Past winner catch-up – where are they now?

2018 marks our 30th year in honouring entrepreneurs and the contributions they make toward growing the South African economy. We’re celebrating this milestone by catching up with some of the past winners of the competition.

Catching up with: Kim Whitaker

Winning year: Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year® – 2015

Winning business: Once in Cape Town is a combined product of two different accommodation types – a backpackers’ lodge and a luxury hotel – globally dubbed as a ‘poshtel’.

It’s been almost 3 years since you won the Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year® title in 2015, how has business been since then?

Business has been very good – we’ve grown year-on-year and even achieved some goals that we had set out back when we started our journey.

Shortly after winning the title in 2015, we were fortunate enough to realise one of our big dreams – expansion into Gauteng with “Once in Jo’Burg” in 2016. It has been incredibly exciting to watch the new branch grow from strength to strength.

Since the 2015 competition, I also became a parent and being a working-mom has now brought a few new challenges to my life – such as needing to travel and attend business meetings with my child (even to Germany for a trade show!).

Have you made any new developments within your business since winning?

We very recently launched a tourism academy for young women in the tourism industry. The academy will begin in May 2018 with 20 students initially – taking them through the basics of tourism management. We hope this will empower these young women to forge long and successful careers within the local tourism industry.

Eventually we hope to grow the academy to host up to 100 students per year. We want to be a driver of growth in our sector and contribute toward bolstering youth employment in our country.
We were also recently awarded our Fair Trade stamp after a thorough audit – achieving a 100% pass rate which we’re very proud of.

What was the biggest lesson you learnt from your stint in the EOY competition?

The competition was an eye-opener. Bearing witness to the innovative things others are doing reminded me to always put my best foot forward, and to be proud of our achievements.

The entire experience was exceptionally inspirational. I was able to meet and learn from so many like-minded entrepreneurs who have amazing businesses. In turn, this has led me to discover a personal passion for networking with other local entrepreneurs and for investigating the entrepreneurial landscape in South Africa. I am eager to be more involved in helping others discover their entrepreneurial talents and seeing how we, collectively, can grow our country.

What would your top piece of advice be for anyone looking to enter this year’s competition?

I think the biggest, and possibly the most important piece of advice I could offer other entrepreneurs looking to enter the competition would be to be themselves completely. Don’t be something you’re not – you should be proud of your business, and your uniqueness. Be proud to fit outside the box. Most importantly – know your business inside and out – and don’t be shy to show it off.

Photos: 2015 EOY winners

Category winners

Emerging Business Entrepreneur of the Year®: Kim Whitaker, Once in Cape Town

Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year®: Bryan Anderson, Delta Steam Systems

Medium Business Entrepreneur of the Year®: Nadir Khamissa, The Hello Group

Job Creator of the Year: Lewis Thomas, Partners Hair Design

Innovator of the Year: Nadir Khamissa, The Hello Group

Judges Prize: Ncamisile Maphumulo, Coastal Nephrology Centre


Overall winner

Entrepreneur of the Year® 2015: Gil Oved and Ran Neu-Ner, The Creative Counsel

Cape Town hospitality establishment owner recognised as Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year®

Kim Whitaker, co-founder and co-owner of Once in Cape Town, a hospitality establishment situated in the heart of Cape Town, has been named the 2015 Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year® at the annual Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® Competition held in Johannesburg this morning.

The Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year® category celebrates entrepreneurs who have been in business for a maximum of 5 years, with a turnover not exceeding R5 million.

Once in Cape Town is a combined product of two different accommodation types – a backpackers lodge and a luxury hotel – globally dubbed as a ‘poshtel’, and was born after Whitaker took over a struggling two star lodge and revamped the business and staff structures completely. The business offers a concise brand promise – the fun and adventurous qualities synonymous with a backpackers lodge, together with the cleanliness, safety, centrality and efficiency of a modern hotel.

Due to innovative and creative business and marketing strategies that Whitaker has fast implemented, the establishment has managed to increase occupancy rates from 32 to 80% in the short space of only 12 months. Despite constant re-investment, the business has also managed to maintain a 23% profit margin. The establishment is now recognised as a four star establishment in the backpacking category by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa.

Whitaker has also introduced a new company culture and structure, which encourages staff to take responsibility for their own skills development and professional careers. Her efforts and hard work has resulted in a fun, social, friendly, safe and welcoming environment for tourists and locals to enjoy, and she believes that the employees of Once in Cape Town are the business’s best asset.

The business currently has a permanent staff complement of 25 employees, and has a staff to guest ratio of 1:5, well above the international average of 1:8 in a hostel environment, which Whitaker believes is necessary to provide quality and attentive service.

She says that entrepreneurship is the embodiment not only of financial risk-taking, but it is the execution of a usually creative and unique idea that others are afraid to even dream of. “It is the opportunity offered to people fortunate enough to be called entrepreneurs, in exchange for hours of scheming, focus and plenty of blood, sweat and tears.”

According to Frances Wright, a member of the 2015 Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® judging panel, Whitaker is deserving of the award as she has in a very short period of time successfully managed to turn around a failing business, which is extremely challenging. “A strong business culture was developed and implemented, resulting in the establishment becoming a thriving business with a strong culture. The business’s target market is well defined and Whitaker clearly understands the need of their customers. With a 30% net profit, Once in Cape Town is deserving of this award,” she concludes.

For more information on Once in Cape Town please visit