takealot.com which, she says, does a great job in helping small businesses put themselves on the map.
She’s also just signed up a new distributor who is targeting independent schools, and schools with big water-sports teams.
Mentorship provided Heslop with welcomed inspiration and stability. She has built a solid relationship with a businesswoman who she respects enormously, Hendrien Kruger, the head of Inoar SA, which distributes a range of imported Brazilian hair products.
“We met seven years ago and I can turn to her at any point for sensible advice or just a good chat over a cuppa,” she says. “You should find some worthy people who inspire you in your field. They could even be people that you admire from a distance or whose books and lectures have become part of your way of seeing things.”
Because mentorship can play such a positive role, it’s vital that women offer themselves as mentors. Many successful women don’t realise how great an influence they could have on the next generation, starting what she calls a “cycle of future goodness”.
We’ve always heard about the power of the old boys’ club, and how it gives men a head start in business, but says Heslop, networks seem to be opening up.
“Female small-business owners are still in a bit of minority in South Africa, I believe however we are in a wonderful season of change at present,” she says.
“I recently had dealings with one of South Africa’s oldest and most established suppliers in a particular market sector, and I found them both welcoming and nurturing to an industry newcomer – something for which I am very grateful.”
Of course, entrepreneurs must also learn how to cope with challenges all the time. Heslop says that she keeps strong by sticking to a set of habits and actions. Her religious faith is an important mainstay and she daily affirms her commitment to making a difference, to being alert for hidden opportunities, and to spreading love and respect always.
“At the end of the day it will all boil down to confidence, belief in ourselves, joyous passion and delivering extremely high quality of products and services that will command respect and ensure us our rightful place in our beautiful nation’s economy,” she concludes.
MiWay is an Authorised Financial Services Provider (Licence no: 33970).
Celebrating Women In The Signage And Printing Industry
The event will take place from 13-15 September at Gallagher Convention Centre.
Women are increasingly making their mark on the traditionally male-dominated signage and printing industry. For those who want to enter this industry, or want to grow their businesses, the Sign Africa and FESPA Africa expo, co-located with Africa Print and Africa LED, offers many opportunities for entrepreneurs. The event will take place from 13-15 September at Gallagher Convention Centre.
Diane Jacobson, Managing Director at Ellis Lehman Signs, has been in the industry for 25 years, and enjoys being in a career that is dynamic, creative and interesting. ‘No two jobs are identical, and because it is an industry that serves a variety of businesses, it offers exposure to many types of people and companies,’ she said.
‘I’ve worked with fantastic people and managed very interesting projects, from manufacturing plants to religious institutions, to petrochemical companies to retailers and sports events. I have met wonderful people over the years and have had the opportunity to travel to interesting places. It is an industry that has allowed me to grow my business skills in a creative space.’
Lehman’s key to success is understanding and servicing the needs of customers. ‘They are the lifeblood of all business. There is so much poor service out there, so doing things better and paying attention to detail and the final finished item sets anyone apart,’ she said.
Printing SA, the official trade federation representing printing, packaging and associated businesses in the industry, has a number of projects to empower women. The organisation runs a screen printing programme, which most recently trained 10 unemployed women from Cottonlands. The programme includes three elements: the theory of screen printing, practical application, and basic business skills that would assist in growing a small business.
A success story from the programme is Eunice Ngwenya, Managing Director of Eunique Printing, who completed Printing SA’s very first screen printing pilot course during 2014. Printing SA recommended Ngwenya to Konica Minolta South Africa.
Eunique Printing, which operates from Konica Minolta South Africa’s Johannesburg campus, has been in business for almost a year, employs three people and prints books, magazines, business cards, calendars, receipt books, brochures, invitations, photographs, as well as offering ring binding and glue binding services.
Ngwenya has always been interested in printing, and had done silk screening on plastic for 25 years. She is glad that she applied for the Printing SA training as it has led her to where she is today. ‘I’ve learnt so much from Printing SA, I wouldn’t be where I am without them, and with the help of Konica Minolta South Africa, I see myself going very far,’ she said.
Related: Celebrating The Multi-Faceted Woman
Sonja Groenewald is CEO of Colourtech Design & Print CEO, which has operated for 26 years. Its main focus is the publishing and education markets. The business has a unique set up as in addition to printing, there is also an in-house dispatch and deliveries division, which helps service 350,000 students.
Being in the printing industry, you’d think technology would be Colourtech’s most important asset, but it’s not. ‘Our staff are our most valuable resource – we consider each and every one of our employees as part of our family,’ said Groenewald.
They are integral to the business’ success. ‘I’ve always told my employees to treat each customer like royalty – whether a client is just popping in for a small pack of business cards, or taking on a major order. Good service is crucial.’
For more information about the Sign Africa, FESPA Africa, Africa Print and Africa LED expo’s, and to pre-register online, please visit: www.signafricaexpo.com/entrepreneur
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