You’vejust been named the Top Young Black Entrepreneur of 2009 by the MetropolitanOliver Empowerment Awards and have established many successful businessventures. What drives your entrepreneurial spirit?
I was born and raised in the township of KwaMashu and was raised by a grandmotherwho didn’t have financial means. As a young boy I would sell mielie meal andvegetables to the community and we’d use this money to pay for school fees. Isuppose the experience taught me early on that hard work makes money and thatmoney can be used to do the things you want and need. It’s a simple equationbut it’s still one that motivates me today. I also think that if you learn theright skills as a child, it demystifies entrepreneurship. You realise it’s aneasy thing to do.
Inyour role as mentor and founder of the KZN Youth in Business Co-operative Ltd,do you come across many entrepreneurs who struggle?
Yes I do. Some of their challenges aresignificant and they are ones that I myself experienced. For example, fundingis still incredibly hard to come by, in spite of the fact that government has donegood work setting up funding institutions for emergent entrepreneurs. The redtape means that getting the money can still take years, which is too long ifyou have a great business idea today. Other challenges derive from the factthat people don’t specialise enough. They are so desperate to make money thatthey try to be all things to all people.
Whatdo you believe struggling aspirant entrepreneurs should be doing differently?
Specialise. Choose a niche and striveto be the best in it.
Youfocused on a very particular niche with Mpilende Foods. What challenges didthis bring?
Yes, we specialise in manufacturingnutritional food products and supplements that combat ill-health andmalnutrition. But yes, specialising comes with its own set of challenges. Whenyou claim to be a specialist, people will test you on it. One of the biggestchallenges we’ve faced is that we are one of the few 100% black-owned andmanaged food production and processing companies in South Africa, and people weresceptical about our ability to produce what we promise – nutrition-focused foodproducts that meet the highest standards.
Howdid you overcome these challenges?
By striving for excellence. Our foodshave been certified by world leaders in nutrition, including the United StatesFood and Drug Administration Board and the International Standards Organisation(ISO9001:2008). So the lesson?
Set higher standards for yourself thaneveryone else, and then do what you need to in order to meet them.