2 - 4 November 2020 | Hosted by the University of the Free State

Engaging a CoP for Studentpreneurs at one's university can propel one's business

Ms Refilwe Mogale knows all about being an entrepreneur while straddling one's studies; that is, being a studentpreneur.

She is a student at the University of the Free State (UFS) where she is doing her PhD in Chemistry. On top of that, she also co-runs the company she started with her two school friends, even though only one of those, Ms Mannini Setai, remains involved with the company to date. Mogale handles the research and development of Ahang Amalgamate Construction, which is involved in construction and brick-making.

Mogale is not facing these challenges alone. In 2019, students already running businesses under the entrepreneurship programmes of various universities spent a day discussing their specific challenges and decided to form a group, separate to the one run by university staff, to share information. That is how the second EDHE CoP for Student Entrepreneurship was started. Each of the 26 universities nominates a representative. Sandile Mjamba from Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth is the convener and Mogale is the co-convener, similar to a deputy. They anticipate that their digital platform will go live early next year so that other studentpreneurs can have easy access to much-needed resources.

Mogale was the main speaker about the CoP for Student Entrepreneurship at the EDHE's Student Entrepreneurship Week (#SEW2020) on Monday. Twenty-one public universities and three technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges took part in this combined, virtual event that has typically been presented as in-house events at various institutions, previously.

Ms Refilwe Mogale (left) with her business partner, Ms Mannini Setai.
Refilwe Mogale & Mannini Setai
Ms Refilwe Mogale (left) with her business partner, Ms Mannini Setai.

The annual Student Entrepreneurship Week is one of several flagship projects run by Universities South Africa's Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) programme, which is a partnership between the Department of Higher Education and Training and Universities South Africa (USAf), the association of South Africa's public universities.

It helps to be part of a community

Mogale spoke about how the CoP fulfills the need for a student voice. "The Community of Practice is trying to advocate for change within the university's entrepreneurship space, and highlight some of the problems student entrepreneurs are facing," she said. It was one thing to start an enterprise; but to move to the next level, she felt it is best to have a community of people experiencing the same things, or who have been through it already. "This is about being a community, and being able to support each other and understand each other's challenges," she said.

Why Mogale became an entrepreneur

She became an entrepreneur out of necessity. She couldn't get a job. She did her Honours in Chemistry but didn't find work. Then she did her Master's, "and at the end of it I was still wondering: what happens now," she said. So she opted to start a business based on an idea from a project she and her friends did while at Parys High School. Because of that business, she now has options. After her PhD she can focus fulltime on running her own business, or get a job.

"I would encourage students to consider entrepreneurship as a possible career option so that they have the option of running their own businesses, and they're not solely reliant on looking for a job which might or might not happen for them," said Mogale.

The University of Limpopo drives females to participate in entrepreneurship

Ms Kgodiso Lebea, the CoP nominee from the University of Limpopo (UL), is a final-year Development Planning and Management student. She is also the CEO of JK Foods, which she co-founded with a Mr Jimmy Mohale, a former student in BCom Accounting who now works for UL (from October 2019) as the Entrepreneurship Administrator. Because of the conflict of interest that his latter position presented, Mohale has taken an advisory role in JK Foods.

JK Foods_Spice offering

The company, rooted in agro-food processing, manufactures six types of spices (left) incorporating moringa, the plant reputed to have health benefits but that has a bitter taste when eaten raw. JK Foods' spices are also healthy because they do not contain artificial colourants, preservatives or monosodium glutamate (MSG).

She said women often doubt themselves and their skills but the world is moving away from being male-centered, and opportunities abound for female entrepreneurs. "I just took my skills and what I love to do, which is cooking, and integrated it into my own business, and I actually enjoy it," she said.

Lebea (right) said UL is doing everything it can to "to put female entrepreneurs in the forefront, so that we are an example to others". The University pays extra attention to supporting female studentpreneurs to access funding. Lebea explained that to pitch a business idea for funding, one needs a comprehensive business plan, "a very daunting exercise which overwhelms many of us."

She added that, as part of instilling and promoting an entrepreneurial spirit in students, the UL organises an annual business pitch competition. "In 2018, I was the only female out of five winners of this competition." Females tended to shy away from entrepreneurial activity; especially the requirement to draw comprehensive business plans seemed to push them away. "That's when Professor Thobeka Ncanywa, the Head of the Department of Economics, put in extra effort into supporting females. When she noticed the low numbers of females entering the business pitch competition she stepped in with additional interventions.

Kgodiso Lebea

"The process of developing comprehensive business plans is highly involved and tedious. Many girls were giving up even before trying, already thinking their chances of winning were slim, anyway. But the extra support we get boosts our confidence." Lebea says as a result of this intervention, female participation rose from 20% (one out of five) in 2018 to 66% (two out of three) in 2019. "In this year's competition, 50% of the contestants in the business pitch competition were female." She adds that a female peer even got R10,000 funding from the National Youth Development Agency for her start-up business, and Lebea was awarded R50,000 from the same organisation.

During one of the business development courses offered on the UL campus in 2019, the University invited the national Minister of Small Business Development, Ms. Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, to address the students on the closing day. "She gave a very empowering talk, emphasising to us, females, that success is as reachable for us as it is for our male counterparts." She adds that "you can do it" is a common refrain they hear from both Professor Ncanywa and Mr Jimmy Mohale, in motivating young women. The increased participation of females in UL's entrepreneurial activities is a direct outcome of that constant motivation.

In 2019, Lebea was co-runner-up in the Limpopo ENGEN Pitch & Polish competition. ENGEN Pitch & Polish is an annual enterpreneurship workshop and competition held in eight cities across South Africa, powered by Raizcorp. She also walked off with a 2nd place win in the Innovation Prize scholarship during the launch of the French South African Agriculture Institute (F'SAGRI) at her institution in 2019. Her reward was a cash prize of R30 000 plus a two-month trip to France to exhibit her spice business in Paris. This trip was, however, cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As an alternative, she has been enrolled in a Food Systems Incubation programme run by Oribi Village in Cape Town.

This high-flier is also a finalist in the national EDHE Intervarsity competition to be held in Johannesburg on 26-27 November 2020.

It takes passion to succeed

She said movies often show how passion drives the main characters. She also believes "passion is what drives us as people". Without it, people drop out of studies and abandon their entrepreneurial aspirations. "Just be passionate about and love what you do, and I think you'll find success," she said.

Lebea added that she is a great believer in living a balanced lifestyle. Outside of work, people need to socialise and relax. "So many people are busy working, working, working so hard that they forget you need to slow down sometimes, and just breathe. That's when the creative juices flow," she said.

In closing off her input to the Studentpreneur CoP session on Monday, Lebea offered this piece of advice to aspiring female business owners: "Just be strong; believe in yourself and in your idea."

Pitching competitions are helpful

Mr Trevor Shihundla (right) is the CoP nominee from the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), where he is registered for a Master's in Industrial Engineering. He is also involved in the department's Rail Manufacturing Centre for Entrepreneurship Rapid Incubator (RMCERI). His venture is business consulting, particularly game-based learning, a simulation game called Plan A that helps prepare people reap the benefits of 4IR.

He said TUT is driving entrepreneurship with pitching competitions, where students from diverse fields learn about pitching their ideas to potential investors.

As TUT offers many technical courses, the challenge for its students when pitching their entrepreneurial ideas is communicating scientific information clearly. "So we teach them how to communicate the science in a way that the ordinary person in the street can understand what the idea or the product is about. Whether it's a machine, 3D printing or virtual reality, how do you find a way to explain it, and make a person understand that, without becoming scientific or too technical," Trevor said.

Trevor Shihundla

Getting recognised by platforms such as EDHE makes it all worthwhile

Phetha Mchunu

Ms Phetha Mchunu (left), a University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) law graduate now finishing the first year of her postgraduate law degree, believes there is a strong culture of entrepreneurship at WITS. She said the Development and Leadership Unit at Wits works hard to make everyone aware of the benefits of entrepreneurship, as well as opportunities such as the intervarsity pitching competition.

"I am an example of that," she said. While studying, and doing well enough in her undergraduate degree to clinch membership of the international Golden Key society by scoring within the top 15% of her class, she also runs two businesses, one in waste management and the other in confectionary.

The first business, GridPit, is a recyclable waste collection company that aims to incentivise people with rewards so that they sort through their domestic waste to recycle it. The company wants to partner with waste reclaimers "to give them the recognition they deserve", she said. "We believe in being the advocates and instruments of a circular economy by increasing the redirection, recycling, and re-use of plastic and paper," she said. GridPit's mission is to perpetuate recycling until there is zero recyclable waste going to landfills.

Her other enterprise is a baking business, @fullyfrostedsa, which promotes itself on Instagram (see an example of Fully Frosted products on the right) with orders communicated via Whats app.

Mchunu has always wanted to be an entrepreneur and says she has dedicated herself to nurturing her entrepreneurial mindset. Now she realises that entrepreneurship might be her dream but it is also a necessity for Africa. She grew up exposed to a lot of social problems and her goal is to help alleviate poverty, decrease unemployment and ultimately, change the world. "I believe I can," she said.

She says it is tough being a female entrepreneur while studying, "so getting recognised by platforms such as EDHE is so validating".

A cake from Phetha Mchunu's baking business

She won the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Varsity Pitch 2019 Grant Funding, and is a joint winner of the business idea category of the regional EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity for GridPit, and is now polishing her pitching skills for the finals. "But I believe there's always more; there's more than just the sky. You can go further; you can touch the stars. I have some great ideas that we're going to be implementing in 2021, just watch this space," she said.

The CoP for Student Entrepreneurship was given a platform on Monday to increase its visibility across the university sector as a way to promote this structure and to encourage studentpreneurs to interact actively with their institutional nominees for information sharing and, even more importantly, for peer support.

Visit the EDHE website: https://edhe.co.za/

Written by Gillian Anstey, an independent writer commissioned by Universities South Africa.

Powered by NewsSite