Ex-resident of Port Elizabeth and now social entrepreneur in Eerste River in Cape Town, Vincent Zokufa, 37, owner of ConnectUs ICT, was recognised for his innovative business model providing training and support to disadvantaged schools to use their IT resources more effectively, with the De Beers Business with Most Potential award yesterday [4 December 2018].
He was one of three top small businesses awarded out of a group of 27 small business owners from low-income areas of greater Cape Town who completed the sponsored nine-month development programme aimed at empowering small business owners in disadvantaged areas to grow their businesses of the Small Business Academy (SBA) programme of the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB).
Vincent Zokufa has a vision to make sure that no learner leaves school without the basic IT skills needed for employment or for coping with tertiary studies.
“We find schools in impoverished areas have ICT infrastructure, but no specialist to look after it and a situation where most of the equipment is not working, often due to minor issues, and no one knows how to fix it.
Access for the learners to use the computers then becomes extremely limited and sometimes is restricted only to those taking computing subjects,” he said.
With a mission “about more than profit – it’s about ensuring access to technology for all”, ConnectUs keeps its fees relatively low and also differentiates itself by training a learner or former learner in each school to do the basic maintenance and look after computer labs.
“We open doors for these kids to a future career direction. The school pays them from their budget, and they become our troubleshooter on the ground, calling us in when they can’t solve a problem,” he said.
Zokufa and his small team work with about 12 no- and low-fee schools and have extended their services to website and content development, “helping schools to tell their story and attract the resources they need”.
He said the SBA had been instrumental in helping him to “shape the business side of the organisation – even if we are not purely profit-driven, we need to remain a sustainable, viable business”.
The future plan is to grow the base of schools being served by looking at a subscription model for schools while also expanding into servicing other small businesses to generate income to supplement the services to schools.
The other top 2 awards went to:
Lisa Ndyalivani, 33, owner of WooWfoods, a mobile coffee shop taking hot coffee and healthy food to commuters, students and workers in Bellville, was named the Distell Top Student with the highest mark overall after completing the sponsored nine-month development programme aimed at empowering small business owners in disadvantaged areas to grow their businesses.
Proving that age is no barrier to starting up a business, Jacqueline Julie of Mitchells Plain celebrated her 50th birthday along with winning the ABSA Best Business Plan award for her Xcelent Crunchies Homebakes which has turned a part-time home-baking setup into a growing formal business that supports her family of eight.
SBA head Dr Marietjie Theron-Wepener said, “We are very proud of how far the three winners and all the participants on the programme have come in just nine months through increasing their knowledge and gaining practical business skills,” Dr Theron-Wepener said.
“It’s widely accepted that small businesses are the engines of economic growth and employment, and offer a logical route out of poverty, but many don’t make it past their first year because they lack business skills and the know-how to access finance and markets,” she said.
Now in its sixth year, the SBA addresses that gap, in partnership with corporate sponsors who also share their inside business knowledge and experience with participants, creating networking opportunities and better understanding of the linkages between small and large businesses.
Each participant is mentored by a USB MBA alumnus, and many cite this as the most valuable part of the learning experience.
Dr Theron-Wepener said the three winners had in common a drive to succeed and had demonstrated the ability to innovate and adapt their businesses to changing circumstances – “an essential trait of entrepreneurs”, she said.
“What is especially exciting is to see that they, and other participants on the programme, are not just thinking about how to grow their own businesses but also how to share what they have learnt and create opportunities for others to get into business too. This is how small business becomes the economic engine that it should be,” Dr Theron-Wepener said.
The SBA programme is now also available in the Eastern Cape in partnership with the Joe Gqabi Economic Development Agency (JoGEDA). Small business owners in Aliwal North, Barkly East, Burgersdorp, Maclear, Steynsburg and Ugie have successfully for the past 2 years grown their businesses with the support of the sponsored programme.
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