Innovative entrepreneur taking the local ICT sector by storm

100% black female owned company – Mighty Comms – is a broadband solutions company that has carved out a niche for itself in the South African ICT sector. The company offers clients across various sectors broadband and network design services, deployments, installations and maintenance services.

Mighty Comms founder, Refilwe Marumo, says she has encountered many twists and turns during her entrepreneurial journey. “My first business venture was a corporate cleaning business established in 2005 named Mighty Care, which traded for about three or four years. This was followed by a period of broadcasting service applications with a consortium, but after two rounds of applications, we were still not successful and the business had to evolve in order to survive.

“In 2014, we underwent a name change, from Mighty Care to Mighty Comms, and armed with a new vision we focused on the ICT industry, and offered a selection of products that we had experience in. With a staff complement of only four, we started small and the growth has since been organic.”

Today, Mighty Comms employs 10 people, the bulk of which are female technicians and ICT specialists. “We broadened our scope to deployments in 2016, which meant a greater focus on Core Network designs, LAN installations and maintenance, which led to the additional job creation for six technicians. We are passionate about empowering women in the ICT sector and have upskilled all new employees through various courses offered to the ICT industry.

Having recently embarked on machine monitoring innovation with our partner IoT NxT, Marumo says that further employment will be created over the coming year. “Machine monitoring innovation is truly the cutting edge of the Internet of Things (IoT), where analogue equipment is ‘transformed’ into digital, for easier monitoring and asset tracing.

“We believe we are at the crux of the future and in order to scale accordingly, are taking in 20 new learners, who will receive the necessary ICT industry training and exposure. The idea is that some of these learners will be employed by Mighty Comms on a full-time basis in the future,” she explains.

Accredited with global original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) such as Alcatel Lucent, Huawei and Ruckus, and boasting an impressive list of Government and private clients, Mighty Comms seems set for great things. “The business has shown significant growth in the past year, increasing revenue by a whopping 147%,” says Marumo. “We have also been approached by three multinational companies in the past year – one that offers hospital management solutions and another that supplies two-way radio trunking products and a swift messaging platform for the banking sector – to be their local partner.

“These partnerships have led to an even greater focus on the upskilling and training of our employees, as our technicians will need to learn the ropes on how we can take these new products to market,” she concludes.

Refilwe Marumo is a finalist in the 2017 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS. For more information on her business, please visit the Mighty Comms website: mightycomms.co.za.

Local entrepreneur takes on ICT sector giants

Being a serial entrepreneur requires dedication and perseverance, as well as the ability to spot a good opportunity when one comes knocking. This is precisely what entrepreneur and 2017 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition entrant, Damian Michael of Innovo Networks did.

Starting his career in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry in 2008, initially at MTN before moving to lead the roll out of Neotel in South Africa, Damian quickly developed an eye for identifying market gaps. While working with Neotel, he saw the opportunity to register an authorised installer business with the launch of TOP TV, a business which his wife led for two years until they sold it. When Neotel announced its acquisition by ICT giant Vodacom, Damian realised this was the push he needed to start his own venture.

In 2013, he launched Innovo Networks, a high-touch, business focussed voice, data and cloud provider aimed specifically at helping small and medium enterprises (SMEs) grow and expand their operations by providing the best technologies, at a better price than larger corporates in the industry. “I wanted to use my expertise in the ICT industry and provide guidance and best of breed products to SMEs in South Africa so that they could sustain themselves and contribute toward growing the local economy in terms of job creation,” he says.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Damian’s journey into full-time entrepreneurship though – during Innovo Networks’ second year of business, the company lost R500 000 on a fraudulent order and as a leader, Damian realised that his response to the situation was critical to the business’ future success: “I had to be strong, and show leadership to my team that business could and would bounce back from this setback.”

Another great lesson Damian has learnt along his journey is the importance of retaining top talent. “For a small business to compete with salaries offered by larger telecommunication corporates is very difficult, but it is crucial to hire top talent and reward them appropriately, or risk losing them to the giants in industry.”

Since inception, Innovo Networks has grown from strength to strength, racking up a number of awards and accolades along the way. Due to the business’ success and ability to main a positive cash flow, the business also recently purchased its own premises in Century City, Cape Town – a big milestone for the business.
Damian accredits his entrepreneurial success to his attention to detail and ability to spot gaps in the market. “My passion for helping others and being customer-centric in all my businesses has always been a big part of my journey too,” he says.

Looking to the future, Damian has big dreams for the business and plans to innovate across Innovo Networks’ entire product portfolio, and build its own cloud platform and security products. “We want to dominate and disrupt the cloud space, with the goal to gain attention for a multinational buyout,” he says.

Damian believes he’s got what it takes to take the 2017 Entrepreneur of the Year® title home, he shares three key tips for his fellow entrepreneurs:

  1. Have a clear and concise vision for your business. It is also important you are able to articulate this vision clearly and regularly to your team.
  2. Hire top talent and pay well, or to the best of your ability – this will pay off.
  3. Make the effort. No one succeeds immediately, but the long hours of grafting and hard work will pay off in the end.

Why EOY is valuable to the entrepreneurial community

NickeyMannya-web2013 competition entrant, Nickey Mannya, Managing Director of Rural Brands, shares some information and insight about his entrepreneurial journey and discusses why he decided to enter the competition.

Briefly describe your business and the industry you operate in?

At Rural Brands we develop and produce technologically advanced online solutions to help businesses achieve “efficiency through technology”.

We operate in the information and communication technologies (ICT) sector. Rural Brands develop Enterprise Content Management (ECM) Systems, which organise and store a company’s documents and other content related to company processes. These systems are used on company websites and intranets.

We also develop an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) tool named DDAY. This tool allows both internal and external audiences to share information, and is often used by finance and sales departments.

We pride ourselves in that our products are home-grown and developed in-house.

Where did your business concept originate from and when did you start your business?

After gaining a number of years experience within the ICT sector, I started Rural Brands in 2008. With the growth of the ICT sector and the proliferation of the Internet, I was consistently inspired to create ideas which would provide solutions to make my own job easier. This is what motivated me to actually build products as opposed to purchasing them.

I draw a lot of inspiration from the Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs and local pioneers such as Mark Shuttleworth, Vinny Lingham and Phuthuma Nhleko, who all have had great success in the ICT industry.

What advice can you give to aspiring to entrepreneurs?

Always be honest with yourself. There is a very fine line between being an Entrepreneur and a Dreamer. Most of us romanticise about the idea of being our own boss and the perks that come along with the title. This may result in overlooking the hard work, sacrifices and vast challenges that accompany the title. Not recognising these aspects from the beginning could result in failure.

Be sure you have what it takes, take your time, make sure you are in it for the long haul and have fun! As entrepreneurs, we should realise that money comes as a by-product.

Also, discipline, integrity and business ethics should take preference above reproach. Entrepreneurs should never lose those principals as they are priceless.

Where do you see your business in the next five years?

Rural Brands is in the process of developing our own Enterprise Resource Planning tool, which we plan to launch in 2014. This will be a great accomplishment for the company.

I also see the business growing steadily and offering employment opportunities to young South Africans within the technology sector who display talent.

I believe that we have what it takes, and with the right motivation, the courage and the tenacity we have displayed thus far, we are getting there. We have erected a strong foundation and learnt from our mistakes. As a business we know where we are heading and we are carefully forging ahead, making our mark within the industry.

What is your opinion on the reports of the Western Cape becoming the Silicon Valley of South Africa?

I think it is a great idea and a great moral booster to most ‘tech geeks’, including myself. It will put us on the global ICT map and should also foster further innovation and job creation in the sector.

Why did you decide to enter the Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® competition?

I believe as an emerging entrepreneur I have much to offer. Apart from being a young and educated South African, I am also developing home-grown products and solutions that will hopefully highlight our country’s innovative talent. I believe that our country can compete internationally with places such Silicon Valley, which has become synonymous with technological innovation.

Why would you recommend that fellow entrepreneurs get involved with initiatives such as Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year®?

You will never know if you or your products are making it, or whether they are relevant in the market, unless you benchmark yourself against your peers. This will not only allow you to learn from other individuals’ experiences, but also alert you to any shortcomings in your business or improvements that can be made.