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Branson: 'Vendors are entrepreneurs'

 The Big Issue South Africa 20 June 2019

The latest edition of The Big Issue South Africa was guest edited by no one less than Sir Richard Branson, big boss of Virgin and one of the world's leading entrepreneurs. Now campaigning for social entrepreneurship, he put on a vendor uniform and praised the model of the magazine. “One of the things I really respect about The Big Issue is that its vendors are entrepreneurs”. (1164 Words) - By Georgina Guedes


BI SA_guest editor

Sir Richard Branson was guest editor of The Big Issue South Africa. Portrait picture available for download.Photo: The Big Issue SA/ Virgin Unite.

BI SA_Richard Branson and Lesego Malatsi_Branson Centre

Richard Branson with the young designer Lesego Malatsi.Photo: The Big Issue SA/ Virgin Unite.

BI SA_Bongani Tshabalala_Branson Centre

Bongani Tshabalala started a soccer league called B&M Football5.Photo: The Big Issue SA/ Virgin Unite

BI SA_Dipuo Marekwa_Branson Centre

Dipuo Marekwa started a secure transport company.Photo: The Big Issue SA/ Virgin Unite.

BI SA_Yashwin Bagwandeen_Branson Centre

Yashwin Bagwandeen started Game Over, a company that produces arcade game machines. Photo: The Big Issue SA/ Virgin Unite.

Read Sir Richard Branson's editorial here.

World-renowned business guru Sir Richard Branson is the proud founder of the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship in Johannesburg. His experience with young South African entrepreneurs has been an inspiration: "I see a little of myself in every one of them". Here, he shares his thoughts on how people can build businesses out of good ideas.

Often, when you meet a celebrity, you have to superimpose the persona in front of you onto the image you had in your head. Somehow the edges, the angles or the size of the person don't quite fit the photographed, filmed idea that has been created.

Richard Branson, on the other hand, is absolutely and quintessentially himself. His ruddy cheeks and hair the colour of wheat resonate with every mental picture I've ever had of him. Even the limp that he is sporting courtesy of a skiing accident over his holidays is a fitting testimony to the pursuits of the super-rich, which he is, and the intrepid adventurer, which he is renowned for being.

He walks slowly around the upper floor of Fashion Kapitol leaning on various trusted employees of the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship, as he hustles as best a limping man can from one media engagement to another. He's here for a fashion show - not an unusual pursuit for a man of his standing - but this fashion show is different. It's the launch of young designer Lesego Malatsi's wedding collection, kickstarting a fundraising effort to support the show being taken to Los Angeles later in the year.

Branson isn't here to buy himself a wedding suit - although he is sporting a wide-collared shirt designed especially for him by Malatsi - but rather to attend the launch as someone who has been a mentor to Malatsi as he established his fashion business. Malatsi is one of the entrepreneurs supported by the Branson Centre, a centre that offers young entrepreneurs the support that they need to get their businesses off the ground. The centre is partially funded by Virgin Unite, which is the non-profit foundation of the Virgin Group, of which Branson is the founder.

Branson explains that the centre was established in South Africa "because the black community had been deprived for generations of the kind of support that would allow its best ideas to become reality. Africa is dominated by big companies, but there are lots of opportunities for small companies to take a bit of flesh and shake things up a bit".

He adds that all young business people, black, white or Indian, need help to stand on their own two feet. As a part of his visit, he spent time with 14 entrepreneurs from the centre in an intensive mentoring session, giving general advice and then focusing on specific aspects of their businesses in focus groups.

He says his experience of South Africa has shown him that there is a great entrepreneurial spirit in Africa and he feels that it is important for those with ideas to have conversations that will nurture their potential and help them to become "the African Bransons of the future".

Of the entrepreneurs supported by the Branson Centre in South Africa, he is very enthusiastic. "I see a little of myself in every one of them," he says. "We want to see them growing from acorns into giant oak trees."



Tomorrow's Business Leaders

The entrepreneurs at the Branson Centre have ideas as varied as the heads that they were conceived in. From baking to arcade games, no area of business or recreation is untouched by the concepts being developed by this mixed bag of intrepid business people.

For the past three years Yashwin Bagwandeen's company Game Over has been designing, programming and manufacturing arcade game machines for lease around South Africa. If his business keeps growing, he will export products to the rest of Africa, the United Kingdom and the USA, and create further employment opportunities within South Africa. He puts his success down to "being passionate about an idea when everyone else thinks you are crazy and it will never work".

B&M Football5 is a five-a-side soccer league started by Bongani Tshabalala and Mokoni Paile in the townships of Nelspruit to provide facilities and activities for young people. The business works together with government and the private sector to set up these centres and associated youth development programmes around the country. Tshabalala says that he is driven by passion and that "nothing is impossible because impossible is nothing".

Kotulo Milling formed a network of small bakers to use the power of numbers to purchase their essential ingredient - flour - at a reasonable rate. The next step for her business is to generate income through membership and a mark-up on the flour she distributes. Within the year, she plans to be leasing trucks and hiring drivers and distribution staff. She says that the entrepreneurial spirit flows in her blood.

Dipuo Marekwa was driven by her own concerns for her school-going daughter's safety to start her own reliable, secure transport company. This vision has captured the custom of many other concerned parents and she's now transporting 80 students to 10 different schools, as well as providing transport services to weddings, funerals and other events. With transport as the heartbeat of economic and social development, her business continues to identify and answer to new opportunities.

Entrepreneur centre

The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship is an independent centre of entrepreneurial expertise. "It's an incubator of business talent, a hub - where tenacious entrepreneurs get access to practical business skills, advice from successful entrepreneurs to grow their business and access to markets and funding," says founder Richard Branson.

Entrepreneurism is a vital building block of any economy, and the Branson Centre is trying to not only support individuals, but to underpin society with a network of successful small businesses as well.

"Entrepreneurs and small businesses create employment, drive growth and transform communities with the wealth they bring back and the example that they set," he says.

Since every individual with a good idea is different, the centre doesn't engage with each of its entrepreneurs in a uniform way. Some will just get help with a particular area that they're struggling with, while others will continue their relationship with the centre while they build their businesses.

"It's about giving them the confidence to make their dreams a reality," says Branson. "It's all about trying and learning. Not succeeding is also important as it makes success more likely the next time."

He explains that the centre offers practical support, mentorship and provides access to markets. The rest, he says, is up to them.

The centre is located in Fashion Kapitol, the fashion district in downtown Johannesburg, and can be found on the web at

Young people with business ideas and a business plan can apply online, call or drop by to find out what the centre can do to help them.

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