How committed are our start-ups?

KIZITO OKECHUKWU | JULY 10, 2018

Pictured Above: Simba Chimhandamba

Entrepreneurship is not an easy road, it never has been and never will be. The risk and reward factor is often skewed largely towards risk, making aspirant entrepreneurs deeming it too challenging, according to their vision, lifestyle, wants and needs.
With the constantly rising unemployment rate in South Africa, especially amongst the youth, many are questioning whether various entrepreneurship programmes and support activities within the ecosystem actually add value in producing and scaling high impact start-ups. As an entrepreneur myself, I believe they do. The proof is always in the pudding and my question is “just how committed are our start-ups?” How committed are they to push and realise their dream by continually knocking on doors (when one closes another may open!), be it for support, funding, partnership or even consolidation?

Entrepreneurship is a two-way street and it’s so easy to blame government agencies. But how has your large corporate, your accelerator or your incubator helped to change the entrepreneurial landscape for the better?
A few years ago, Nonhlanhla Mokoena and her husband Simba Chimhandamba started an agricultural and agro processing business called Urban Grown. Their vision was to change the age-old belief that farming is done by old people in rural villages. Yet their farming techniques can easily be adopted in urban areas, as their produce is farmed hydroponically. Their tunnels allow them to farm enough produce to make the business sustainable by being in close proximity to the city.

Hydroponics farming is the practice of growing plants in water using a non-soil based substrate, such as coco-peat or perlite. Coco-peat is derived from recycled coconut husks and can retain 11 times more water than soil.

The beauty of hydroponic farming is that it benefits both the environment and the consumer. Hydroponics uses 95% less water than conventional farming and fewer pesticides, as there are far fewer diseases associated with hydroponic farming. What’s more, farmers are able to grow crops throughout the year, all the time generating income. For the consumer, they have direct access to quality nutritious produce all year round, grown and supplied in the city.

Recently, the pair acquired a few hectare plots of land on which they expanded their farming activities. Currently, they produce baby marrow, lettuce and other crops, supplying large retail chains, such as Pick ‘n Pay, City Lodge hotels, Bidvest and many more.

I met Simba a while back before he started his business and he shared his vision with me. I too, am not a big fan of agriculture, as I also associate the practice with old people in villages, yet as an entrepreneur, I did encourage him to go for it, if it was his passion. He has proven us all wrong and that it can be done. Today, he and his wife run a multimillion-rand business that employs around dozens of people.

Pictured Above: Nonhlanhla Mokoena

A few years ago, he participated in one of the Global Entrepreneurship Network competitions during the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Week and won prize money, which also assisted him to scale his company, thanks to Absa bank, a loyal strategic sponsor of the Global Entrepreneurship Week in South Africa. Their company was also one of the top ten start-ups that were featured at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress, held in Johannesburg last year, which saw over 173 nations and 8000 people descend on the city.

I must reiterate that starting any business is not easy and to do so, one needs a multi-stakeholder approach. Sometimes one accelerator or incubator might not have all the resources to start and scale, but the key aspect is how committed are the start-ups to keep pushing and keep getting help as little as possible from the ecosystem.

To start Urban Grown, they needed to rent a space that is conducive for their business vision, which they did from Riversands incubator at a subsidized rate, due to the Gauteng Government’s partnership with the hub. Last year, Simba was accepted into the Endeavor Entrepreneurship Programme and their business is still growing, further proof that by staying committed to the process, you’ll reap the fruit of your labour.

Over the past month, I took the time to meet each of the 70 resident start-ups face to face at 22 On Sloane. They really inspired me and fuelled the hope that we can definitely achieve the jobs target set by President Ramaphosa in his budget speech. I believe that Africa is the next big thing and that our start-ups have a much better chance of making it and succeeding than ever before.

Many of the start-ups are passionate and visionary and I see most of them soon becoming a success, like Simba and Nonhlanhla.
In this light, we are also getting a lot closer to achieving the Africa Union Agenda 2063, which states in its entrepreneurship vision that “we would like to remove the syndrome of Africans always coming up with great ideas, but with no significant achievement”.
Our mutual vision should be to fully support African startups in every way possible and help connect them with credible, visionary and like-minded stakeholders within the ecosystem to enhance their sustainable growth.

Kizito Okechukwu is the co-Chair of GEN Africa 22 on Sloane. 22 on Sloane is Africa’s largest startup campus

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