FOR years, an elderly Agnes Bonzo was forced to spend hours waiting at a local clinic for her medication, wasting valuable time away from her sewing and street-trading stall. But an innovative idea by a 21-year-old fellow Khayelitsha resident to deliver medication to community members by bicycle has changed all that. Now Bonzo can carry on working and making an income uninterrupted.
The young man behind it all is Sizwe Nzima, who earlier this year was named by US business magazine Forbes as one of 30 Africans — including seven South Africans — younger than 30 who are having an effect across the continent. Nzima started Iyeza Express in October last year, after attending a six-month entrepreneurship course with the Raymond Ackerman Academy in Cape Town.
It is an apt name for his business — in Xhosa, Iyeza translates to both "it is coming", as well as "medication". He delivers to more than 200 clients across the township, performing a valuable service to many such as Bonzo.
Just two years ago, Nzima had his sights set on a legal career. After doing a legal assistance course at a Boston City college in Cape Town, he began looking for work. During this time, while waiting tables, he heard about the academy from a friend. His initial application was unsuccessful, but he applied again and entered at the beginning of last year.
The idea of delivering medication by bike came to him during an innovation lecture, when he and classmates were asked to generate ideas from newspaper stories to solve everyday problems. One particular story got him thinking. It detailed how the large increase of chronic patients at hospitals in the country had led to long queues. Nzima knew all about waiting long hours in queues. For a number of years, he had been getting up early to collect medication for his grandparents from a nearby clinic.
An academy lecturer encouraged him come up with a solution to the problem and that is when he hit on the idea of using bicycles to deliver medication to community members. But in the beginning, when he would arrive to collect medication for five or more people, clinic officials were suspicious, believing he was taking it to sell somewhere.
They made him produce customers’ identity numbers and names to prove that he was delivering and not selling their medication.
"Sometimes I got chased out of the hospital because I didn’t have the permission," Sizwe says. But word of mouth quickly spread about his service and clinic officials were approached by people inquiring about a young man delivering medication. When his name began appearing in newspaper stories, the clinic officials began to take him more seriously.
Nzima says the medication is packed by the clinic but he and his co-workers still double-check packages to ensure they go to the right customer.
Along the way, Nzima was encouraged by the experiences of fellow Khayelitsha entrepreneur Luvuyo Rani, who he spent time with as part of the academy course. Rani runs Silulo Ulutho, a successful internet café and computer training company and Nzima still recalls some of the advice he gave him. "The first thing he always said was wherever you come from does not actually determine where you go."
Rani also warned him that many might shake their heads at his idea to deliver medication in the township; the former teacher himself had to overcome suspicions from community members, who believed he was stealing computers when they saw him unloading second-hand PCs from his car boot.
Today Nzima has a team of five on bikes. He works with two clinics, but is in talks with the district health department in a bid to expand the system in all three hospitals and six clinics in Khayelitsha.
He says he wants to start delivering antiretrovirals but acknowledges there may be issues of confidentiality attached to this. He is also looking at upgrading his bicycles to electric bikes or mopeds. If business takes off, he will need to hire plenty of cyclists to deliver medication.
"We’re trying to employ young people within the Khayelitsha area to deliver within their areas. They know the addresses, they know the streets names, the people in the area. Employment-wise, it’s very big, it could employ loads of people."
Though he is yet to turn a profit — he reckons he needs more than 1,500 clients before he can do that — Nzima is holding out, with the service gaining in popularity.
Surprisingly for the township entrepreneur, money has never been a problem — after all, he started off with nothing, most of the funds he needed to start up came to him through prize money or through large companies approaching him to pledge support: "One of the things that Mr (Raymond) Ackerman teaches us is that if you do good, money will be attracted to you."
Last year, Nzima used the R10,000 prize money he won from the academy as the best entrepreneurial student, to buy two bicycles. A further grant of R100,000 last year — from South African Breweries — helped him to buy a further five bicycles, as well as pay for branded uniforms, a laptop and cellphones and cover some repair costs.
He is using the remainder of the grant to develop a mass SMS system so his company can communicate with clients and also remind them of doctor’s appointments and deliveries.
He has also allocated some of the money to do surveys at hospitals and clinics in the area as a way to increase the business’s client base.
He has been able to benefit from a year’s free office space at Hubspace in the Harare area of Khayelitsha provided through an enterprise development initiative run by Cell C.
Along the way, luck has also gone his way. His grandmother worked as a maid for a doctor, who paid for his schooling, ensuring that he was able to go to a relatively good school — Harold Cressy High — the alma mater of Planning Minister Trevor Manuel. Despite this, it was not easy being a young entrepreneur, because business is often associated with older, rather than younger people.
"Especially in our culture, business is quite new. We’re used to the normal — you go to school, you go to university, you study and you work for somebody" — even his parents were at first sceptical when he told them he was starting his own business.
Nzima admits that reports about his wins and new venture have put him under pressure to ensure he grows his business, but he says this is a good thing.
"The pressure is really big, it’s on my shoulders, but I can manage it, because what I like is that it gives me that push."
The real test now for Nzima is whether he can develop what looks to be a life-saving shot in the arm for community health, into a profitable business.
This feature appeared in Business Day on 12 August 2013: http://www.bdlive.co.za/business/management/2013/08/12/cycling-to-ensure-a-communitys-health
THERE can’t be too many things more mundane than selling ice-creams – until you buy one from Anton Fester – the man who’s literally thrown the fun back into getting an ice-cream.
Where else do get your ice-cream chucked, juggled or frisbeed between attendants before it’s served up to you with smile, or where staff chime a gong and bow to you when you give them a tip? Or where on Tuesdays you get to play rock, paper, scissors with staff for the chance at a 20% discount if you win? At Ice Cream Ninjas, is where.
For Fester, the owner of Ice Cream Ninjas, it’s all about the fun.
“I reckon that going for an ice-cream is a celebrational treat, but at most places all it is a transaction,” he says.
Last year he was a regional runner-up in the Small Enterprise Development Agency’s (Seda) Small Business Stars awards, where he won R50 000 worth in business support. The year before he collected two others – a 567 Small Business Award and FNB social media award.
“I remember when I was in Korea and I was haggling with some guy over the price of something… and he finally said ‘let’s play rock, paper, scissors – if you win you get your price and if I win I get my price’… and we battled and I defeated him. And I’ll never forget that feeling,” explains Fester.
It was while he was a marketing manager in British American Tobacco, with above-the-line marketing of cigarettes had been outlawed, that the one-time cricket coach cut his teeth in cutting edge marketing techniques.
Points out Fester: “Everything was based on the experience that you gave people”.
Three years ago he took the decision to go into business when the tobacco company was in the process of restructuring.
At first he considered buying a franchised outlet, but he soon realised that many of the best sites had already been taken and that if he were to become a franchisee he would have to adhere to the strict rules laid down by the franchisor, which would stifle his creativity.
He then thought of opening his own business. But then he would be up against big names.
Then he remembered a New York ice-cream parlour in Times Square that he once visited where the staff would sing to customers that gave tips. The company was looking to expand.
He could buy a master license for the company, he thought, but this would set him aside $2 million for a brand South Africans were unfamiliar with. Most importantly he’d be back to square one – having to abide by franchisor’s rules and not be able to craft his own.
Pursuing the ice-cream idea he noticed that there were a number of other businesses in the US that mashed ice-creams and he realised that in the same way that one can’t copy protect frame-grilling a hamburger or deep-frying chips, there is no patent on mashing ice-cream.
Then using the internet he researched different ways that ice-creams are being sold – incorporating flipping, juggling, mashing and even throwing into the mix before finalising his business model.
All the time he bounced ideas of his BAT colleagues, who allowed him six months to work on his idea, while through the Young Presidents’ Organisation he got in touch with a top franchisor for some tips.
At the end of 2010, one month after leaving his job, he opened the business in a kiosk in Tygervalley Centre mall, in time for the summer holidays. Sales took off. But there was a hitch.
The centre was undergoing a revamp and made a decision to do away with kiosks. The management offered him a store instead, but the store format did not suit the business, and made it more difficult to attract customers.
“Our whole dynamic of being out in the open and throwing ice-creams was completely taken away because we were in this long thin shop, there was a glass between us and our customers; we couldn’t speak to them,” he said.
Rent was also a problem and he was close to R80 000 down before he even sold an ice-cream. Soon he was soon forced to close the store.
But by this time he had also started running events, doing 21st parties, weddings, product launches and wine auctions, and these began to take off, so much so that in June his sales were about three to four times that of sales in the same month last year.
“Some people want to go and want to go and they really want to make it work, but there comes a time when you have to say ‘this isn’t working, I need to try something else’,” he points out, adding that the local chocoholics weren’t too pleased when he closed the store.
Since then he’s done work with some of the country’s top corporates, teaming up with many big names to help attract conference delegates to the corporate’s branded stand.
With events he only needs to turn to the resources when he has a specific event.
This year he also franchised out his remaining outlet in Somerset Mall, to a former employee Brian Mawoneke in order to focus more on the events side.
Fester says his biggest challenge has been to find the right locations to train staff. Getting newbies to work in the business’s store helps and he’s also looking to get involved in more food markets in Johannesburg where he has an events team.
While he was able to use his retrenchment package to finance his business, he believes the single biggest hurdle to getting more small businesses off the ground is access to finance.
Another gripe of his is that South Africans aren’t innovative enough, he believes more should people take enough advantage of looking overseas at various business ideas and the feasibility of introducing them in South Africa.
But it’s the fun he has with ice-creams that he most likes to talk about, like the time at a 21st party in Stellenbosch where he attempted to see how high he could throw an ice-cream and still catch it.
“We had all these guys around us baying for us to drop the ice-cream. So I was throwing it pretty high and I dropped one. And they were like ‘aah he’s finally dropped it’. ‘Okay cool guys’ (I said) and made another one and threw it even higher… and it went high up in the air and I caught that one.”
Fester claims the furthest he’s thrown an ice-cream and caught it – in a small 10cm-wide tub – is 30m, no easy feat.
“People go ‘what happens if it drops?’ Then it drops. I would much rather drop an ice-cream and make another one, than not throw an ice-cream. To me the value of throwing an ice-cream far exceeds the two to five percent wastage that you get from dropping it,” he says.
For Fester his biggest asset is the fun experience that he has built around buying an ice-cream.
“I reckon that if you can make someone smile when they come into the shop or when they interact with you, you have already positioned yourself in the top five businesses out there, because many businesses don’t care if you smile.”
This interview originally appeared in Business Day on 29 July 2013: http://www.bdlive.co.za/life/2013/07/29/encouraging-one-to-play-with-ones-food
PERHAPS you live in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal or Mpumalanga and are one of thousands of drivers that have let the paying of your traffic fine slide.
Until that is, you received an SMS notifying you of your misdemeanour or another containing a photograph of your car caught by a speed camera. But have you ever stopped to consider who is sending out these messages? Probably not.
The company that searches for your contact details and then sends you an SMS is Mukoni Software, a small IT business situated hundreds of kilometres away in Belville, Cape Town.
The woman behind the company is award-winning entrepreneur Solani Lidzhane, who once worked as a personal assistant before first starting her own recruitment company in 2002 and then moving on to launch the IT business four years later.
Her company carries out the tracing and messaging services as a sub-contractor in the collection of traffic fines for a number of municipalities and metros in the three provinces.
Limpopo-born Lidzhane, says her company is able to send out SMSs to about 90% of those who have unpaid traffic fines but who provide incorrect addresses to traffic authorities.
The messages make quite a considerable difference in the end. She reckons that about 60% of those that receive SMSs opt to pay their fines.
Last year she won R250 000 after being placed first as a national winner of the SAB Kickstart competition, aimed at youth entrepreneurs.
She also won R110 000 when she was placed first in the regional stage of the competition.
The competition money, which must be spent on winners’ business expenses, has helped her buy new and better servers as well as a UPS, which means the company now has a more secure data-recovery strategy.
Over a number of weeks during the competition she also learnt valuable business skills and received help in crafting a business plan for Mukoni Software, which she still refers to as she grows the business.
The 2013 round of the competition opened this month to entrepreneurs aged between 18 and 35. The competition is arguably one of the best enterprise development programmes in the country.
According to the brewer the competition has helped over 3 500 youth-owned businesses and thousands of young entrepreneurs since its inception in 1995, while a recent assessment of the programme’s impact between 2001 and 2007 revealed that 80% of grant recipients are still in business after three years of operation.
Lidzhane she started her recruitment company, Phanda Personnel, after the computer refurbishment company she was doing recruitment for closed the year before.
Initially she sat at home for two months doing nothing, getting bored. During this time she would still receive calls from clients asking to help them with recruitment.
“I thought oh I’ve got a computer at home, I’ve got a telephone line, I’ve still got my contacts, my database, so I can do this from home, so I decided to work from home,” says Lidzhane.
Soon she hired a personal assistant and continued to work from home, meeting clients in coffee shops close to their workplaces.
In 2005 she got an opportunity from one of her clients, Metropolitan Life, to move into business premises, after the insurance company offered her business a five-year subsidised rental agreement as part of an enterprise development pilot project.
At the time she was also able to get free business mentoring assistance, with mentors even helping her to put together a business plan.
Today she also does recruiting for a number of big companies and government departments, mainly in the IT sector as Lidzhane had previously studied IT before changing to human resources.
In 2006 she and her husband Fhulu, an IT developer, started Mukoni Software. Today the business has six employees, while Phanda Personnel employs a further six people.
Mukoni has also been involved in two high profile projects – the development for Brainbox puzzle programme (which ran on broadcaster etv a few years ago) of a back-end system to send out and receive SMSs and the development of a similar system for a local messaging service to allow photos and games to be sent to cellular handsets.
Mukoni Software may have developed the back-end system, but ironically they have to pay the messaging services company a user fee when wanting to send out bulk SMSs to clients.
Lidzhane however says she is trying to improve her business relationships with cellphone networks to ensure that they have the customer numbers to drive down the cost of an SMS that the networks bill them on.
The business woman says that she has unknowingly drawn a lot of her inspiration from her father, who never held a steady job but instead relied on selling everything from chickens to second-hand clothes.
“I grew up from a young age of eight selling vegetables to homes. At school I would go with a cooler box of ice blocks and juices and be selling second-hand clothes over the weekend. “He (my father) would look around at what he has and look at how he can make money out of what he has."
She says back then she didn’t enjoy selling to the community because she was given no choice about it from her father, but that she now realises that her father was preparing her to become an entrepreneur.
“Then I knew that I had clients that I must service on Tuesdays and Thursdays, that the nurses clients would knock off at 4 o’clock and that I must be at their homes at 5 o’clock to deliver tomatoes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
She says many people do see her as a business owner before a woman, but there are those who still find it hard to believe that as a woman she can deliver the goods. But she follows a simple rule – “I make sure whatever we say will be delivered will be delivered before that time arrives”.
Today one major challenge is that being in business with her husband means she and Fhulu often end up bringing work home, but this she explains is the sacrifice one needs to make to run a business.
When she is not working she is cooking for the family or checking her two children’s homework, or is busy with church activities or gardening with her husband. She even washes the car herself.
She may leave the office in the late afternoon to pick her children up from school, but after dinner she is back on her laptop again, and clients even call her at night to sort out problems.
She says many people start their own business often under estimate the huge amounts of time and commitment one needs to get start-up off the ground.
“People sometimes have this perception that you have people working for you therefore it has to be easy, you make a lot of money, you have free time that you can go on holiday whenever you want to,” she says.
“But I guess maybe it’s the stage at which the business is at – the growth stage. You have to make sure everything is there – to see things through to the end,” says Lidzhane, who is determined to do just that.
This interview originally appeared in Business Day on 13 May 2013: http://www.bdlive.co.za/life/2013/05/12/selling-vegetables-for-dad-was-first-step
IF SOUTH Africa is to improve its competitiveness in the global economy and create more jobs at home, it must foster more innovative entrepreneurs like Ashley Uys.
ys, who runs Real World Diagnostics, manufactures a series of rapid test kits which can help detect pregnancy, HIV, malaria and five different types of abusive drugs – including cocaine, tik and dagga.
In November he won R1 million from the SAB Foundation as first prize in its annual Social Innovation awards. The grant will help fund his new expanded factory in Brackenfell, Cape Town, which he moved into two months ago.
The example of Uys shows how industry, the government and universities can partner to improve innovation.
After graduating with a BSC in Biotechnologies with Honours from the University of the Western Cape (UWC) in 2003, Uys enrolled in a two-year incubation internship, run by Wits University, UCT and Acorn Technologies – a Cape Town based incubator which at the time was funded by the Department of Trade and Industry, but has since been absorbed by the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA).
He was then placed in a host company, Vision Biotech, where he was able to hone his skills, while the incubator footed half his salary.
Initially he spent two days a week working on his business idea, slowly stretching this as his sales began to pick up, until he was spending the bulk of his time on his own business.
At the time Uys was the only one in his class of 13 to opt to start a new enterprise during the internship. The remainder of his class chose rather to each write a business plan on how they would assist existing companies.
“I always wanted to be in business and be my own boss,” says Uys. “I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I wanted to stay in science.”
On completion of his internship he set up Real World Diagnostics in 2006 and moved temporarily to UWC which gave him office space and then to Muizenberg where he set up a small factory.
Instead of looking around of venture capital investments to fund the large capital outlay he needed for developing new tests, Uys opted to rather start small, initially just marketing his products and those of others, while outsourcing the manufacturing to a third party.
The only equity he has given away has been that in his manufacturing company, Medical Diagnostech, where he has given 14% to a UCT professor who he consults with and the remainder to one of his lab technicians, Lyndon Mungur.
In 2008 Uys won the national leg of the SAB Kickstart Competition and with it R200 000 in prize money and a further R125,000 in grant money, which he ploughed back into his business.
With the cashflow that he generated from distributing his products, as well as the cash he won through SAB Kickstart, he was able to start buying lab and injection mould equipment to begin manufacturing his own products, until in 2011 he was able to afford his own factory space.
Last year he exported over 2.5 million malaria test kits to Pakistan, Papa New Guinea and other countries via a distributor to the World Health Organisation (WHO). He also sells his kits to Alpha Pharmacies and local wholesaler Pinnacle Pharmaceuticals.
He says his new factory – which is five times bigger than his Muizenberg premises – will allow him to manufacture about 20 million test kits a year, and once his ISO accreditation is approved, he will begin shipping new HIV kits into the rest of Africa.
He claims it’s just he and his former host company that manufacture rapid test kits on the continent – with the remainder of the African companies in the sector simply assembling kits shipped in from overseas.
Each test kit ranges between R4 for a simple pregnancy test and R23 for a full drug abuse test that can test for five different types of drugs, and can produce results within five minutes.
Uys says the tests are 99.9% reliable in producing accurate results, but that it is still necessary to have results confirmed by medical-lab tests.
Along with the kits, he also produces a battery-operated breathalyser which he sells mainly to pharmacies as well as to SAB breweries, which distributes it to their staff.
Yet despite his advances, Uys two years ago learned a hard lesson about lawyers and contracts, when the Western Cape High Court ruled in favour of a UK businessman in an intellectual property (IP) dispute over the development of drugs and alcohol rapid tests. The case left Uys R300 000 out of pocket.
“I basically paid all that money for a practical course on law,” admits Uys, who says when he signed a contract with the businessman to set up a joint company, he made the mistake of not taking the contract to a lawyer first before he signed, because he trusted the businessman as a friend.
However just two months ago the businessman, came back to him and the two signed a contract, with the UK businessman this time settling for a 2.5% cut of sales for the first two years of sales.
Uys is now looking ahead. He says within the next five years he wants to be able to manufacture his own antibodies – which are used in rapid tests along with antigens – as he currently has to import them from the US. When he is able to do this he will be able to develop kits for any test possible.
He’s also developing a pre-diabetes test, which will be able to alert users on their chances of becoming diabetic, which will allow someone to make the necessary lifestyle and diet changes before the onset of diabetes.
Uys says he has gradually built up his business which has allowed him to re-invest income from sales back into his business.
Many business owners often make the mistake of dipping into their business’s income to cover personal expenses, but Uys is firmly against this.
“At the end of the day the only time your lifestyle should go up is when the company makes enough money to increase your salary,” he points out.
Strangely the incubation internship which helped Uys get started is no more. After the initial pilot, which he was part of, the department closed the programme. This surprises Uys.
“If it wasn’t for the internship I wouldn’t have had a business, so I don’t know why the government didn’t invest in something like that again.”
He points out that coming up with a new product involves hundreds of thousands of rands in development, making it vital that any would-be entrepreneur developing a product get all the support they can.
The best way for the country to develop more innovative businesses, he believes, is to have universities help commercialise intellectual property (IP) through business centres and incubators, with the support from government to help start a business.
“That’s where it all starts. It’s with formal education and then from the support of government to start your own venture. ”
This interview originally appeared in Business Day on 10 December 2012: http://www.bdlive.co.za/business/management/2012/12/10/science-innovation-passes-business-test
Stephen Timm is a