Opportunities ripe for female entrepreneurs to shatter glass ceiling

The entrepreneurial gender gap is slowly closing in many countries, and in these days, women are as likely as men to start a small business. In hot pursuit of such gender parity is South Africa, where seven women are engaged in early-stage entrepreneurship for every ten male entrepreneurs, according to the recently released 2016/2017 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor.

However, it is imperative for both the public and private sectors in South Africa to band together in order to create an environment where woman entrepreneurs feel well-supported in terms of business growth and development.

We sat down with the female finalists of the 2017 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition who said that although there are highly capable and talented female entrepreneurs in the country, the landscape could still be more conducive. In light of this, they provided insight into how women entrepreneurship can be better supported in South Africa:

Nelisiwe Magubane, chairperson of Matleng Energy, says that the current economic downturn is presenting a number of opportunities and realisations that more women need to be job creators rather than job seekers. However, in order to truly realise this potential and assist female entrepreneurs to flourish, the utilisation of preferential policies as well as the prioritisation of female entrepreneurship should be maximised.

Echoing this sentiment is Refilwe Marumo, director of Mighty Comms, who says that the opportunities for female entrepreneurs in South Africa are slowly improving, thanks to the latest Preferential Procurement Policy which includes the proposed new Preferential Procurement Regulations, an introduction of a compulsory sub-contracting clause stating that a minimum of 30% of the value of all contracts above R 30 million should be undertaken by SMMEs, women, youth, black persons or persons with disabilities.  

“In light of this, the ‘big’ companies in need of subcontractors will be making use of a lot more women owned businesses. However, even with these sorts of measures in place, it really is up to women to market their businesses effectively,” continues Refilwe.

Lindy Scott, Managing & Creative Director of Conceptual Eyes says that although entrepreneurship is seen as high risk to many, in an emerging and dynamic market like South Africa, opportunity is everywhere.  “The market is equally diverse and women should not be scared to work in traditionally male industries; if your service or product adds value – be brave and go for it,” she adds.

“There is no doubt that the number of women entrepreneurs in South Africa is on the rise, despite an unlevelled battle ground,” agrees Ouma Tema founder of Plus-Fab. “South Africa is slowly but surely embracing the new era of women in leadership, and it is imperative for these leaders to be female role models in order for younger women to see the possibility of translating their entrepreneurial aspirations into reality.”

Whilst female entrepreneurship is on the increase in South Africa, it is crucial for these women to speak out against impediments to their development and learn from each other in order to promote entrepreneurship amongst women in South Africa even further.

To get the ball rolling, the finalists provided the following tips for aspiring female entrepreneurs to consider:

  • Maximise networks: This is a great way for entrepreneurs to further extend their knowledge within their field, as well as draw support and inspiration from likeminded individuals. 
  • Learn from mistakes: The path to success will be full of failures, however entrepreneurs should not let this deter them from their goals. Instead, use these failures as lessons and stepping stones to success.
  • Persevere: Although entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey, don’t lose sight of why you started. Remember, that in the end, the reward will be worth the risk.

2017 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition now open for entries

The instrumental value that entrepreneurs add to the South African economy is undisputable – they are an important cog in the creation of the much needed jobs in the country. It is therefore encouraging that the challenges and obstacles which impede this valuable sector are receiving some much-needed attention from both the public and private sectors – with the inclusion of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the State of the Nation Address (SONA) and National Budget Speech – beckoning for a more focused approach to entrepreneurial development in the country.

This is according to Ben Bierman, Managing Director at Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS), who was speaking at the launch of the 2017 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS, in Johannesburg today.

He adds that just as important as government’s efforts of building an inclusive, supportive and thriving entrepreneurial eco system, is the need for society to encourage and support entrepreneurs in starting and growing businesses which positively contribute towards the country’s growth. “We need to be creating more platforms that stimulate and support entrepreneurship, we should work to promote and celebrate the successes of entrepreneurs – those individuals that tirelessly, often without recognition, contribute to growing the local GDP and improving employment figures.”

Celebrating its 29th year, the Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS competition seeks to promote entrepreneurship in South Africa as a viable career path, by honouring dedicated entrepreneurs who have made great strides in their businesses and whose passion for growing their businesses and communities inspires and stimulates the nation.

Also speaking at the competition launch was esteemed entrepreneur, Sisa Ngebulana, CEO of Rebosis and Billion Group who spoke about his entrepreneurial journey including listing Rebosis on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) in 2011 for R3, 6 billion.

Bierman adds that as 73% of the country’s adult population sees entrepreneurship as a good career choice (2017 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report), industry leaders should be leveraging this to drive entrepreneurial participation in South Africa. “If we can create more entrepreneurs as a country, we can boost the economy which then in turn has various positive knock-on effects, such as creating jobs, introducing innovation and having a larger tax pool to fund all the key government projects including educating our young people.”

The Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS, is a platform to reward and acknowledge the ongoing hard work of these entrepreneurs. With five categories, entrepreneurs from emerging to small and medium businesses can enter.

Prizes valued at over R 2 million can be won, which include cash prizes of R60 000 for each main category winner, and R160 000 for the overall winner. Competition winners will also receive valuable mentorship support, networking opportunities and national media exposure.

“Entrepreneurship can be a lonely endeavour, but also one of the most rewarding. Through the competition, we want to share the successes of these inspirational individuals who are making a difference, as well as create an environment in which entrepreneurs can engage, network and learn from each other.”

Entrepreneurs interested in entering the competition can download entry forms online at www.eoy.co.za as well as interact with fellow entrepreneurs and entrants on the competition’s social media platforms www.twitter.com/@EOY_SA and www.facebook.com/EOY.SA. The closing date for the competition is 31 May 2017.

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.

Identifying entrepreneurial opportunities in the SA marketplace

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower” – Steve Jobs

While the current South African economy may present challenging times for local businesses, this period also presents opportunities for entrepreneurs to explore new business ventures or to investigate new ways of taking a business to the next level.

This is according to Christo Botes, spokesperson for the Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® competition, who says that during unpredictable market environments, entrepreneurs should focus on their business’ key competencies, relevance in the market and competitive advantages. “Analysing these areas could lead to innovation as to how the business is run or the introduction of new services and products.”

Given the many changing trends shaping society and consumer needs, as well as improved technology, now is the time for businesses to innovate and shape their business according to these many developing needs, says Botes.

“Many entrepreneurs have started businesses in challenging times with great success due to the business filling a gap in the market. There are many business opportunities currently available in South Africa, and it is vital that entrepreneurs are aware of these opportunities and that they know how to capitalise on them.”

He says one such gap in the market currently is the need for private schooling and education. “It is well documented that the quality of public education has become a concern for parents. Private school Curro saw a gap in the market for affordable private schooling in the market and due to the roaring success of the business have established various primary and high schools all around the country.”

Curro Holdings CEO, Chris van der Merwe, recently said the affordable private schooling market was much larger than initially envisaged, noting that by the end of this financial year the company would already have beaten its 2010 prelisting forecast of 40 schools by 2020.

Other sectors currently offering opportunities include alternative energy sources, the shortage in student accommodation and the African markets which are expanding rapidly, says Botes.

He also points to the most recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitor which revealed that in 2013, 37.9% of South African respondents believe that there are opportunities to start a business in the country, up slightly from 35% in the 2012 report. Botes says that this highlights the opportunities that are increasingly presenting themselves to entrepreneurs. “Many examples, Curro being one of these, display the value and potential available to entrepreneurs who simply analyse the marketplace around them for opportunities and then capitalise on these gaps with smart business solutions.

“As the local economy continues to grow, so will the number of opportunities begin to grow. This provides opportunities for those entrepreneurs wishing to start a business, as well as opportunities for those entrepreneurs with established businesses to relook at their business and analyse how they are able to improve or expand product lines,” says Botes.

Successful entrepreneurs have a craving, a desire and a need to constantly know more, says Botes. “It is those entrepreneurs that ask industry specialists about the latest trends, those that know which individuals are operating within their sector and those that research new technology that are able to identify the gaps currently in the market.”

He adds that often entrepreneurs think they have to reinvent products or services to have success, but this isn’t always the case. “Entrepreneurs should look at the small things that may have been overlooked or ignored by others, or look for good ideas that were poorly executed. With the right expertise and experience, an entrepreneur may be able to improve on an otherwise failed product or service.

“Entrepreneurs should also research international products and services that may not be known to the local market which could provide opportunities locally.”

Botes says that another secret to success is securing the maximum reward, for the lowest risk possible. “While this often isn’t the reality, if an entrepreneur knows all the risks associated to an investment decision for a new business, a successful entrepreneur should have the ability to consider the risk and commit themselves to a particular business decision,” concludes Botes.

Entrepreneurship attractive on the continent

But SA hesitant to take the leap

South Africa’s economy is projected to steadily grow with 2.7% in 2014 and 3.2% in 2015, and according to Kobus Engelbrecht, spokesperson for the Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® competition, this growth will result in many opportunities for local entrepreneurs. He says that as South Africa’s economy grows, so will the amount of business opportunities available for entrepreneurs to take advantage of.

“South Africa currently offers many new and exciting opportunities for entrepreneurs. However, in order to capitalise on these opportunities, the country’s entrepreneurial spirit needs to be both promoted and encouraged amongst the public.”

The recently released Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2013 Global report, which measures the levels of entrepreneurial activity between economies, revealed that in the Sub-Saharan African (SSA) region an average of 69% of all respondents believe that there are opportunities available to start a business, 47% have intentions to start a business and 74% are confident in their own skills to start a business.

Engelbrecht says that these figures are extremely encouraging for the growth of an entrepreneurship culture in the region, yet South Africa – ranked as the largest economy in Africa by the World Bank – achieved levels below average in these categories. He says that when taking a closer look at the attitudes and perceptions of South Africa, the report reveals that despite slight increases from 2012, perceptions of entrepreneurship in South Africa remained rather low.

“The 2013 report reveals that only 37.9% (up from 35% in 2012) of respondents believe that there are opportunities to start a business in the country, and 42.7% (up from 39% in 2012) believe that they possess the perceived capabilities to open and run a business. These figures highlight the need for a culture of entrepreneurship to be fostered as opportunities are abound and many individuals possess entrepreneurial characteristics. Awareness around how to capture these opportunities and how to develop these skills just need to be created.”

The report also revealed that SSA had the highest average of Total early stage Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA), which refers to those individuals in the process of starting a business and those running new businesses less than 3.5 years old, when compared to the other global regions.

“While SSA reported an average of 26.6%, South Africa’s TEA is however only 10.6%, and the lowest in the SSA region.”

The report also revealed that South Africa’s established business ownership rate is only 2.9%, which ranks the country last in the SSA region. When comparing South Africa to Brazil, a fellow BRICS economy, the country reported an average of 17.3% and 15.4% for TEA and established business ownership rate respectively.”

While TEA contributes to dynamism and innovation in an economy, established businesses are an important source of stable employment for the economy. Engelbrecht says South Africa’s low business ownership rate is concerning.

“These figures need to remain balanced as while it is important that entrepreneurship is promoted, it is also key to support business growth in order to ensure that SMEs survive the first three year of existence, which are the most risky.”

“Government has acknowledged that small businesses play a pivotal role in job creation and economic growth, and in order to grow both these numbers, investment into small business must be provided. As a result training development initiatives offered by Government, such as Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda), have been put in place to assist with the development of entrepreneurs and therefore minimise risk.”

He says that the culture of entrepreneurship in the country is growing slowly and it is starting to be viewed as a legitimate career option. “The 2013 report highlighted that 74% of respondents in South Africa, believe that entrepreneurship is a good career choice.

“While many respondents regard entrepreneurship in a positive light, this doesn’t always translate into individuals actually starting a business. Fostering a culture of entrepreneurship in the country and promoting entrepreneurship as a career path, along with support and advice on how to turn an idea into a reality, is important for improving entrepreneurship levels in the country.

“Individuals starting their entrepreneurial journey do however need to be aware of the challenges they may face so that they are prepared for the ups and downs of running a business. Although they may experience bumps along the road, it will be the most rewarding challenge they have ever undertaken,” concludes Engelbrecht.