Meet Vuyokazi, our fictional big big dreamer. Vuyokazi is a 26-year-old entrepreneur that hails from Soweto. When Vuyokazi was in high-school, she used to sell roasted popcorn on school grounds to make extra money – she often got in trouble for this. At University, she started marketing and distributing Kwaito classics to Americans in cities like Miami who are fascinated by this South African blend of dance and a hip-hop like narrative. That is how Vuyo made her first R1 million.
Everyone who ever met Vuyokazi asked, ‘what is her special ingredient?’, how is she so smart, charming, intuitive and creative? The answer to Vuyo’s secret source for success is a combination of her talent, a developing economy that is more open to supporting black founders, and globalization.
Another question that Vuyo’s followers ask is: South Africa has 53 ecosystem players, 71 direct finance providers1, and the potential to create 3.4 million new jobs by 20302. Why is Vuyo’s business not flourishing and scaling up to at least R1 billion in annual revenue?
There are no easy answers to the question, but some systematic observations can be made to help us understand what Vuyo’s options are depending on her circumstances and luck.
Suppose Vuyokazi wanted to develop a mobile software application that would allow users to stream Kwaito classics for a R5 per month subscription? At the surface, this may seem like a feasible B2C play since many believe that creating an app is simple. Major barriers to success would be lack of access to software development talent and the right funding networks that would invest in her iterating on her idea. It might just be that Vuyo is still a little too early for a very nascent technology ecosystem. Players such as The Joburg Centre For Software Engineering (JCSE) are changing this by providing software skills development to people of various experience levels, and by building infrastructure that will incubate black technology enterprises3. In the next 5-10 years, there will be a surge in black owned technology businesses that aim do address very deep and complex problems in African communities.
Let’s assume that Vuyo managed to build her software, license streaming rights from a few independent Kwaito artists, acquire 200 000 users and hire a team of top developers. She also still has 9 months of runway after getting funding from investors who heard her pitch at The Hook Up Dinner, Simodisa and Venture Networks4. A business like hers is also a B2B play because she would need market access to licensing deals from major record companies. A major challenge in South Africa is that institutions are often not willing to take procurement risks on inexperienced funders. Equipping founders to penetrate corporate supply chains and to scale up to in order to meet the needs of big business is another obstacle to creating black industrialists. Organisations such as Edge Growth and Awethu Project specialize in Enterprise Supplier Development to manage supply chain transformation programmes on behalf of corporates while also equipping the entrepreneurs to meaningfully participate in the supply chains of corporate5.
Awethu Project recently started a R25 million fund, that aims to accelerate supply chain transformation by buying out white owned businesses and equipping black founders to run them and serve existing customer relationships. In the coming decade, this will go a long way in moving the needle on corporate supply chain transformation.
Maybe Vuyo figured out a way to land some non-exclusive music streaming rights after a successful pitch with 2 local major label heads. The other 18 pitches did not go so well after facing issues of discrimination based on her gender. While organisations such as Wiphold and Mbewu Movement 5 have created meaningful spaces for women entrepreneurs to flourish, the gender gap is still an obstacle to creating a diverse ecosystem that supports top talent regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or religion. Women only represent 14% of board members in companies in Africa on average, many of these institutions also exist in the entrepreneurship ecosystem and perpetuate prejudice that hold women founders back.
Vuyo’s journey is a small part of a bigger story. We told the story from the perspective of observers witnessing the rise of a technology entrepreneur, only because much emphasis has been placed the role of tech in transforming societies. Our list of different type of entrepreneurs, environments and barriers/opportunities was also not meant to be collectively exhaustive either. Regardless of global trends and in some cases even fads, there is a much more diverse group of founders like Vuyo in the education, agriculture, retail, social sector and other spaces. While we highlighted all the successes and pitfalls of Vuyo’s journey, it would be better for you to get the information from the horse’s mouth. Global Entrepreneurship Week is the world’s largest celebration of the innovators and job-creators who launch startups that bring ideas to life, drive economic growth, and expand human welfare.
We estimate that 20 + events will be hosted during GEW in Johannesburg alone. Event hosts range from institutions such as Raizcorp, networking platforms such as Simodisa, to entrepreneurs who will be discussing specific topics such as pitching and funding.
We have a curated list of some of the best events for you to attend this week on Imbizo Junction. Meet the Vuyo’s in your city who are building the next job-creators and share the information with your friends. An ecosystem is made more vibrant by the amount of cross pollination and collaboration among different actors in the system.
While South Africa has its entrepreneurship challenges, we at the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation are very optimistic about the potential for positive social change that business can create. To date we have provided University funding and entrepreneurship development opportunities to over 560 big dreamers of which 289 form part of our Alumni.
Do you know a way that Vuyokazi could help Durban House, Skhanda and Motswako go global? Let us know what you think by Tweeting us @AllanGrayOrbis using the #GEWdreamBIG# hashtag.
- South African entrepreneurial ecosystem map, ANDE, 2014
- McKinsey: South Africa’s Big 5 bold priorities, 2015
- The Hook Up Dinner, org, venturenetwork.co.za
- Awethu , Edge Growth
- Wiphold , Mbewu Movement
- McKinsey: Women Matter Africa, 2016
- GEW website