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 by catching up with some of the past winners of the competition.

Catching up with: Mpodumo Doubada
Winning year: Innovator of the Year® – 2017

Winning business: Pimp my Book is a successful chain of campus stores across the country, founded on the simple premise of buying and selling used textbooks. After earning his first 10% commission on the sale of his friends’ textbooks, founder, Mpodumo Doubada, quickly saw the opportunity to create a one-stop platform where students could sell their used textbooks for cash, as well as purchase the books they need.

It’s been almost a year since you won the Innovator of the Year title in 2017, how has business been since then?

Over the last few months, business has been very good. We do operate a seasonal business, but even taking this into account, we experienced a bumper season. We have since signed two big clients – bringing in an additional 800 students to our direct market.

The direct spin-off from the EOY competition has also been amazing to watch.  We’ve seen a far more positive reception from various universities and corporates – who have now heard about us through the media and are a little more open to trying our innovative approach.

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

At the time of our win, our tech division was relatively new. It has now been rolled out across all our stores and is bringing in more and more business. We have seen a significant increase in laptop sales in the Cape Town area alone. 

Also new, is our new Hatfield store in Pretoria – targeting students of the University of Pretoria and UNISA.

We are also working on an exciting new project for an international market – and we will share more details about this in due course.

On a personal note, I was very fortunate to be selected as a finalist in the 2018 Mandela Washington Fellowship as part of the Young African Leaders Initiative. In June, I will join the other candidates from Sub Saharan Africa as we travel to the United States to learn from our American peers – with the aim to bring leadership skills back to Africa. 

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

I’d never seen myself as an “innovator”. Whenever I think of the term, I always think of high tech or new inventions. The competition showed me that in fact, innovation is just about doing things differently. If you change the way something has traditionally been done to solve a problem – then you are an innovator. This was a big eye-opener for me.

One of the toughest things to face during the competition, was the questions posed by the judges. Their questions required a fair amount of self-evaluation. Up until this point, I didn’t recognise the full impact of what we do – until others told me what a great job we were doing. The process really opened my mind to see the changes we make to the communities we serve.

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

Be authentic about yourself and your business. You need to you know your business and industry inside and out as the judges will interrogate this at a deeper level than you ever have – so you need to be prepared to do the same in preparation.

Above all – let your passion shine through anything you prepare.

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 by catching up with some of the past winners of the competition.

Catching up with: Elian Wiener

Winning year: Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year® and Innovator of the Year – 2011

Winning business: Epic Communications (now MSL) is an award-winning integrated communications and public relations agency with offices in both Johannesburg and Cape Town. The company specialises in helping businesses build and protect their brands and reputations.

It’s been 7 years since you won the Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year® and Innovator of the Year titles in 2011, how has business been since then?

There have been significant developments for myself and the business since 2011. In the subsequent years, we have continued on our rapid expansion path as we continue to lead the evolution of the communications industry in Africa. Most notably, Epic Communications, which has rebranded as MSL, was acquired by Publicis Groupe in 2014. Publicis Groupe is one of the world’s largest advertising and communications companies in the world. This acquisition has enabled us to bring global best practices to bear for our clients as well as offer a more integrated marketing solution in collaboration with our Publicis owned sister agencies in Africa.

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

We have always placed innovation at the forefront of what we do, which has been key in an industry that is rapidly changing. Over the last five years, we have evolved from a traditional public relations agency to an integrated communications agency that seeks to guide our clients through this ever changing marketing landscape. To do this we have completely restructured our business into full service integrated marketing teams and added new offerings in the digital, social media, influencer, reputation management, training and reporting spaces.

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

I learned the importance of maintaining a competitive advantage. As a business grows, it naturally loses its start-up advantages – which need to be replaced with others to remain competitive. For us this means constantly reviewing our vision, structure, skill sets, service offering and market positioning. Winning multiple awards at the EOY competition in 2011 also helped to boost our profile and introduce us to a strong network of companies, many of which have gone on to be clients of ours.   

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

Spend time and effort on your entry. It is crucial to really think about what makes your company special – its vision and the value it adds to all stakeholders.

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 by catching up with some of the past winners of the competition.

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

It has been an incredibly interesting time to be in business. It was an amazing coincidence that the Entrepreneur of the Year® awards were announced on the morning of 2 September 2015, and it so happened that later that day, we finalised the sale of our business to the Publicis Groupe – the 3rd largest communications group globally.

We have, however, remained in the business since the sale and we now consult to the business as a whole.

We have also each started different initiatives since then. I am currently working on my 4th start-up – a private equity company called LLH Capital, investing in businesses that are transforming and digitising the African continent.

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

The communications industry as a whole has experienced a lot of changes. There have been market entries of new services and technology. To keep up and ensure that we were always able to meet our clients’ needs, we developed OBI – a software programme and system for managing people on the ground. OBI helps businesses to gamify what they do and helps staff track their own performance against that of their peers. We are very proud of OBI, what it does for our staff and in turn, what it can do for our clients.

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

Before EOY, we didn’t focus too much on our own brand building or competitions. We thought that people would find out about us if they needed to.  When we entered the competition, we quickly discovered that there was a whole new world waiting for us. Winning was a game-changer and completely shifted our perceptions.

After winning, we received so much recognition and respect from clients, suppliers, and staff. We realised we were actually a force to be reckoned with, not just a small company – something which is very important, but equally something we, as entrepreneurs, tend to struggle with.

The biggest lesson for us was that you need to get your name out there and seek some recognition.

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

It is important to understand why you deserve the award. Perhaps some advice to this year’s entrants would be to look inwardly and 1) how you contribute to the economy? 2) what you stand for? 3) how have you improved unemployment rate in your community and have you changed people’s lives? 4) how have you contributed to the social fabric of society? What are you proud of?

If you can answer these questions with integrity, then you have a good chance in the competition.

Any last thoughts?

Winning the Entrepreneur of the Year® competition has improved my personal journey as an entrepreneur and definitely our business trajectory. I am still so inspired to do more.

Breaking norms leads to success for 2015 EOY entrant

Wearing pink and playing with dolls is often associated with most little girls’ childhood. This was not the case for Shireen Sayed, an adventurous outdoor enthusiast who grew up climbing trees. This Durban-based entrepreneur, owner of Aspire Project Management, says she knew from a young age that she would carve her career in the built environment, and what lead her to initially take the decision to study civil engineering.

Determined to succeed after her parents’ tuition funds ran out after her first year of studies, she managed to stay at school by seeking funding from engineering companies that she contacted using the Yellow Pages. “I wrote a letter to every engineering firm listed in South Africa, while at the same time working part-time in retail. I was then offered a job by Ninham Shand Consulting Engineers – at the time, one of the largest consulting engineering company in South Africa,” says Sayed.

During her time with the firm, Sayed completed numerous projects, from designing water reservoirs, roads and bulk services at various locations in KwaZulu-Natal, to determining the location of the Katse Dam in Lesotho.

She also quickly progressed from the design stage through to the implementation of projects by managing the construction phase and handover process. “This experience provided me with a good grounding on how engineering projects are designed and constructed.”

After seven years with the company, Sayed received an opportunity to work in Ireland which she grabbed with both hands. “Looking back, I viewed this decision as the catalyst to starting my own engineering practice, as the international exposure I received during my time abroad taught me to view life and the role of engineering from a different perspective.”

Having been exposed to project delivery for over 15 years, Sayed took the decision to undertake a Master’s Degree in Project Management at the University of Limerick in Ireland to strengthen her knowledge of the science needed to deliver a projects within constraints.

“While it was a challenging balancing act of working a full-time job managing projects, while studying in the evenings and weekends, I believe my determination and focus paid off, as this was a building block to eventually setting up my own company.”

Armed with a strong foundation in engineering design and construction, as well as project management, Sayed started Aspire Project Management upon her return to South Africa in 2011. “Through my experience, I have developed a good foundation and understanding of how to deliver innovative engineering projects for clients, which now includes various blue chip companies nationally.”

She adds that her varied experience contributes to the value she offers her clients. “Project Management teaches you discipline in following processes and procedures, whereas civil engineering teaches you to be analytical and a problem solver. Both backgrounds afford me the opportunity to engage with project teams as I understand each process inside and out. My thinking and approach to business and life has been shaped by the principles that I have learnt from these two disciplines.”

As Sayed had been out of the country for more than 11 years, she says that her greatest challenge to date has been building the brand’s visibility within a very limited network. “We are however currently sourcing partnerships and support from long standing businesses to assist in raising the profile of the business.”

Setting up Aspire Project Management against all odds has ensured that this innovative thinker continues to follow her dreams, and in the process create jobs and opportunities for her employees and the families they support. “We also undertake small social development programmes by supporting local communities, and I am very grateful that my company is in a position to do this.”

Sayed says her future plans include expanding her company’s footprint nationally. “I see Aspire Project Management establishing itself firmly in the South African business landscape, and we will continue to look for partnerships that share our vision of creating true value for our clients and society as a whole.”

For more information on Aspire Project Management, please visit:



Creative recruiting gains momentum for 2015 EOY entrant

Many find it challenging to balance both a career and family life, but when you are a mother of a young family with the goal of expanding your business into Africa while simultaneously increasing your local market and financial wellbeing, it sounds like an impossible task. Yet that is precisely what Laura Reynolds – business owner, wife, and mother to three young boys – decided to take on when she resigned from her stable job, at the tender age of 23 and started a recruitment company, The RecruitGroup.

For as long as Reynolds, a Rhodes University Psychology graduate, can remember, she has had a passion for business. It is with this passion that she has managed to achieve what many experienced businessmen and women have not – she has successfully managed and grown a business for nine years. “The company has experienced immense growth and is today one of South Africa’s largest privately-owned recruitment companies,” says Reynolds.

She says that starting her company at such a young age meant only a few people took her seriously, and many expected her to fail. Today the company has a multi-million rand turnover, a staff compliment in excess of 72, and is one of the 36% of recruitment companies that not only survived the recession in the country, but also grew in turnover during that time.

The RecruitGroup has adopted fresh work philosophies that have ensured the success of the company. An example of these philosophies include a flexi-time concept called iTime, which provides her employees with the option of going home once they have achieved what is required for the day – an idea that is aimed at creating higher morale, productivity and a decrease in absenteeism. “We implemented this philosophy to eliminate the daily commute in heavy traffic, promote smarter working strategies, and to put the ball in our employees’ court. We trust and value them and most importantly, believe that they are responsible enough to deliver what is required of them without having to actually sit in the office.”

In 2012 the company did away with commission structures in favour of higher basic salaries – a concept unheard of in the recruitment and sales industry. Since the introduction of this structure, the company’s turnover has doubled, morale has increased and staff retention is at an all-time high, says Reynolds. “Today’s workforce is bright, inquisitive, motivated and is constantly seeking new challenges. Therefore, if you want your company to succeed, it is vital to stay on top of what inspires your staff and to keep these movers and shakers interested.”

Reynolds established TeacHer in 2013 and RecruitGroup Graduate Academy in 2014, initiatives which pay it forward and shares her passion. RecruitGroup Graduate Academy is an equity focused initiative aimed at training graduates in all forms of recruitment and sales while TeacHer is an initiative developed to empower young women through an experiential shadow and mentoring programme. “The aim is to empower, upskill and educate young South Africans and provide a springboard into one of our economy’s most crucial areas, namely job creation.”

The RecruitGroup has won a number of industry awards and accolades throughout the years – a feat that Reynolds accounts to her employees’ passion for service, and the solution-driven, customer-focused services that have ensured that the company secures strong business relationships. “I believe that to survive in this difficult economic climate creativity and innovation are essential.”

Reynolds lists cash-flow, productivity, and attracting and retaining the best talent as one of her greatest challenges to date, and says that she has overcome these challenges by creating unique products and services that retain the company’s earnings and annuity income, and has adapted her management style to suit the different generations working within the company.

She says that although starting the business was rocky, as with all good journeys she had to find her way and forge her own route. Today she looks back and remembers the tears, the stress, and the sheer fear felt in those early days. “I can look back with pride and a sense of achievement that can only be earned by the experience of starting a business.”

For more information on RecruitGroup, please visit, or contact @therecruitgroup,

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

Determination leads to a passion-driven life in coaching for 2015 EOY entrant

Passion – the feeling that lights a fire inside of you regardless of all the obstacles – is something that resonates with all entrepreneurs. Without passion, entrepreneurs would simply not be the type of individuals that we have come to associate with hard work, strength and determination.

It is this passion that led Volente Morais, 2015 EOY entrant and owner of My Passionate Life (MPL) Coaching & Consulting, to start her own business. She says that although it may be considered egotistical, she believes that she was born with a talent to achieve what she sets her sights on, regardless of the obstacles against her.

“Passion has always been a favorite word and expression for me. I have journeyed through many trials and tribulations to realise that I want to live the most passionate life possible,” says Volente. She says this practice was a step in the right direction to do something that she has always wanted to do for herself. Part of this process is to serve the greater good, and follow a path that develops others too.

“I started my own practice because I wanted to define my own culture and outcome, something that is often defined for you when working for a company. Corporate companies align your thinking and monitor your sense of value by their own standards.”

She explains that often employees never ask the difficult questions such as “Is this my standard?” and “Are these my values?”. “I am not against companies that create their own culture as they do instill good work ethic and a sense of job responsibility, but this culture often doesn’t motivate employees to step out from being a manager – someone who checks you are fulfilling your role – to a leader – someone who coaches, supports and motivates you. I learnt as a young manager that I did not know enough about managing people, and I wanted to learn to be a leader instead of just monitoring or placing a value on my staff.

As the previous Head of Corporate Relations at a prominent medical business, along with experience in other roles within the corporate environment, Volente says she always knew that she wanted to own her own business. “I started my business by choice, not luck. Working for someone else just because you have a skill to do something, does not mean that is what you must do.”

She says that starting her business from scratch has been her greatest challenge to date. “I was no longer the Head of anything, but an entrepreneur in charge of my own staff, and everything fell on my shoulders. I overcame this challenge by setting up a daily routine and learnt to plan ahead.”

Looking to the future, Volente hopes to have her practice contracting and housed in a corporate business, and running internal development programmes. She says that corporate businesses are always on the cutting edge of innovation and new age practices. “The sustainability of short term programmes are not as effective as having a coach on a consistent basis. A coach will help companies identify the stumbling blocks and assist in developing skills and coping methods that will help enable employers to overcome internal obstacles over time.”

When asked why she decided to enter the Sanlam/ Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® competition, Volente says she is putting her own methodology into practice: “If you don’t step up, then you cannot stand out.”

For more information on My Passionate Life (MPL) Coaching & Consulting, please visit their website, Facebook page, or email

Turning Passion into Profit


Tommy Makhatho on winning the 2013 Sanlam/ Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® competition winner

We chat to this year’s overall Sanlam/ Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® competition winner, Tommy Makhatho, owner of BiBi Cash & Carry, about his entrepreneurial journey and experiences post winning the title.

1. What was your reaction to winning the overall Entrepreneur of the Year® award?

Every time I get asked this particular question I always have a different response. The reason for this is that I experienced a range of emotions, all of which were extremely positive. Overall, I felt overwhelmed and incredibly blessed to have a team such as mine – as the award would not have been possible if it wasn’t for them.

2. What does it mean to you to be recognised for your business achievements?

I never really thought about being recognised for my business achievements or sought to be recognised. Instead, it has always been about pushing the envelope and exceeding my own expectations. However after winning this award and being recognised for my business’ achievements, it has made me aware of where we have come from and what we have survived thus far. It has also provided me with the adrenaline and strength to pursue another 25 years. This recognition makes me realise that this is only the beginning of our journey and that people should never stop dreaming, no matter their age.

3. How was business been after winning the title – have you noticed more interest in your business post the awards ceremony?

Business has been great – especially the working environment! My team realise they are a part of a bigger dream and this has boosted staff morale and contributed to a motivated working environment. I have also been approached by many companies wanting to take the business to the next level. This had in the past not happened on such a large scale, but thanks to the awards, opportunities are now presenting themselves.

4. Any future plans for your business?

Yes definitely! As mentioned before, I am constantly dreaming whilst other people my age are preparing themselves to cash out, retire and play golf. I however, plan to stay strong so my dreams and goals can still be achieved. The best way to achieve these goals is with a steady mind and healthy body so that I can chase after them, and still be the first at the office and last to leave.

Ultimately my future plans is to grow my business to the point that my business rivals Shoprite, mention my name at every Shoprite board meeting due to my understanding of the market like no other retail company.

5. What is your advice for business owners considering entering the EOY awards?

I strongly advise that entrepreneurs and business owners, no matter their business size, take as many opportunities as possible, because a business is all about taking risks – both good and bad. There will always be that one shot that hits the target, so consider entering awards such as the Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® competition, as the exposure and confidence it gives you and your business is tremendous.

EOY entrant moving forward in the transport industry

Ashley-Van-der-berg_MD_Rail2RailIn light of October being Transport Month we chat to 2012 competition entrant Ashley van der Berg, Managing Director of Rail2Rail, about his journey as an entrepreneur in the transport industry.

1. Briefly describe your business and the industry you operate in?

Rail2Rail is a specialised concrete railway sleeper manufacturer, based in Kimberley in the Northern Cape.

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

I noticed a project initiative being undertaken by Transnet (in respect of their enterprise development programme) and established the business in 2007 after we were commissioned to supply one million concrete sleepers to Transnet Freight Rail, for the maintenance of railway lines through South Africa’s 22 000km network.

3. Have you always aspired to start your own business?

I have always effectively been an entrepreneur from an early age. I am currently an active shareholder in two other businesses namely Levenbach Building & Roofing, a construction company and A & H Salvage, both of which are based in Cape Town.

4. Briefly describe some of the challenges that you have experienced as an entrepreneur?

Making concrete railways sleepers is a lot more complicated than it sounds, especially with the technology that is imported from Germany. The skills required to operate this technology have been in short supply, but as a company we have made huge strides in educating our employees, thus ensuring that our products produced are of the best quality amongst our competitors. Being able to secure a reliable supplier in the Northern Cape remains a challenge, particularly in light of our rapid growth.

5. What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Never give up! Find your niche, ensure that it is different and use it to your competitive advantage.

6. Where do you see your business in the next 5 years?

Being a key player in the in the supply and production of concrete railway sleepers in South Africa and continuing our company growth plan to expand our current client base and increase production capacity, which will aid our company to become more sustainable. Taking advantage of opportunities in the SADC region.

7. What does a day-in-the-life of Ashley van der Berg consist of?

My focus is on ensuring I keep a finger on the pulse of all aspects of the business, including the daily production reports completed by day and night shifts. I oversee and manage all financial aspects of the business, including cash flow updates. I also make a concerted effort to have regular meetings with customers, both existing and prospective.

8. What is your most memorable experience as an entrepreneur?

Witnessing the construction and opening of our factory, followed by experiencing the factory become operational, as well as seeing the business grow to a level which at first I thought was impossible.

9. What benefits has the development of the transport industry had on South African SMEs?

Transnet Freight Rail and the Department of Transport, as the decision makers in the development of the transport industry, have ensured that there are opportunities for SMEs to grow in this sector. Both entities have created realistic, achievable targets and have played an impactful role in the implementation thereof. In addition, transport (in other non rail sectors) play an important role for all SMEs as the sector ensures they receive supplies and deliver their finished goods and end product to their markets.

10. What are some of the key challenges SMEs owners face in transport industry?

The main challenge is a lack of competition. As we operate within a niche market, we are unable to compare our products to that of our competitors. I feel competition is healthy for any business as it ensures that the end product is of the best quality. Another challenge is the availability of financial assistance for entrepreneurs; this is a key barrier which hinders the growth of entrepreneurship within South Africa.

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

As an entrepreneur you have the opportunity to meet other entrepreneurs and listen to their success stories and advice. The media exposure you receive is also extremely valuable and lastly, it is an excellent benchmarking exercise.

Celebrating entrepreneurial success at the 2013 EOY business workshops

In order to celebrate entrepreneurial excellence, Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® (EOY) have been staging business workshops around South Africa to create platforms for entrepreneurs to network and learn from each other. During April, workshops were held in Nelson Mandela Bay, as well as Pietermaritzburg.

In Nelson Mandela Bay guests were addressed by local successful entrepreneur and former EOY winner, Mzukisi Stephen Dondolo, who is chief executive officer of investment firm African Pioneer Ltd. Dondolo discussed the importance of entrepreneurship in South Africa, while paying homage to the competition, which he believes is playing an active role in fostering entrepreneurship.

He said that entrepreneurs need to band together and lobby Government in order to improve the environment for SMEs. “Government needs to pay more attention to the need for SMEs in South Africa, as they are able to address the high level of unemployment.”

Dondolo said that it was a great honour to speak at the workshop as both Business Partners Limited and Sanlam have contributed to growing small businesses in the country.

Duncan Paul, a highly successful entrepreneur with eight thriving businesses, spoke at the workshop in Pietermaritzburg. His advice to entrepreneurs is to ‘set goals and never give up’.

Paul shared the story of starting his entrepreneurial journey and discussed the difficulty he experienced when sourcing funding for his business.

“I had a big vision, which scared the formal banking sector, and I couldn’t raise money anywhere. Business Partners Limited has always been in the right place at the right time for me.”

While working to commercialise wildlife utilisation within Bophuthatswana national parks, Paul realised how systems and disciplines in a business could pay off, and decided to make a go of it on his own by founding Hunters and Guides with eight other partners. He says that the involvement of Business Partners Limited has brought the same benefits to his businesses today.

“I have learned from them. Byron Jacobs [Business Partners Limited’s regional general manager for KwaZulu-Natal] is a mentor to me and has guided and advised me through troubled times.”

During his address Paul shared personal business lessons that he has learnt over the years. Advising entrepreneurs to remain steadfast and follow their passion, Paul also recommended that entrepreneurs should be cautious when selecting partners, but should never burn bridges.

“Do the right things in everything you do, and doors will open,” said Paul when advising guests to lead a life of integrity.

Both entrepreneurs addressed key issues facing all entrepreneurs, while reiterating the importance of developing SMEs in the country. They are both great examples of entrepreneurial success stories and evidence of why more should be done to celebrate entrepreneurial excellence in South Africa.