In business, networking is the key to success, and this is exactly what an intrepid business networking forum is focusing on to boost the fortunes of entrepreneurs and economies in the townships.
Ekasi Business Network, which means “township” in isiXhosa, was established by entrepreneur Luvuyo Rani, who realised that there were no platforms in the townships to assist businesses.
Rani is a former teacher and started his computer sales business, Silulo Ulutho Technologies, from the boot of his Corsa Lite (see page 15 for more on Rani’s story).
Thando Makili, administrator at the Ekasi Business Network, says that the forum aims to stimulate entrepreneurship in the townships and to create a culture where entrepreneurs who operate in the townships buy from each other and trade among each other.
“We want to leave a legacy of growing the township economy, creating employment and inspiring others,” says Makili.
The Ekasi Business Network, launched about two years ago in January 2011, meets on a monthly basis.
“At every network forum we have an entrepreneur share his or her successes and challenges.
“We also invite organisations and entrepreneurs from outside the townships to come in and share their successes and challenges with us,” says Makili.
The forum gets support from SAB Miller in terms of logistics and the media, especially City Vision, who profiles the entrepreneurs on a monthly basis.
The networking forum is open to anyone who would like to do business in the townships and interact with other small businesses.
Aspiring entrepreneurs are also welcome to be part of the forum, and there is no membership fee involved.
Makili says they normally have between 40 and 60 businesses at every network forum.
Mandisi Peter of Digital Satelite Television (DStv) and computer cabling installation company Isitya, is one of those businesses. He says he has secured “lots of clients” at the networking sessions he attends in Khayelitsha.
Peter has also done business with schools and small businesses in Khayelitsa and other townships. He finds the mentorship programmes run by people in top management positions especially beneficial.
“It is also good to know that the challenges that you face in your business is not unique and that other business owners often face them too.
The advice you get there is invaluable.”
The regular networking sessions and exposure to opportunities and mentorship have grown his business so much that he now employs 16 people.
Lufefe Nomjana, the owner of Espinanca Innovations, a company that provides healthy food alternatives such as spinach bread, says he has secured two contracts with business owners who are regulars at the Ekasi networking forums.
Ekasi connected him with Pick n Pay, which supplied him with an oven as well as the first three months’ rent for his business premises.
The business network forum also arranged for him to attend a US-sponsored entrepreneurship programme, which “significantly developed his business knowledge”.
Nomjana says the demand for his products has grown as a result of the exposure he gets not only at Ekasi, but also in the newspapers that have featured his business.