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The Entrepreneur Behind the Schoolbag that Transforms into a Light at Night

As friends, Thato Kgatlhanye and Rea Ngwane have managed to work well as business partners. But for many, going into business with a friend has led to the death of a friendship.

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When South African childhood friends and later entrepreneurs Thato Kgatlhanye and Rea Ngwane finished high school, they knew they wanted to start something that impacted young people and underprivileged communities.

Related: How to Crack Social Entrepreneurship

 

At age 18, they founded Rethaka, a social enterprise they hoped would do just that, although it would be two years before they figured out how.

Thato-Kgatlhanye_Repurpose-schoolbags

Thato Kgatlhanye – Repurpose Schoolbags

 

“Yes, it is a bit funny that you would register a business without a business idea,” notes Kgatlhanye. “But at the heart of it we actually wanted to do great things. And when the idea of the Repurpose Schoolbags came to us, we worked on it tirelessly.”

Repurpose Schoolbags is an environmentally-friendly innovation made from ‘upcycled’ plastic shopping bags with built-in solar technology that charges up during the day and transforms into a light at night. The initiative targets school children in underprivileged communities and looks at addressing a number of problems.

Firstly, the bags allow them to study after dark in homes without electricity. Secondly, the bags are designed with reflective material, so that children are visible to traffic during their walk to and from school.

The production of Repurpose Schoolbags also involves the collection and recycling of plastic bags that typically litter the South African landscape. 

Introducing a sustainable solution

Rea-Ngwane_Repurpose-schoolbags

Rea Ngwane – Repurpose Schoolbags

The first eight months of last year were spent piloting the schoolbags, followed by producing 1,000 bags from August to December.

The company currently has eight full-time employees in their factory in Rustenburg, but Kgatlhanye says they will employ an additional 12 people this year in order to meet their production target of 10,000 bags for 2015.

One of the ways the initiative gets its schoolbags to these children is through targeting corporate social investment budgets where companies can sponsor the production of bags. Each bag costs R250 (US$20), and covers the cost of employee wages and production, so the initiative can remain sustainable and continue to grow.

Another model is to produce bags for delegate packs at corporate events where delegates can then choose to give the bag to underprivileged children after events. The company has already gained some major clients, including the likes of Standard Bank and PwC.

According to Kgatlhanye, there is room to develop additional products along the same idea, such as raincoats. However, she added this is something the team will think about at a later stage, as they are still trying to ramp-up production of the schoolbags and expand to other communities. 

More ‘social’ than ‘entrepreneur’

While the co-founders (now both 22) have to think like entrepreneurs to ensure the business remains sustainable, Kgatlhanye says becoming an entrepreneur was almost a by-product of Repurpose Schoolbags. She admits that as a kid she never dreamed of owning her own business. “That is not my story.”

Repurpose-school-bag-with-a-solar-light

Repurpose School Bag

 

However, from a young age she did realise she wanted to have a positive impact on the society that surrounded her, a trait she owes to her upbringing and particularly her mother.

“My mom cares about people like you wouldn’t imagine… so I grew up in an environment where I was always conscious of actually caring for other people and having a sense of empathy,” she says.

“And thank God I had that upbringing – where I could understand there are people out there that don’t have as much as I do. And that if I find creative ideas on how to give them what it is they need, then we could both be fine… and brave the world [together].”

Alternative sources of funding

Kgatlhanye describes her business journey as “instinctive” and has learnt some great tips that can help young entrepreneurs grow their business without capital.

Related: Chivas Regal Wants You To Win the Right Way

For starters, she believes there are alternatives for funding that don’t require involving investors, with the trade off of giving away equity in the business. For example, Kgatlhanye has benefited from a number of mentorship and entrepreneurship programmes.

She was selected for an internship in New York with marketing guru and American best-selling author Seth Godin, and was picked as one of 18 South African social entrepreneurs to attend the 10-day Red Bull Amaphiko Academy last year. Furthermore, she was also selected as the 2014 first runner-up of the Anzisha Prize, where she won $15,000.

“My advice is simple: Bootstrap and find competitions to enter your business idea into,” she highlighted during an online Q&A session on the Anzisha Prize’s Facebook page earlier this year.

“Firstly, it is a great way to get free business support and advice. Secondly it’s a great networking opportunity to meet high-profile business people – who usually judge these competitions – and potentially get mentorship from them. Finally, if you end up a winner, you will not only get a cash prize but also get some PR out of it.”

However, most importantly, Kgatlhanye advises young entrepreneurs to trust their gut and admits that she has decided to lose mentors in the past simply because they shared different visions.

Separating business and friendship

School-children-with-Repurpose-School-Bags

School Children With Repurpose School Bags

“One thing that’s key is when you form a business partnership with your friend, act as though you met that person that day,” noted Kgatlhanye.

“So you can’t say because you’ve known your friend since grade 4, you’ll work well together in business. No – you have known them since you decided to start a company together. So get to know your business partner as a business partner, not as a friend, because business and friendship is a different ball game.”

Another trick that proved beneficial for the co-founders was to get a business coach to help them get comfortable in their business relationship.

“And I think that’s the best advice. Get a business coach, be honest, leave the ego at the door and hustle.”

Visit The Anzisha Prize or follow #HelpUsFindThem and #AnzishaEffect on our social media platforms Twitter and Facebook.

Entrepreneur Magazine is South Africa's top read business publication with the highest readership per month according to AMPS. The title has won seven major publishing excellence awards since it's launch in 2006. Entrepreneur Magazine is the "how-to" handbook for growing companies. Find us on Google+ here.

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Fintech Hackathon To Support South Africa’s Entrepreneurs

Xero hosts South African developer technology challenge – and appoints a new General Country Manager.

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 Xero, the global leader in online accounting software has today launched a national competition, to put South Africa’s growing fintech industry firmly on the map. To mark the start of the developer technology challenge, Xero has also announced the appointment of Colin Timmis as Country Manager for South Africa, to take Xero forward.

Launched with Amazon Web Services, the virtual hackathon will enable the region’s technology entrepreneurs to compete with other forward thinking developers on a global scale. To take part, they need to develop an app that can sit within the Xero’s global ecosystem of over 600 apps.

As announced last night at an exclusive event in Johannesburg, the winner will receive R62,720 and the opportunity to attend and exhibit their app at Xerocon the world’s largest conference for over 3,000 accountants and bookkeepers, taking place in London in November.

Related: How The SA Government Can Help Small Businesses Thrive

Xero, which first launched in South Africa in May 2016, is now one of the fastest growing software companies globally, with 1.4 million subscribers around the world. In South Africa, the company is currently supporting tens of thousands of local small businesses, and a substantial support network of accountants. The competition marks the first in a series of Xero-led initiatives created for the South African tech community, as it continues to help more businesses and their advisors thrive.

“Since Xero first set foot in South Africa, I’ve been really impressed by the strong entrepreneurial spirit amongst the small business community. It’s really important that they are supported in the right way; and given space to pursue their best ideas and to grow. That’s why it’s time to open up our global developer competition to a South African audience. Those that have won it elsewhere have instantly been able to propel their business, and compete at a global scale,” said Gary Turner, Managing Director, Xero EMEA.

To support its continued growth in South Africa, Xero has promoted Colin Timmis, to Country Manager. Previously Head of Accounting at Xero SA, he brings a wealth of experience and skill to his new role. Before arriving at Xero, Colin founded South Africa’s first cloud accounting practice, Real Time Accounting, in 2011 – becoming Xero’s first Global Gold Partner in 2013, and its third fastest growing partner in the global territory by 2014.

“With over 12 years of experience in the accounting profession, promoting Colin to Country Manager will accelerate adoption of Xero in South Africa.” said Gary Turner: “His experience in cloud accounting, software implementation, development, integration and best practice is peerless. He’s already done great work for us during our market entry phase and I can’t wait to see how together we can help more and more South African small businesses realise the benefits of cloud-based accounting.”

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Entrepreneur Today

Breaking Down Borders – Top Considerations For SMEs Expanding Into Africa

In light of Africa Day on the 25th of May, more South African small and medium enterprise (SME) owners should be encouraged to look at how they could expand their operations into the rest of the continent.

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In light of Africa Day on the 25th of May, more South African small and medium enterprise (SME) owners should be encouraged to look at how they could expand their operations into the rest of the continent.

This is according to Mark Paper, Chief Operating Officer at Business Partners International (BUSINESS/PARTNERS), who says that Africa has for long been regarded as a region with untapped economic opportunity. “The African Development Bank1 reports that the economic growth in Africa is set to accelerate to 4.1% over the course of 2018 and 2019, which can potentially yield benefits for SMEs.”

Paper points out that entrepreneurs should however firstly consider that each of Africa’s 54 countries represents a unique market with differing challenges and intricacies for doing business.

“The various economies, laws, languages and cultures need to be thoroughly assessed as part of the entrepreneur’s expansion plan, which should be structured around the target region’s strengths, weaknesses, potential opportunities and threats.”

Related: Expansion Funding Options For Your Growing Business

He says that once the enterprise is ready to start operations in a specific region, the entrepreneur needs to ensure that the regulatory requirements of the region are adhered to.  “It is crucial to conduct due diligence and understand all relevant regulations. Most of the companies that make mistakes during this phase find themselves facing massive fines or potentially devastating legal action further down the line.”

According to Paper, the information that should be at the entrepreneur’s fingertips include the required permits, business and property registration processes, credit requirements, tax legislation, labour market regulations, and local content requirements.

He adds that the entrepreneur should also know which laws are in place to protect foreign investors. “Developing robust contracts and using local attorneys to ensure that contracts can be enforced under local laws is therefore imperative.”

Next, Paper says that it is essential to have a strong local presence, knowledge of the local market, and an understanding of customer expectations. “Employing workers from the region can potentially be one of the best ways to support the company’s operations. It will not only benefit the business and its reputation, but the local economy too.”

He notes that finding the right employees, creating cohesive teams and implementing skills training within the organisation relies heavily on understanding the culture of the region, and being able to effectively work around the potential language barriers. “It could help to consult local human resources firms and hiring agencies with strong track records in the region.”

Another point for entrepreneurs to consider, is whether the country has reliable electricity supply, says Paper.

“Electricity supply continues to be a challenge in various countries, and there are many regions that only receive electricity from their national power grids for a few hours per day. Where necessary, the entrepreneur will need to budget for the installation of generators, or even consider signing contracts with mobile fast-track power suppliers who can operate and maintain their own generators on the business’s property.”

Related: Thinking Of Cross-Border Expansion? Consider This First

While entrepreneurs need to consider a number of aspects when expanding across borders, he adds that the rewards for getting it correct are significant, and that the perceived challenges should not deter entrepreneurs from taking the leap, rather serving as a reminder of the amount of research that should be conducted beforehand.”

“Africa is open for business. All it takes is enough drive, passion and perseverance to tap into its growing markets,” Paper concludes.

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President Ramaphosa To Address SA’s Biggest Board Meeting, The Directors Event

President Cyril Ramaphosa will be delivering a keynote address at The Directors event on 8 June 2018, at the Sandton Convention Centre.

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President Cyril Ramaphosa will be delivering the keynote address at South Africa’s biggest board meeting, The Directors Event, which will take place at the Sandton Convention Centre on 8 June 2018.  Dr Jabu Mabuza, Chairman of Business Leadership South Africa will deliver this year’s Chairman’s Report.

Now in its fourth year, The Directors Event invites industry leaders to unpack three issues of national importance and discuss solutions in a public forum, moderated by highly-respected media personalities.

Youth employment & entrepreneurship, the use of technology to promote inclusive growth, and our political economy will be hot topics in this year’s highly focussed discussion programme which attracts participation from the country’s most prominent business and government leaders, and an audience of 300 ‘board member’ delegates.

“We are honoured to have President Ramaphosa address this important gathering of some of the top minds in South Africa. We invited him as a response to the call he made during his maiden State of the Nation Address earlier this year, calling on all South Africans, in their small corners, to help develop this country. We believe, strongly, that corporate South Africa has a massive role to play and we are very excited that everyone seems to have accepted the President Ramaphosa’s “Thuma Mina” call,” says Bongani Siqoko, editor of the Sunday Times.

Nontokozo Madonsela, Chief Marketing Officer of MMI, the JSE listed holding company for Momentum, Metropolitan and other financial services providers says, “We are incredibly honoured and excited that President Cyril Ramaphosa will be delivering the keynote address at this year’s Biggest Board Meeting. Over the past few months, we have experienced a wave of change in the country that has brought with it much needed confidence in what we can achieve. As a company with deep roots in South Africa serving a broad spectrum of citizens and businesses, we are heeding the President’s call to lend a hand in addressing our challenges. We are saying #CountUsIn, we want to be there. We believe this platform creates a space where we can have constructive dialogue and come up with concrete solutions that can positively contribute to improving the state our country”.

Related: President Ramaphosa’s Support Of Entrepreneurs And SMEs In SONA Had Us Cheering

President Ramaphosa will be the highest ranking government official to address The Directors Event with his keynote message.  Previous keynote speakers at The Directors Event have included Caroline Galvan (Lead Economist & Editor: Africa Competitiveness Report for the World Economic Forum), and Mcebisi Jonas (Former Deputy Minister of Finance).

Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, Minister of Science & Technology, and Enoch Godongwana, Chairperson of the ANC sub-committee on Economic Transformation will also be representing the perspectives of Government and the governing party during the round-table discussions at this year’s event.


The Directors Event programme is tailored for corporates, SMEs, educators, and non-profit organisations who are serious about turning South Africa’s socio-economic crisis around.

The Directors Event will take place at the Sandton Convention Centre on 8 June 2018.  To view the 2018 agenda, speaker profiles, or to book tickets: www.thedirectorsevent.co.za 

The Directors Event brought to you by the Sunday Times Top 100 Companies and MMI Holdings Limited, is supported by partners Mancosa (GSB), the Institute of Directors (IoD SA), and Greymatter & Finch.

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