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On the ladder to success

 The Big Issue South Africa 27 June 2019

Sir Richard Branson recently guest edited The Big Issue South Africa, sharing his knowledge on social enterprising. His personal project - The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship – has been nesting creative ideas and businesses. In just four years 4,000 people have attended sessions and nearly 100 businesses have been incubated. The lesson? You don’t need to be a big tycoon to start your own project. (1653 Words) - By Leanne Farish and Georgina Guedes


BI SA_ On the ladder to success_Lisa Wynne

Lisa Wynne. Photo: The Big Issue SA / Retha Ferguson

BI SA_ On the ladder to success_Lesego Malatsi

Lesego Malatsi. Photo: The Big Issue SA/ Virgin Unite.

BI SA_ On the ladder to success_Cleopatra Simelane

Cleopatra Simelane.Photo: The Big Issue SA/ Virgin Unite

BI SA_ On the ladder to success_Mpodumo Doubada

Mpodumo Doubada. Photo: The Big Issue SA / Retha Ferguson

Books and bucks

Mpodumo Doubada looks, at first glance, like any other student. Casually dressed in jeans and a hoodie, he seems at home on the University of Cape Town's Jammie steps. But as soon as you get him started on the subjects of entrepreneurship and business, it's like flicking a switch and seeing him shift up a gear. He is instantly transformed into a sharp, motivated entrepreneur with buckets of clarity, drive and insight.

Doubada started Pimp My Book, a business that buys and sells used textbooks to students, when he was in the second year of his BCom at University of Cape Town in 2006. Realising how expensive new books are - and how much hassle getting hold of second-hand books can be - Doubada began selling his friends' used books from his dorm room at Smuts Hall.

"The simple question I asked myself was: why is it that we can't buy used books the way we buy new books?" says Doubada. "All Pimp My Book is really about is making text books more affordable and more accessible."

The budding entrepreneur contracted the business bug at a young age. "I've done a few things here and there. I used to varnish people's doors in my township and I did a little T-shirt printing business that failed badly," he laughs. "I also did a little photography business at school once on civvies day, but I had my fingers all over the photos…"

Now, at the age of 24, Doubada has nurtured Pimp My Book into a flourishing business, with a bit of well-deserved help from two development programmes aimed at assisting promising young entrepreneurs. In 2009, Pimp My Book won a place in the Western Cape sector of the South African Breweries KickStart programme, and then went on to win the national KickStart competition in October last year as well.

Doubada also applied to Dutch organisation PUM Netherlands Senior Experts, an organisation that sends "senior experts" - retired CEOs and MDs of European businesses - to mentor and advise young entrepreneurs in developing countries. Doubada says the professional experience and guidance he received through his PUM mentor was invaluable: "It's one thing to have money but you also need to know what to do with it."

Currently employing eight people, Doubada's future plans for Pimp My Book include nationwide expansion and the creation of an online used bookstore. An avid reader, he's inspired by biographies of successful entrepreneurs and views entrepreneurship as a problem-solving tool.

"Entrepreneurship takes a lot of guts. You need to be someone who's willing to make sacrifices to get what you want. It's one of those things whereby if you don't move, nothing moves."

Designing for modern South Africans

Lesego Malatsi is one of the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship's success stories, and it was for his fashion show that Richard Branson was in Johannesburg. After the show, Malatsi's clearly amped from the reception and attention it garnered. He's difficult to pin down but when he starts chatting, his focus is complete. It's clear that he's driven to achieve success for himself, but also is dedicated to uplifting others from a similar background.

Malatsi's fashion house was launched in 2006, and when he found himself in need of funding, someone suggested he approach the Branson Centre for input on how to secure this. "They mentored me on issues in my business," he says. "They highlighted bottlenecks in my production and helped me to develop marketing tools for the business."

Malatsi was also invited to the UK, where he spent time with Branson at his home and was a guest speaker at an entrepreneurs' event, discussing his own experiences back in South Africa.

Of his relationship with Branson, he says: "I look up to him and read his books. Every time we meet, I feel that the bond we've established gets stronger. It's a personal connection; he's not just supporting me or being my role model, it's now more than that".

Today, Malatsi's company has a design showroom and a retail store in Soweto, and employs 13 staff. Malatsi donates 20% of his company's annual profits to charity and development courses. His show is a vibrant showcase of colours and prints, homage to Sophiatown chic but totally modern in execution. It will be taking the spirit of South Africa - and of entrepreneurism - to Los Angeles later this year.

"I'm working with what ordinary people wear every day to different occasions," he says. "I wanted to be able to show our rainbow nation to the rest of the world. I use colour in a way to break stereotypes about South African dress sense. My ultimate aim is to establish a sense of style for modern South Africans."


The art of entrepreneurship

Right off the bat, you notice one thing about Lisa Wynne: she's a great storyteller. Animated and expressive, her sense of humour and punch line delivery are spot on. So when you find out she's a theatre school graduate and seasoned stage performer, it comes as no surprise. But backing Wynne's theatrical flair is a knack for organisation and a head for business - a formidable combination that's seen her create and grow a unique and successful creative events and entertainment company.

After graduating from the Waterfront School of Performing Arts, Wynne and classmate Sally Robinson began putting together their own productions and managing them as a source of income. Initially projects went along the lines of educational road shows, primary school productions such as the Fabulous Fables of Aesop or Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes, and tours for high schools performing metric poetry syllabuses or Shakespeare shows.

"During that time we also became involved in a more corporate sphere of entertainment in terms of using entertainment for marketing and brand-related events and campaigns," Wynne explains. "That gave us the idea to start Show Works as there was so much that we could do with what we'd learnt. And not only could we create work and income for ourselves, but we could also provide work for all the struggling performers and artists around us."

In 2006 Wynne and Robinson created Show Works Creative Events and Entertainment, and since then they've executed some truly weird and wonderful projects. From co-ordinating groups of performers dressed as Tibetan monks and Nepalese sherpas promoting documentaries in mid-morning traffic to manoeuvring four-metre-tall killer crab costumes through airport security, Wynne says Show Works' speciality is thinking outside the box. "We get to be really creative with each and every project - each client comes to us with individual requirements and we cater specifically for that."

Wynne is one of those exceptional few who have managed to take something they love and find a way to turn it into a livelihood. "Being a performer is great and it's passionate and creative, which we love, but what we required of the industry was for it to provide us with some kind of financial stability."

A perfectionist by nature, Wynne's attention to detail and commitment to putting on a perfect production every time is a vital part of Show Work's success. "What you put in is what you get out," she says. "That's the beauty of any entrepreneurship."

Magazine puts school children in touch

The MC of the fashion show is breathtaking. She's dressed in one of young designer Lesego Malatsi's evening dresses, and she wears it well - a curvaceous vision in acid technicolour. But it's not just Cleopatra Simelane's good looks that make her so attractive. Her unpolished confidence is a breath of fresh air - she's enthusiastic, but there's no contrived "ra-ra" - and underneath the bubbliness is a foundation of solid street-smarts.

Although she's involved in her fellow entrepreneur's fashion show, her own business is publishing a magazine called Recess targeted at school-going children. She came up with the concept when she was in Grade 10, but matriculated and held down three jobs before throwing herself into her dream. "A friend invited me to a marketing seminar at the Branson Centre, and I realised that the only way I was going to make it work was if I dedicated myself to it full time," she says.

She applied to the Branson Centre and was accepted as one of their entrepreneurs. With their support, she developed a business plan to pitch to companies, and secured start-up funding from ABI. Her first print run was 2 880 copies and her second produced 10 000 copies, with some advertising and further funding from ABI.

"It can be awkward for parents to talk about issues with their kids; it puts them on the spot," she says. "I want Recess to be a reliable source of information for children, and to expose them to opportunities."

School learners make up a part of the magazine's editorial team. "This is important, because it's good to speak to readers in their own voice," she says. "It's a great way of interacting."

Simelane and Recess magazine are particularly close to Branson's own heart, as the maiden voyage of his own adventures in entrepreneurism at the age of 16 was the launch of a student publication called, simply, Student. "I started a student magazine when I was young, so I feel an affinity for what she's doing," he says.

Judi Sandrock, CEO of the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship is equally vocal about Simelane's talent and her ambition. "In 10 years, Cleo will be famous," she says. "She's someone to watch, because she's really going places."

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