SA’s best entrepreneurs announced in premier entrepreneurial competition

Following a gruelling judging process and assessment of 15 successful finalists, South Africa’s premier annual entrepreneurial competition, Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS, announced this six year’s winners at an awards ceremony held on 6 September 2017 in Johannesburg. The event saw Willem van der Merwe, owner of Africa Biomass Company, receiving the coveted title of this year’s Entrepreneur of the Year®.

Speaking at the event, spokesperson for the competition, Christo Botes, says that while selecting one entrepreneur to be the overall winner was no easy task – especially given the exceptionally high standard of this year’s finalists – van der Merwe was a notch above the rest in terms of the raw entrepreneurial nature of his business.

“Through the establishment of Africa Biomass Company (ABC) – which specialises in land clearing, wood chipping, and wood recycling – Willem [van der Merwe] has not only created a successful business by clearing landowners unwanted trees, he has also shaped a new industry in South Africa by introducing the novel concept of wood recycling,” he says.

The five 2017 category winners are:

  • 2017 Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year®: Sizwe Nzima and Siraaj Adams, owners of Iyeza Health. Having started as a bicycle delivery company that delivered chronic medication from health clinics in Khayelitisha to patients’ homes in the township, Iyeza Group has evolved into a health logistics company with a wide array of capabilities.  
  • 2017 Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year®: Itumeleng Phake, founder and owner of Zenzele Fitness Group. Zenzele Fitness Group is a dynamic fitness and wellness company that is making health and fitness more accessible to South Africans in middle and lower LSM groups.
  • 2017 Medium Business Entrepreneur of the Year®: Nomfundo Mcoyi, founder and owner of Icebolethu Group. Established as Icebolethu Funerals in 2009 as a funeral parlour, with a complement of just five staff members, the business has evolved into a prominent funeral services conglomerate with international presence and around 300 employees.
  • 2017 Job Creator of the Year®: Siphiwe Ngcobo, owner and founder of iLawu Hospitality Group. Founded in 2009 as a humble five-bedroomed B&B in Pietermaritzburg, iLawu Hospitality Group has since expanded to become one of the well-recognised hospitality and catering brands in KwaZulu-Natal, providing countless jobs to the community.
  • 2017 Innovator of the Year®: Mpodumo Doubada, founder and owner of Pimp My Book. Pimp my Book, an ever-growing chain of campus stores across the country, was founded in 2006 on the simple premise of buying and selling used textbooks and making them significantly more affordable to students.

Now in its 29th year, the Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and Business/Partners provides prizes worth R2 million.  Each of the five category winners received R60 000, and the overall winner received R160 000, towards further growing their businesses.

Beyond these monetary prizes, Botes adds that each winner will also receive valuable mentorship support, networking opportunities and associated marketing and national media exposure to further drive their business’ success. “Past winners have also gone on to win other prominent national and international awards and form valuable partnerships as a result of their success in the competition.”

SA entrepreneur swops finance for fitness

Fitness and wellness in South Africa has traditionally been quite a financially exclusive amenity – accessible only to those who can afford the typically high gym membership fees and costs associated with a healthy lifestyle. One local entrepreneur, however, is determined to change this.

With over seven years’ experience in the financial services sector, 35-year-old Tumi Phake, founder of Zenzele Fitness Group, saw a gap in the market within the local fitness sector – noting that for many South Africans, health and fitness regimes are still very much a “nice to have”.

Zenzele Fitness Group, a gym management business which operates fully-equipped gym facilities at various corporates, universities and government institutions across the country, operates on the premise of providing convenient, all-inclusive gym and fitness facilities for employees, assisting employers to see how a healthy lifestyle can benefit and improve their own workforce. The end result is an overall gym experience similar to that of a commercial health club – with the benefit of location convenience.

In addition to providing top-end, technologically advanced equipment, the business also provides disease intervention programmes (for ailments such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, hypertension, etc.) for gym members. “For employers, assisting their employees with health management programmes is a vital component of the proposition, and makes the investment in our facilities very exciting,” says Phake.

It is this natural sense of leadership which led Phake to hold high profile positions within the corporate world during his financial services career, such as junior board member at FNB Wealth. Since then, Phake was featured on Mail & Guardian’s Top 200 Young South Africans list in 2015 and most recently in 2016, was selected as a South African ambassador for the prestigious Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) in the United States of America – a leadership programme established by former US president Barack Obama.

Phake’s tenacity and passion for his business idea is what granted him the initial R5 million start-up finance from equity partner, Awethu Project / SEFA an incubator for small to medium enterprises and later on to raise additional debt funding of R8 million. By the end of this year he would have raised a total of R22 million. Today, the fitness group is turning a sizeable profit and is constantly looking to expand its national footprint.

As a young business which launched in 2014, Zenzele Fitness Group already employs over 50 staff members with 13 gyms across South Africa.

With Phake’s ambition to partner with some of the largest corporates in the country and use these relationships to penetrate even more markets, there is no doubt that Zenzele Fitness Group has the potential to scale to almost limitless bounds. Fuelled by his unwavering passion for innovation, dedication to driving change and promoting overall health and wellbeing, Phake is set to realise his goals in the coming years.

Itumeleng Phake is a finalist in the 2017 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS. For more information on his business, please visit the Zenzele Fitness Group website: