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Women Entrepreneur Successes

ShonaQuip: Shona McDonald

A mother turns social entrepreneur and offers a blueprint for how the drive for profit can happily co-exist with the desire to do good.

Juliet Pitman

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Shona McDonald

The King III Report on corporate sustainability and the idea of ‘triple bottom line’ responsibility has blurred the line between pure profit and ‘doing good’. Companies are starting to realise that behaving in a socially conscious way can in fact make good business sense too.

But profit-driven businesses that have developed a social conscience still remain different to true social entrepreneurs, who have always existed. These are the people whose businesses are driven by a powerful social conviction and the need to bring about solutions to society’s most pressing problems – the profit, while important, is a secondary necessity that ensures ongoing sustainability so that the businesses can live to help society for another day.

For Shona McDonald, one of South Africa’s most recognised social entrepreneurs, the social entrepreneurship model is the way all business should be run. “Business has such immense potential to meet a need – it’s the basis on which most businesses are built. And if that need is social, and the business can sustain itself by making a profit, then so much the better. I think it’s true for all businesses that if you focus on meeting a real need, the profit will follow,” she says.

The founder of ShonaQuip, an Endeavor South Africa entrepreneur and the recent recipient of both the Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur Award for Social Entrepreneurship and the 2011 Shoprite Checkers Woman of the Year award in the Socio-Economic Business Developers Category, McDonald started ShonaQuip in response to the pressing need for better wheelchairs and equipment for disabled people.

Responding to a personal need

When she was 19 she had a daughter, Shelley, who was born with cerebral palsy (CP). At the time the only wheelchairs available were for adults and even these were only designed for temporary transportation within hospitals. “Shelley was given a foam-padded folded cardboard insert for her pram with a large piece of webbing to tie her in. I learned that once CP children outgrew their prams the option was to tie them into hospital wheelchairs,” she explains.

Refusing to accept what was available, McDonald poured over books on CP sent from a cousin in the UK. What she noticed were the wheelchairs. “There was an amazing photo of a chair from Sweden so I asked my cousin to buy the motor and wheels from England and bring them over,” she continues. Parts in hand, she approached the Biomedical Engineering Department at UCT where, working from a photograph, she and Mike Price built Shelley a chair.

The motorised chair solved Shelley’s mobility challenges so McDonald moved on to other issues, developing communication cards so that Shelley could tell her parents what she wanted, and modifying toys so she could play. Being involved in parental support groups, it was only a matter of time before people started requesting similar products for their disabled children, and a business was born in McDonald’s home.

An organic evolution

Things could have ticked over quietly in McDonald’s garage for years, and she might always have run a small non-profit organisation. She readily admits that she never planned to run a business. But what’s clear is that she had enough business suss to recognise that sustainability lay in being able to make a profit and control her own finances.

She got increasingly frustrated with relying on fundraising from NGOs: “Funders wanted to do things their way, and this wasn’t always aligned with the needs on the ground. I wanted to take control of the finances myself and do things the way I wanted to do them, and I suppose that’s really when the business itself was born,” she says.

Over 19 years the company grew to take over McDonald’s house before eventually moving to new premises. Based in Cape Town, it has branches in the Eastern Cape and Gauteng, and a community based outreach programme for deep rural areas.

Meeting the needs on the ground

But even as ShonaQuip grew and evolved into a for-profit business, it stayed true to its purpose of providing disabled people with the tools to gain entry into society. A more inclusive society is McDonald’s driving passion. She has been instrumental in shaping public policy on disability and helped write the World Health Guidelines on Wheelchair Distribution in Remote Areas.

The driving force behind McDonald’s crusade has also been the business’s key success factor. “We address the needs of people,” she says simply, and in this respect at least social entrepreneurs are no different from their mainstream entrepreneurial peers.

All products start out being developed in response to an individual person’s need, and if a more universal use for that product is identified it is developed into a product range. But McDonald is adamant that the business always develops bespoke products, whether these will ultimately be commercially viable or not. In this respect she’s very different from businesses driven purely by the need to make a profit.  “We’re not prepared to give this side of the business up and I don’t see that we should. The business is still able to sustain itself. We exist to help people – this is the thing that has enabled us to make money in the first place,” she says.

Looking ahead

A recent grant from the SAB Foundation for Innovation Awards will allow McDonald to focus more on the kind of innovation that has driven ShonaQuip’s success from day one. She recognises this as her strong point: “I don’t really enjoy the day to day business side of things. I’d like to employ a general manager to take care of that part of the company. I see myself more as an innovator and as someone who wants to leave a legacy that’s better than the one I found,” she says. In that respect, she’s a true entrepreneur.

The rise of the social entrepreneur

Social entrepreneurship becomes more important as social needs increase and public resources shrink.

Quietly getting on with the job, social entrepreneurs are the businesses that usually fly under the radar. But recently, their role has been given increasing importance, particularly in South Africa. Referring to research that formed part of the 2009 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Report, Jacqui Kew from the UCT Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the UCT Graduate School of Business, points out, “The effect of the recent global recession and its impact on the global recovery is likely to be felt for a considerable time. Social entrepreneurship will, if anything, become more important as social needs increase while government and civil society resources decrease.” As people lose faith in government’s ability to find sustainable solutions to society’s problems, they may look increasingly to sustainable socially-minded business to achieve what’s required.

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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Business Advice for Women Entrepreneurs

Rapelang Rabana’s Innovation Formula – 3 Key Ingredients To Innovate

To be a success in today’s fast paced world, you need innovation at the heart of everything you do.

Nadine Todd

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The innovation formula is simple: According to tech entrepreneur Rapelang Rabana, innovation is at its best and greatest when it’s sourced from your unique perspective and accumulated wisdom, combined with shared value and execution.

At this year’s BCX Disrupt Summit, Rapelang broke the process down into the three key ingredients that together shape innovation and success.

1. Prepare your mind

Your ability to innovate and be creative is based on the sum of all of your experiences. Great ideas do not take shape in our minds, they are the result of external stimulus hitting a prepared mind. We don’t think up ideas — we notice them. We connect the dots in new and creative ways. And our ability to do so is based on how prepared we are to notice what’s happening around us, and to tap into that information.

When asked what it takes to be great like Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, Musk’s ex-wife, Justine Musk had this advice to offer:

“Shift your focus away from what you want (a billion dollars) and get deeply, intensely curious about what the world wants and needs. It helps to have an ego, but you must be in service to something bigger if you are to inspire the people you need to help you.”

Related: 10 Young Entrepreneurs Under 30 Share Their Start-Up Secrets

So, ask yourself this: What do you have that is so deeply compelling and needed that no one can outsource you or replace you? Until you can answer this question, keep building your mind, your abilities and your knowledge. Work on your repository, and your ability to connect the dots.

2. Create shared value

thato-kgatlhanye-bagsThato Kgatlhanye, founder of the Rethaka foundation, an organisation that creates school bags that are also solar panels, and can provide schoolgoers with energy in the evening so that they can do their homework, says that she is money-driven, business-driven, and empathetic towards her people. In other words, her business is created through shared value, and the desire to not only create money for her business, but within her communities as well.

Most successful organisations would never have been launched  if their primary focus was for the business to win. People are hungry for things that are inclusive and show positive change.

Consider Airbnb — the founders had the audacity to put a blow-up mattress in their livingroom, and believe that other people would find value in their offering. And they were right, mainly because the business model is all inclusive. The business wins, the hosts win and the customers win.

According to Nielsen, 40% more social entrepreneurs are growing compared to other SMEs, and they’re showing greater profit. In addition, people say they are more likely to purchase from ethical and sustainable businesses. The cynics might say this is what people say, not how they buy. This may be true, but it’s also a leading indicator of how we will behave in the future. We’re trying to get there, and our behaviour will catch up to the sentiment.

Always be cognisant of how responsive the market is. Learn to leverage public sentiment and get attention through the ideal of shared value. Winning with others is the fastest way to create value today.

Related: 20 South African Side-Hustles You Can Start This Weekend

3. Get stuff done

When we start a project or idea, we try to project into the future. We want to draw a linear picture between now and then. The problem is that creation is far more chaotic.

Instead, minute variations over time create profound changes. It’s a journey. There are no defining moments of success or failure; just a series of events strung together over time. To make the necessary minute variations though, you need data points and you need to take action. Often this starts with just beginning. If you start, you can move forward, slowly but surely. Progress is far more evolutionary than simply trying to imagine the end.

The problem is that the mind blocks us. We essentially block ourselves from success. How? Building anything and trying to be innovative requires a series of many, many decisions made over years and years. Many of those decisions are made — or not made — from a place of fear. Our instincts tell us to do something, and then our minds stop us. The most incredible things can happen if we learn to follow our instincts though.

the-five-second-rule-mel-robbinsIn her book, The Five Second Rule, Mel Robbins unpacks the skill of acting on your instincts. In essence, the space between your instinct and the moment of hesitation that stops you from acting is five seconds. This means you have five seconds to make things happen, and the way to utilise that time and to make things happen is to count down from five: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. At one, move. Get up, take action, call the client, speak to your boss — don’t let fear come in and crush the instinct.

Why a countdown? A countdown suspends — for a moment — the self-doubt that gives you space to move before the brain kills it. I started using the rule for small stuff at first. A countdown in the morning to get out of bed and go to gym. Then I started using it for the harder stuff, like not losing my temper. If you can be aware enough to make the countdown, you can change your behaviour.

The ability to execute and turn innovation into profit comes down to a series of five-second moments over years. Push yourself. Get past your mental blocks and act on your instinct.

Combine this with building on your knowledge, connecting the dots around you, and understanding that value is not given or taken, but is created through shared value, and you have the recipe for innovation and success.


IN YOUR TOOLKIT

Focus on learning new stuff

FACT: The super-successful focus heavily on learning new skills, reading practical books and listening or watching podcasts, interviews and informational courses.

Take best-selling author and leadership coach Simon Sinek, who said:

“My work is never complete, we wake up with a hunger to learn, and no one is ever truly an expert. Anyone who says, ‘I’m an expert at anything’ has closed their mind to the idea that they might not know everything. There’s always more to learn. I’ve never considered myself an expert. I’m always a student of leadership. All the work is imperfect and all the learning is continuous.”

Action Step: If you can read 20 full pages a day, or even listen to an hour-long audio/podcast, you will accumulate more than 36+ books a year of new knowledge.

Start here: If you’re not sure where to start, download the audible app (audible.com) and browse the business books available, or subscribe to podcasts. Three great places to begin are:

  • Trailblazers with Walter Isaacson, a show focused on disruption and hosted by the biographer of Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin amongst others.
  • The Tim Ferriss Show, hosted by Tim Ferriss and one of the biggest podcasts on the planet.
  • Masters of Scale, hosted by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, who chats to some of the worlds biggest and most successful entrepreneurs.

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Uzenzele Holdings Co-founders Nadia And Zahra Rawjee’s Top Advice On Building A Service-based Business

Nadia and Zahra Rawjee of Uzenzele Holdings know what businesses need, and they understand the struggles that founders go through, which is why the pair often understand their clients’ needs before the first meeting has even taken place.

Nadine Todd

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nadia-rawjee-and-zahra-rawjee

Vital stats

  • Players: Nadia Rawjee and Zahra Rawjee
  • Company: Uzenzele Holdings
  • Est: 2012
  • Visit: www.uzenzele.com
  • About: Uzenzele Holdings is a consultancy that focuses on business development and accessing governmental funding for business expansion projects. The company uses its expertise to help clients navigate the complex process of applying for government and developmental funding, helping to unlock funds and opportunities that many entrepreneurs aren’t aware of.

Sisters Nadia and Zahra Rawjee grew up in a family business, so they understand the challenges that the average SME faces. They also realise that the average entrepreneur is unaware of the opportunities available to him or her when it comes to government and developmental funding.

“We realised what an impact government and developmental funding could have had on the family business, but like so many SMEs, it never accessed the funds available,” says Zahra Rawjee.

The fact of the matter is, many business owners are unaware of the funds that are available through government. Others, meanwhile, do not think that they would qualify, or they think that delving into this ocean of bureaucracy would simply not be worth the effort. This is a mistake. It can absolutely be worth the effort.

“Companies looking to grow can access millions through government,” says Nadia Rawjee. “We’ve seen clients receiving tens of millions in funding.”

That said, there is some truth in the view that accessing these funds is sometimes difficult. The application process can be complex, and the process as a whole can be a long one. However, if you know what you’re doing, you can get funded.

Related: Uzenzele Holdings Unpacks The How And Where Of Business Funding

Because the Rawjees understood the challenges that businesses faced, and they possessed the arcane (and often shifting) information needed to access these funds, they decided to launch a consultancy that would assist clients in the process. Uzenzele Holdings has now been around for more than five years and has helped many clients secure funding. As you might expect, theirs is a business driven by relationships. Here’s their advice for building a successful service-driven operation.

1. Know thy customer

As mentioned, Nadia and Zahra understand the wants and needs of their clients, even when the clients themselves don’t. “We find that many clients underestimate the amount of capital they’ll need to make their growth and expansion plans a reality. They go into the process looking to raise less money than they’ll actually need, which can result in disastrous cash flow problems down the line. Because we know this, we can advise them accordingly. If you  don’t understand your clients’ businesses, it’s tough to give them the right advice.

KEY LESSON: True success comes from becoming a trusted advisor to your clients. This can only happen if you have real empathy for your clients, and if you understand their businesses intimately. Without these two characteristics, any relationship will be purely transactional.

2. Follow the market

uzenzele-holdingsFollowing your passion is admirable, but it doesn’t mean that you should ignore the realities of the market in the process. To their credit, Nadia and Zahra initially wanted to focus on small/micro businesses because they believed that this was the area where they could make the biggest impact. However, they quickly learnt that these businesses were so cash strapped and focused on survival, that they weren’t looking at growth, and they didn’t have the money needed to invest in advisory services.

As consultants themselves, they decided to invest in advisors who could help them reposition the company. “We brought in marketers who helped us reposition Uzenzele Holdings and make it visible to the companies who were actually looking for our services.”

KEY LESSON: Don’t make any assumptions about the market. Your target audience might not be where you think it is. In fact, your ideal audience might be very different from the one you have in your head. It’s worth spending time and money to find out exactly who your ideal audience is, and where they can be reached.

Related: Feel Like Quitting? These 9 Women Prove Grit Can Lead You To Massive Success

3. Educate your audience

Because so many of Uzenzele Holdings’ clients are unaware of the funding options available, knowledge transfer is an important activity for the consultancy. “You have to be willing to give out information freely,” says Zahra. “For this reason, we have a blog on our website, we do talks at conferences, and we contribute to business publications.”

“At the moment, for example, we are focusing on the Black Industrialist Programme through the DTI, and funding available for agro processing. There are great opportunities open to those looking for funding, but people don’t know about it,” says Nadia.

KEY LESSON: Signing clients is nearly impossible when they don’t understand what you’re offering. For this reason, you need to see education as part of the selling process. The payoff might only come way down the line, but that’s not an excuse to ignore the process.

4. Network

Speaking at conferences and writing articles for publications not only educates potential clients, it also builds the Uzenzele Holdings brand and ups the profile of the Rawjee sisters. “Networking is important,” says Nadia. “You have to be out there — you need to get to know people, and they need to get to know you. It takes time and work, but you have to do it. Networking is important in any business.”

“You shouldn’t underestimate the value of LinkedIn when it comes to networking. It’s a great place to connect, and post content. When it comes to the B2B space, LinkedIn is definitely one of the best platforms,” says Zahra.

KEY LESSON: You have to build your brand and get to know people. Most young companies land their first clients because of connections and referrals. To succeed, you have to establish yourself as a presence in your industry. You can do this by joining organisations, attending conferences and going out of your way to connect with others.


Your funding checklist

Understand what you need. There’s a basic checklist to follow:

  • Do you need money for working or operating expenditure vs capital investment?
  • How much do you require?
  • How long do you need the money for?
  • What is the cost of capital you can afford to repay?

Armed with this knowledge, you can start finding the right fund or finance vehicle for your needs.

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

Funders have different criteria:

  • Turnover: mainly grants
  • Profitability: loans/grants
  • Balance sheet: loans/grants
  • Ability to scale: venture capital

Funders tend to have between two and 26 different funds, each with their own mandate, eligibility criteria, funding type (loan or grant), costing, things they will and won’t fund and other specifics. Read the mandates to find your fit.

Call and speak to the funders and be fund specific. Speak to a consultant at the fund to clarify your eligibility before starting the application process.

Ask questions around:

  • Their timelines
  • When the credit committees or panels sit for adjudication
  • What is considered for your application to get adjudicated.

Arming yourself with this knowledge will exponentially increase your chances of being considered for funding. Many applications do not reach the adjudication phase because the business doesn’t match the fund or the application is incorrectly filled in.

You cannot receive funding if your application is not even considered. The correct content and format is vital.

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Pet Wellness Worx Found Business Success In Rehabilitating Pets

Lorren Barham, the founder of Pet Wellness Worx, spoke to Entrepreneur about the challenges of launching a business in a relatively unknown industry.

Nadine Todd

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lorren-barham

Vital stats

  • Player: Lorren Barham
  • Company: Pet Wellness Worx
  • Est: 2014
  • About: Lorren Barham is the owner and operator of the hydro underwater treadmill and therapist-in-the-pool facility of Pet Wellness Worx. The business specialises in the health, wellbeing and rehabilitative care of pets.
  • Visit: petwellnessworx.co.za

Certain business ideas are obvious, others aren’t. In a world where many founders are looking to create ‘the Uber of this’ or ‘the Uber of that’, a company that offers rehabilitative care for pets might seem like a niche lifestyle business.

But Lorren Barham’s Pet Wellness Worx has seen fantastic growth over the last three years precisely because it is so niche. Lorren identified a relatively unexploited niche and owned it.

In the modern business world where all the obvious opportunities have already been jumped at, success lies in finding that small but promising industry that is ripe for growth. Not that launching a start-up in this sort of space is easy, mind you. Chances are, you’ll need to educate consumers and grow your company slowly, but if you get the basics right, you can establish a sustainable operation with excellent long-term prospects.

1. How did you identify this unique business opportunity?

I did not have a background in the field, but I’ve always had an intense passion for animals, and because of my own pets, I knew about auto immune disorders like degenerative myelopathy, neurological spinal prolapse and hip dysplasia.

Related: Feel Like Quitting? These 9 Women Prove Grit Can Lead You To Massive Success

Over the years, some of my own animals had to deal with these issues, so I understood that there was a need for a facility that could assist with rehabilitation. So, going into the industry wasn’t a purely tactical business decision — I had a real passion for the work. I think that’s important. You can’t pursue a business idea simply because you think there’s an opportunity in it. You need to be passionate about it. When times are tough, it’s your passion that’ll keep you going.

2. What is your background?

Pet Wellness Worx

I have a corporate background. I started out as a personal assistant, and over the years, I furthered my education, completing courses in fields like bookkeeping and business administration. When I opened my own business, I found that the knowledge and experience I gained in the corporate environment was immensely useful. Procuring expensive equipment, for instance, was less intimidating because I knew how to deal with suppliers and negotiate a fair deal.

You don’t need an MBA, necessarily, but you need some basic business knowledge. You could be a great specialist in your specific field, but running your own business is something very different. As an entrepreneur, you wear a lot of hats, and you have to manage every aspect of the company — you have to manage employees, balance the books and do the marketing — so you need to educate yourself on the basics of running a business.

3. How did you prepare for the launch of the business?

I did a lot of research. I spent months figuring out exactly what sort of services I should provide, and how I should structure the business. Importantly, I had a goal and a mission. It helps to know what your ultimate goal is. Figure out what you want to achieve, and then do plenty of research. Take your time. Solid research will prevent you from making mistakes that can be costly down the line.

Related: Women Leaders In Business: 5 Lessons Learnt

4. How did you market the business in the early days?

We focused on qualified veterinarians. Not only could they refer clients to the business, but it was also clear that in order for the company to succeed, buy-in from them was necessary. So, I spent a lot of time at veterinarians’ offices. I had to show them that I was running a legitimate business that could do real good.

Whenever you operate in a niche area, you need to realise that some education will be necessary. You need to explain the value that you bring to potential customers, and to other important decision-makers in the field.

As the company built a solid track record, and I could show vets the improvement brought on by our rehab work, we started getting more and more clients. I truly ascribe a lot of our recent success to the fact that the vets embraced us.

5. What other marketing strategies have worked for you?

It’s very important to know exactly who you’re targeting. We’re very targeted in our approach. We go to animal shows and events, and we run adds on websites like showdogs.co.za, since these are places that we know we’ll find our target audience. Facebook is another great place to showcase the work that we do. Another strategy that has worked for me has been to write articles for publication.

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

As mentioned earlier, it’s important to educate potential customers, and a great way to do this is through editorial. I’ve written articles for magazines and websites, and media companies have generally been willing to run them. If you write an informative article that’s suitable for publication, you can get your name out in that way.

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