Young entrepreneurs come into their own

Don Makatile

Don Makatile

For four years Miyelani Amanda Moagi endured boredom working as an administrative officer in the office of the provincial police commissioner in Polokwane, Limpopo.

An energetic type who worked in the family liquor business when she was barely in her teens, she knew this office-bound existence was not for her.

She quit in December 2006 when her newly-established business secured a tender to supply furniture to schools in the province.

Today the business, Mmelani Business Enterprise, operating out of a factory in the Nkowankowa Industrial Park, makes a tidy R10 million in turnover.

Moagi, 32, cannot be faulted for sounding so upbeat about her business prospects.

Her story remains one of hard work and determination: "I grew up in a family which owned businesses, helping out during school holidays. I was then inspired to try my hand in business since I grew up in such an environment."

She even owned taxis herself, buying two in the process of striking it rich in business.

For her cash cow Mmelani, which started out with 15 people and now employs 60 full-time staffers, she needed more help than the taxi business could provide.

She approached Umsobomvu Youth Fund (UYF), whose mandate is to create a platform for skills development and job-creation for young South Africans between the ages of 18 and 35.

The UYF, established in January 2001 with the R855 million generated from the demutualisation of Sanlam and Old Mutual, has just extended its "entrepreneurship support programmes to women of all ages".

This is where the likes of Moagi come in.

With the confidence of someone who knows they are doing well, she explains how she paid R200 each towards costs for a business plan, marketing, branding and website development and bookkeeping.

Each time, the UYF would make vouchers available to pay the service providers, each service costing no less than R10000.

This is clearly a boon for young business people with no financial muscle to afford these costly services.

The suits at UYF refer to it officially as the Business Consultancy Services Voucher programme.

UYF says: "The voucher programme is aimed at small to medium enterprises and gives young entrepreneurs and women access to technical and managerial support services which are critical to their business developmental stage."

Thanks to the UYF and a dose of determination from Moagi, Mmelani is a fully-fledged business venture that currently supplies furniture to 58 schools across Limpopo.

"We also manufacture office and home furniture," says the proud entrepreneur.

Moagi is hardly the only beneficiary. Umsobomvu CEO Malose Kekana says this year alone they have helped 40000 young people in business from a budget of R220 million.

"We hope to raise more next year," says Kekana, who complains that the government allocated them only a paltry R5 million this year.

According to the UYF, they have, among other notable achievements, trained over 200000 young people since inception.

They have also recruited over 6000 volunteers for next year's Fifa Confederations Cup South Africa.

Added to this, they are also supporting over 85000 young entrepreneurs, including advancing R524 million in loans and investments.

The voucher programme Moagi benefited from stands at a hefty R244 million.

Their network of 121 youth advisory centres dotted all over the country services about 1,8 million young people.

Umsobomvu's greatest bragging point is that they have created no less than 116000 jobs.

It is for this reason that they have been acknowledged as the world's leading youth development institution.

Malefu Maupa runs her Tamia transport company out of a warehouse in City Deep, Johannesburg. "We move products, in bulk, from the manufacturers to the end-users," she says very business-like over the phone before the line went dead.

Hers is a young voice of one typically just out of school, like the thousands of unemployed young graduates who have formed themselves into various associations.

Research findings put the official unemployment figure at 26,7 percent but unofficial figures are as high as 40 percent.

Armed with a BSc degree in accounting from Hull University in the UK, Maupa, whose business received a R3 million kick-start from Umsobomvu, says she finds the transport sector challenging. "It's growing," she says about the business.

Among the pluses she credits Umsobomvu with is that she was given a three-month moratorium on commencing her loan repayments. "Yes," she says without revealing her age, "I am a young person."

There are other success stories, like Bafana Kubedi, whose business, BAF Industrial Safety and Work Wear, imports, supplies and distributes industrial protective equipment and clothing.

The products include footwear, hand, respiratory, eye and hearing protective clothing. It was founded in 2004.

His excitement is that "we have been able to supply protective equipment and clothing to the company that acquired the tender to build the FNB stadium".

He's already a serious businessman, part of a panel of four young entrepreneurs who addressed delegates at the 5th Annual Entrepreneurship Development Conference held at the Cape Town Convention Centre.

The UYF gushes that Kubedi's company's client base includes the likes of Anglo Platinum, Sasol, Eskom and Armscor, among others.