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Women Entrepreneur Successes

The Masisizane Fund’s CEO Zizipho Nyanga Shares Her Story To Success

Zizipho Nyanga (née Mqwala), CEO of the Masisizane Fund, unpacks how this attitude helps business owners access funding and build sustainable businesses.

Nadine Todd



Masisizane Fund

Vital Stats

  • Player: Zizipho Nyanga (née Mqwala)
  • Company: The Masisizane Fund
  • Position: CEO
  • Qualification: CA(SA)
  • What they do: The Masisizane Fund is an Old Mutual initiative that was established in 2007 following the closure of the Unclaimed Share Schemes Trust in consultation with the National Treasury of South Africa. Masisizane was set up as a non-profit funding company to provide loan financing and support to SMEs.
  • Launched: 2007
  • Visit:

My own career and the path that led me to developmental finance has enhanced the certainty in me that we create our own futures. What you put in is what you get out. I was a CA(SA) who worked within EY’s external audit and risk advisory services. I’ve always wanted to add value and help people in everything I do.

I quickly realised that I enjoyed identifying challenges that companies faced and helping them find and implement solutions. It’s the reason why I left EY to become a financial manager at Kagiso Media. It was an entrepreneurial business in a high growth phase.

From there I joined an investment firm, and then the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC). Each step brought me closer to where I am today, and built on my personal skills and understanding of business and the support that SMEs need. If you’re doing what you love, and you’re willing to build the necessary skills, you’ll forge the right path, whether that’s in a corporate career or your own business.

Related: 5 Key Tactics That Helped Gill Bowen And Tim Hartzenberg Revitalise The Shooshoos Brand

As a dealmaker at the IDC I got my first clear look at why people are rejected for funding. Too often it comes down to a simple lack of preparation: Not preparing an adequate business plan; not taking the time to really understand your market, competitors and even your own positioning; and not researching the funder you’re approaching to ensure their mandate aligns with your business offering.

I was particularly surprised by how many people outsourced their business plans. How do you run your business if someone else does the plan for you? We saw so many entrepreneurs who weren’t willing to do the most basic things. Getting funding requires patience; there’s a lot of necessary legwork.

People want the money, but they’re not willing to do the work to get it, and that’s often just their first big problem. Success takes time. It takes hard work. And it takes a willingness to patiently and systematically follow a growth path. In other words, success begins in the mind.


If you want to be successful, you have to look to the future, keep your eye on the ball, and then painstakingly work towards your goals. From a funding perspective, step one is developing your own business plan and all that this entails.

Step two is researching each organisation you’re thinking of approaching and learning what they offer and what their mandate is. Step three is planning ahead.

So many business owners approach funders when they are under pressure and need cash immediately. Not only does this reveal a detrimental lack of fore-planning, but it means the whole process becomes rushed, and owners approach any and every fund they know about. This means there’s little regard to whether it’s the right funder whose mandate matches the business. The more a business owner does this, the more it discourages them should they be rejected by funders.

Funding takes time. Start your business. Bootstrap it if you can, and begin the process of identifying and approaching the right funders with a goal of securing funding in 18 to 24 months, instead of a few weeks. Those are the businesses that attract attention. If you can show you’re a planner who is willing to go the distance, you’re already ahead in the game.

You need to leave your ego at the door. This is one of the best pieces of advice that I can give to any business owner. Passion is great, but be careful of being too internally focused. If you spend too much time celebrating your business idea and your own cleverness, you won’t focus on how to access your market. Who is going to buy what you’re selling?

Understand that you have to have a market you’re serving, and that this is the single most important thing a funder is interested in, because they know that without a market, you have no business. It’s amazing how many entrepreneurs start with ‘me’ instead of their target market. As a business owner, your goal is to serve someone else’s needs. Who is the customer? And what are their needs?

Entrepreneurs tend to want to run the business alone. We call these ‘one man bands’, and they’re far too prevalent. They’ve had an idea, it’s theirs, and they’re precious about it. So precious that they don’t appreciate a sense of partnership. This can be a technical partner, a financial partner, someone with the necessary business acumen and experience that the entrepreneur might lack.

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

The reality is that no-one has all the skills and experience necessary to build a robust and sustainable business. The best businesses are built by teams who complement each other. If you can leave your ego behind, and find someone who can take a stake and help you scale the business, you’re already well on the path to success.


Success is all about partnerships. I was fortunate to have the experiences I did at the IDC with SMEs looking for funding, because it gave me the peripheral vision I needed to really understand the important role the Masisizane Fund can play in South Africa’s entrepreneurial development. First and foremost, it’s about working with other funders and corporates to achieve our goals. It’s through partnerships that real change is achieved. No one ever achieved real success alone.

We see this within SMEs, and will always support partnerships at the helm of a business and in the roles we play. Our model is to partner with organisations with a similar mindset to our own, such as the SEFA, IDF, Anglo-Zimele and various government departments that offer grants. This allows us to achieve measurable impact and de-risk.

Many entrepreneurs don’t have owner’s contributions and can’t afford 100% debt. They will never be able to repay it and build a sustainable business. We’re an organisation that offers loans, and so we partner with organisations that can assist entrepreneurs with equity/grants. This reduces the debt entrepreneurs are looking at, and increases a business’s chance of success. We’ve found that the right combination of debt, equity and grant solutions gives businesses a real chance at success.

Partnerships go beyond finance however. They’re also about skills, support and mentorship. It’s said that it takes a village to raise a child. The same is true of business. The stronger your network and support system, the higher your chances of success. We’re all about capacity building. We identify entrepreneurs who we believe have the right attitude, mindset, willingness to put in the hard work required, and either technical skills or business acumen — and then we put support systems in place.

This could be through a mentor who co-manages the business, business courses, or placing financial managers in the business. It’s all about identifying what the business needs are. We have a partnership in place with SAICA that places CA(SA) in the SMEs we support, creating jobs for graduates and supporting entrepreneurial businesses simultaneously.

Often, the difference between success and failure is the right support at the right time. This isn’t about waiting for someone to come and assist you though. It’s about walking a journey with the right partners. This begins with accepting that you need assistance, and being willing and able to continuously learn and develop yourself and the business. If you can do that, and you have the patience to see your own goals through, you will be successful.

Ask Yourself

Are you willing to put in the time to really make a success of yourself? Funders look at the entrepreneur as much as the business model. They evaluate the entrepreneur’s mindset. Are you working on yourself as much as you’re working on the business?

Company Posts

Designing Her Destiny

Oh Yay! owner, Emmerentia van den Hoven does business her way.

QuickBooks SA




In 2011, Emmerentia van den Hoven took a leap of faith when she decided to leave her graphic design job at an agency and pursue her real passion – and it has paid off tenfold. Here’s her story.

“When I started planning my own wedding eight years ago, I fell in love with wedding design and wanted to do that for the rest of my life. Designing for brands had become a set of rules rather than being creative, and I’d always wanted to work for myself. So, in September 2011, I turned my seven-month-old side gig into a fully-fledged business and launched Oh Yay!

I have to hustle every month to get new clients because every client will use my services maximum twice – first for the wedding invitations and then for the stationery on the day – so I don’t normally have returning clients.

Because my main business is seasonal and usually once-off per customer, I have branched out into branding for small businesses in the beauty and lifestyle industry. I also earn a passive income through the Oh Yay! online shop where I sell wedding décor items.  Oh Yay Kids – my other online store – is my passion project. I launched it just before my second child was born, adding items to the store that I made for my two boys when I saw a need for it. I then expanded into prints for nurseries and kids’ party stationery.

I work for myself and have no employees, so the fact that QuickBooks lets me load all my services, products and prices in one place makes running my business so much easier. Being an entrepreneur is difficult because you don’t know if you’ll be successful or not. But if you believe in and love what you’re doing, it reflects in your work and the service you give.”

Less admin, more of what you love


When Oh Yay! was launched, along with her dream of being an entrepreneur, came the nightmare of other administrative tasks. But that changed in 2018 when Emmerentia started using QuickBooks.

“When I was using spreadsheets to balance my books, I was spending 80% of my time on admin, which left very little time to tend to customers’ orders. I now spend no more than 25% of my time on admin, which is important, especially when it comes to the speed at which I send quotes. You don’t get any work if you don’t send out quotes and it’s tough to juggle the admin with your actual job of running the business.

Numbers were never really my strong point, so having a professional quote done in record time not only projects professionalism, but the format also changes the way new clients see me. In my industry, the quicker you can send a quote out, the likelier you’ll get the clients’ business. It gives legitimacy to my business. The QuickBooks system operates so seamlessly that clients communicate with me differently, like I have my own accounting department, when in fact, I’m a one-woman-show.

I used to dread doing admin, but now it’s so easy and quick. I’m not just saying this – QuickBooks changed my life.”

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Watch List: 50 Black African Women Entrepreneurs To Watch

These female entrepreneurs are breaking barriers, transforming industries and inspiring change on the continent.

Diana Albertyn



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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Owner Of Nouwens Carpets Shares Success Lessons From Running A 50 Year Old Family Business

Embrace technology every chance you get.

Nadine Todd




A company that’s been active for more than five decades in an industry that’s hundreds of years old doesn’t sound like a recipe for innovation — and yet that’s exactly what Luci Nouwens, owner of Nouwens Carpets, is focused on.

The modern carpet has a history that goes back thousands of years. And despite the hipster trend of reclaimed and hard wood flooring, the carpet still remains a popular choice for consumers.

In South Africa, a name that’s synonymous with quality carpeting is Nouwens. When Cornelis Nouwens arrived in the country in the 1950s, bringing the skills of a trade which he had mastered alongside his father in Tilburg, the hub of the Netherlands’ wool textile industry, he passed on the skills and the love of the craft to his family and to workers in the Harrismith region in KwaZulu Natal.

More than 50 years after her father started it in 1962, the company remains family owned, and is headed by Luci Nouwens, who has been with the business for 48 years.

“We have maintained our reputation for premium quality all this time by paying meticulous attention to crafting standards and selecting only the finest raw materials,” says Luci. “Equally important is that we have innovated at every opportunity, embracing technology without ever compromising the traditional craftsman’s spirit.”

Innovation drives growth

Businesses that innovate are able to grow and hire more employees. As a result, they grab a bigger share of the market. That’s true regardless of the size of your business: If you innovate, you can scale up.

In 1968 Nouwens launched a pure karakul wool carpet that was extremely hard wearing and took the company into the commercial carpet market. Luci recalls the manufacturing of the carpet as “a major feat of unique textile engineering.” Another innovation in 2005 was the introduction of a totally new style of flat weave wool carpet, a very clean, minimalist and natural look requiring much less wool without compromising on wearability.

“These innovations are just two of many that have allowed the business to boost its market share over the years,” says Luci. “But beyond that, innovation has enabled Nouwens Carpets to form the backbone of economic activity and upliftment in the local community around Harrismith. This has allowed us to make substantial investment in providing education and skills development for the local population, to ensure that the craft is preserved for generations to come.”

Related: 10 Successful SA Women Entrepreneurs’ Top Advice On Balancing Work And Family

Innovation enables sustainability

Innovation in technologies and how they are applied is key to enabling a manufacturer like Nouwens to create new business value, while also protecting the planet.

“We have used technology to enable sustainable manufacturing, for the benefit of the business, the community, and our customers.”

Nouwens selects equipment, materials and manufacturing methods based on their degree of sustainability and protection of the environment. The company is also a member of the Green Building Council of South Africa and submits its products for VOC testing to ensure that harmful emissions are significantly reduced.

“Ultimately, we are driven by a passion for textiles and the ability to constantly find better ways to produce beautiful products. After the downturn in the economy, we started to produce more cost-effective commercial nylon yarns, and in 2017, we became the new kid on the block for synthetic grass. The bottom line is that a true entrepreneur does what has to be done when the time comes.” — Monique Verduyn

The role of disruption in creating value

A disruptive business is a business that challenges and potentially changes the status quo. From a mindset point of view, a culture that questions ‘why’ can help foster organisational and market disruption. But disruption for the sake of disruption is self-defeating, it needs to be on the back of making things better and based on commercial principles, i.e. people or market players actually wanting to be disrupted.

The starting point is this: Does someone, or a market, value what you’re producing? If the answer is yes, you have a commercially viable disruption. Disruption that is valued by its target market has the best chance of resulting in success.

Get that right and you’ll have a customer base, you’ll gain traction and you’ll attract investors, provided you’re also making a meaningful and sustainable difference to your target market or community. — Ian Lessem, CEO, HAVAIC Investment and Advisory Firm


Team up with customers and competitors.

There’s more power in collaboration than competition. We’re stronger together than when we’re apart. When it comes to working with competitors, consider this: They may have something that you don’t, or vice versa, and 50% of something is always more than 100% of nothing. You’re then positioned to add value before you add an invoice, so your clients benefit from your relationships, and the market wins. From there, you become your client’s go-to-person, because you’re putting them first.

Customers are also a great source of knowledge: They might just have the answers you’re looking for, but are you asking them the right questions? They often know more about an entrepreneur’s business than they know themselves, because they’re on the receiving end of your offering. One way to collaborate with customers is to ask them more questions about yourselves, themselves and their clients. Harness their perspective and develop yourself to give them what they want, not what you think they want. — Wes Boshoff, founder, Imagine Thinking

Related: Watch List: 50 Top SA Business Women To Watch


Know what your audiences are interested in

As a brand, there are many ways to ensure your audience is paying attention to you, but you can’t expect them to find you unless you’re sharing content that captures their interest. If you send out press releases, don’t be too rigid or plain. Audiences want to be engaged, and not to have to deal with long, cumbersome information. An infographic, along with a video or pictures will make your release easier to ingest and more memorable. People don’t want boring figures, they want relatable stories.

One way to be relatable is by tapping into influencer marketing. This doesn’t mean you need celebrities with the highest followings to endorse you. Micro-influencers are proving to have just as much clout as those with larger followings. Evidence shows that micro-influencers have a more established and deeper connection with their audience, which translates to loyalty and a readiness to follow their advice. The trick is to find the micro-influencers who are speaking to the audience you want to reach.

Big data plays a key role in painting a picture of who is ‘out there’. With the right information, you can tailor your content to a specific audience. Big data can show you what topics and problems are trending in your industry, so that you can get the jump on them. Use big data to deliver your own insights on current topics, shaping and leading the conversation, converting your audience’s attention into action. — Madelain Roscher, founder and managing director, PR Worx and Status Reputation Management

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