Local female entrepreneurs ‘making it happen’ across SA’s sectors

This coming Saturday, 8 March, marks International Women’s Day 2015, and highlights the need for various countries around the world to celebrate the achievements of women.

Gugu Mjadu, spokesperson for of the 2015 Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® competition says that this year’s global International Women’s Day theme, ‘Make It Happen’, is very fitting for the role that South African female entrepreneurs play in the local economy. She says that the entrepreneurial competition has witnessed a definite increase in the number of female entrants, as well as in quality and entrepreneurial talent over the past few years. “The female winners who have taken their future into their own hands, and have successfully carved out a niche for themselves in their industries, and made a significant impact on their local communities.”

Now in its 27th year, the history of the Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® competition showcases the rise of female entrepreneurs in the country. Since 1988, the competition has produced 51 winners across various categories, of which over 30% (16) were female winners.

Mjadu adds that it is interesting to notice the shift in sectors that South African female entrepreneurs are now operating in. “We are increasingly seeing a shift from ‘traditional’ markets, such as hospitality and retail, to female entrants operating within the medical and transport industry, sectors which may have been traditionally male dominated in the past.”

Mjadu points to some example of the past female winners that followed their dreams to start a business and develop it into the successful operation it is today.

  • Theresa J Cupido, CEO and owner of ATN Group (Pty) Ltd was awarded the 2014 Job Creator of the Year®. The business, established in August 2006, operates in the roadmarking and Civil engineering field, and today employs between 250 and 300 individuals after growing the business’ employment rate by 100% in the last year.
  • Overall 2014 Entrepreneur of the Year® winner, Adri Kruger, is the owner of Tzaneen Country Lodge, a country style hotel situated just outside Tzaneen in the Limpopo Province. Starting with an old and dilapidated farmstead in 2000, Kruger managed to successfully develop what was intended to be a four-bedroomed guest house into a full service 60 bedroom hotel, and conference and event venue that accommodates up to 500 delegates.
  • 2014 Medium Business Entrepreneur of the Year®, Marthie Jansen Van Rensburg, founder of Ekurhuleni Artisans and Skills Training Centre (Pty) Ltd, established her business after noticing the need for an alternative method to the traditional schooling system. Today, the center employs 40 fulltime staff and has been recognised with numerous industry and commercial accolades due to its success and focus on social development.
  • Pharmacist, Mariaan du Plessis, co-founder and owner of Medical Nutritional Institute (Pty) Ltd with Dr. Conrad Smith, was awarded the 2013 Innovator of the Year® title due to their innovative product range for a South African company, and the fact that they are able to compete internationally among other successful global products.
  • Margaret Hirsch, Chief Operations Officer of national appliance store, Hirsch’s, was awarded the Lifetime Achiever Award in 2013. Established in 1979, Margaret and her husband, Allan, started Hirsch’s from a tiny showroom in Durban with just R900 that they had saved. At the end of 2012 the business successfully reached R1 billion in turnover.
  • 2012 Job Creator of the Year® winner, Madelé Ferreira of Mooihoek Boerdery, was awarded the title after growing her farm, from a few hundred plants in 1998, to a multi-million rand enterprise which supplies spinach, leeks and strawberries to leading national chain store groups.
  • Tabisa Nomnganga of Bravo Promotions, 2012 Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year® title winner, started her business after recognising an opportunity to implement branded entertainment communication strategies and campaigns, and today runs a profitable and thriving business.

The 2014 Gender Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index (GEDI) reported that the African region is characterised by a high level of female entrepreneurial drive, with an average of 69% of the female population identifying opportunities to start a business. Mjadu says that while the rising number of female winners in the competition is encouraging, much more needs to be done to promote female entrepreneurship in the country. She points to the 2014 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, which revealed that Total female early-stage Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA) in South Africa – those in the process of starting a venture and or have been running a new business for less than 3.5 years – is only 6.29% of the total local female population, down from 9% the previous year (2013).

Mjadu says that it is imperative that the country continues to promote and recognise female entrepreneurial leaders in South Africa and profile them as role model. “South Africa is home to many successful female entrepreneurs, and in order to continue encouraging entrepreneurship, it is vital for the country to regularly recognise, celebrate and reward the women making a difference,” concludes Mjadu.