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

MUT's final-year HR Management students rise to the entrepreneurship challenge

It is all very well to tell matriculants to apply for further studies and funding, online, but if they live in a rural area with minimal resources, that is a tough call.

Mr Jabulani Mngadi

Mr Jabulani Mngadi (left), who grew up in rural Kwangcolisi in KwaZulu-Natal, and attended Hlahlindlela High School, never forgets how he struggled with online applications. It took him until his final year in Human Resource Management at Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) to see his dream take shape. In June this year he registered the Jabulani Foundation as a non-profit organisation.

This entity provides a valuable service to those students who are in the same situation he was in. Instead of having to travel to Durban to visit offices in person, or try find a town with an internet café, the Foundation's helpers visit rural areas, armed with laptops and smart phones that can scan documents to help basic school leavers apply for places in tertiary institutions, and funding.

The Jabulani Foundation was one of three enterprises, all started by final-year Human Resources Management students, which formed part of MUT's presentation at the recent virtual Student Entrepreneurship Week (SEW2020). The event took place from 2 to 4 November.

Mngadi said that with the increased focus on digital, he realised applying for tertiary education would be even tougher now for those who are also from "a disadvantaged society where the infrastructure is scarce".

His Foundation's Spokesman, Mr Makabongwe Sithole (right), also a final-year Human Resources Management student, explained more in MUT's video presentation. He said the Foundation ultimately aims to empower youth. And they do it in a practical way, by "taking our services, and our own resources, to the communities". There they help NSC candidates apply online for both the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), and the Central Applications Office (CAO), which processes all applications for tertiary institutions in KwaZulu-Natal.

The Jabulani Foundation has joined forces with other campus organisations that also aim to empower youth. Even if they are working with different communities, this collaboration is a form of outreach and a way to "assist South Africa at large", said Sithole.

Mr Makabongwe Sithole

Their biggest challenge is funding; they want to assist as many communities as possible. If prospective benefactors cannot help financially, the young men will welcome laptops that might be speedier than the ones they are using.

MUT boasts a wide range of student ventures with different aims

The Jabulani Foundation is a service providing enterprise. So, too, does a shoe cleaning company at MUT. Many other businesses offer products.

Mr Innocent Ngcobo

Running a business means different things to different people, as Mr Innocent Ngcobo (left), also a final-year Human Resource Management student and the host of MUT's presentation, found, when he asked: "What does entrepreneurship mean to you?"

"Passion", "opportunities", "creativity", "innovation", "financial freedom", "success" and "leaving a legacy", were the MUT students' responses.

Ms Nombulelo Ncube (below right) went into more detail in her answer: "It's about having the passion to identify problems around you, and make opportunities out of them. Entrepreneurship allows you to define your own success, and is a stepping stone for future generations."

A business that makes dirty sneakers smell fresh again

Ncube said she realised that if one looks for opportunities, "you need to be willing to do things that nobody wants to do." That is how she came up with the idea of cleaning shoes, what she refers to as a "shoe laundry", and called her business Shoes Garden.

She started with cleaning sneakers. It was a way to test if she was suitable to be an entrepreneur, she said. She soon realised that this could be extended to cleaning other shoes too. Now she intends scaling up to include shoe repairs. That would be a way to uplift the community, because she plans to take shoes that are completely broken, and fix them at Shoes Garden's expense.

This youngster welcomes the digital era, which CoVID-19 merely accelerated. "Business had to think on their feet about how they were going to survive the lockdown. We realised it's now no longer just about the lockdown. Whatever strategies we came with, during that phase, are now going to be the new norm," she said.

Ms Nombulelo Ncube

She admits Shoes Garden has had a weak marketing strategy but is working on applying e-commerce -- that is, creating a stronger online presence from which to engage with its customers. The aim is to get customers to book their services online.

She also embraces the mechanisation that comes with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. To that end she dreams of acquiring a machine that will wash and repair shoes, rather than continue doing it all by hand. She maintains that regardless of how automated things may become, people will always wear shoes.

Don't indulge in stimulants and think you are cool; just dress well

Mr Sphamandla Maxwell Sangweni

Another MUT student, one Mr Sphamandla Maxwell Sangweni (left), said young people tended to party, do alcohol and drugs, and think they are living THE lifestyle. "We should be sharing things like job opportunities,'' he said, sharing the inspiration behind his clothing brand, MW Keep Believing. The initials are from his middle name "Maxwell" and he liked the way the "m" and "w" are visual opposites of each other, and so together they show how life can go up and down.

He integrated the slogan "keep believing'' into the brand name, because he wants young people to realise they can achieve whatever they set out to do. "I want to bring back hope because we are lost," he said. He is also hoping to inspire others on campus who have been reluctant to start their own ventures.

One of his challenges presents when friends try to bargain down his prices, which doesn't help him make a profit. And his competitive advantage? They don't just provide clothes, ''but attractive clothes'', he said. What's more, MW Keep Believing is a local product, which can help boost the economy.

Sphamandla's merchandise
Sphamandla's merchandise
Sphamandla's merchandise

Sangweni's designs have now expanded from different styled t-shirts, shorts, tracksuits, hats and caps to CoVID-19 masks. Someone else does the sewing, and he hopes to give back to the community by employing more young people, "dynamic creatives, who are willing to work", he said.

They had lots of advice for other studentpreneurs

Ngcobo said it was encouraging that all three entrepreneurs had one thing in common: they all planned to uplift their communities, and so would help revolutionise South Africa's economy, Ngcobo said. What was their advice to others, he asked.

Sithole believes it is essential for studentpreneurs to have a plan that will help them work towards achieving their goal. But they must not stick too rigidly to it. "When challenges arise, be flexible enough to restructure, and alter your plan towards achieving that big, audacious goal,'' he said.

Ncube's advice is: "If there's any part of you that believes that the idea could work, just run with it. Believe in your idea and in yourself. Self development is a vital part of this process."

Sangweni said aspiring entrepreneurs should just "start with what you have, where you are". They did not need funding, he added, "only a customer and a plan".

MUT is one of 20 universities, and four technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges that took part in #SEW2020. The initiative is a partnership of the Department of Higher Education and Training, and Universities South Africa (USAf), the umbrella body of the country's 26 public universities.

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

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