At the end of 2015 the first New Ventures Studio class graduated. The group of 20 showed what can be created when a community of like-minded people, with common goals and attitudes (and many late nights), apply themselves. They represent the face of youth that South Africa desires – determined, resilient and hopeful.
New Ventures Studio is the newest addition to Salesian Life Choices. It is an intensive eight-week entrepreneurship course combined with an incubator, its primary aim is to assist young entrepreneurs to move from an idea or early business stage to a well formulated business model ready to be implemented. When asked what motivated the launch of New Ventures Studio, Sofia Neves, Life Choices Managing Director, answered “jobs are the cornerstone of economic and social development. The lack of jobs leads to poverty, crime and social instability. In South Africa, 25% of working age people are unemployed, of which 3.2 million are between the ages of 15 to 34. It is clear that there is a fundamental need for job creation, something government has desired to prioritise for the last three State of the Nation addresses (SONA). We have decided to join the government efforts in job creation in order to further our mission of investing in youth to tackle inequality.”
Ms. Neves added, “we chose the path of entrepreneurship, because entrepreneurship has been described as the backbone of several booming economies in the world. Studies show that many of the advanced markets were built on small and medium size businesses (SMME’s). In South Africa alone, SMME’s account for the employment of 60% of the workforce in the country. New Ventures Studio was developed to create wealth in partnership with young entrepreneurs, so that SA’s economy grows, jobs are created and wealth is distributed among the ones who need it the most.”
The stories of the New Ventures Studio participants, whose ages range from 18 to 32, represent possibility in action. Each of them have failed at some point in their lives, but knew that what truly matters is what they have learned and what they can do moving forward. Their common goal is their drive to succeed as entrepreneurs – which led them to New Ventures Studio.
The range of graduates include a media and communications enthusiast, a gardening aficionado, an education pioneer, a financial consultant, a telecoms expert and a shoe maker – to mention a few. For many of the entrepreneurs the eight-week-course gave them the guidance, push and clarity that they needed while developing or polishing their business ideas.
The entrepreneurship course has been structured to combine business and self-development modules. Participants are exposed to the lean-start-up methodology and they spent their first three weeks going out of the building to do customer discovery and develop a business idea that their customers would want. The second part of the course explores pure business concepts ranging from marketing, finances, operations to legalities and pitching.
Speaking about his experience in the course is Nick Adriaans, 25, business owner at Lawn in Order, a gardening services company. “During the course I developed a business plan and generated customers. The support I received, and am still receiving, has been great. Both professionally and personally I have grown. Throughout the different course modules, I have learned about how I can grow my business while learning more about myself”, says Nick.
Another participant, Webster Kushata, 28, a dairy shop owner in low income communities, points out that the guidance he has received has shifted his mind-set and allowed him to visualise the future of his businesses from different angles. “I am totally different today, compared to the day I began this course. When I reflect back on my experience of starting my business on my own, I wish I could have been exposed to this course then. I personally regard this as a self-discovery and a learning tool to improve my service, resolving the problems my customers are facing in order to formulate a viable business model.
Representing the best in Cape Town, the entrepreneurs’ minds are filled with ideas to improve not only their own lives, but offer others opportunities as well.
For some entrepreneurs, like 31-year-old Luleka Ngxakata, joining the New Ventures Studio has allowed her to learn more about managing a business. She says that she had no idea of the growth that she and her event planning business would enjoy during the course.
“If I didn’t attend the course my business would never had transformed. When I started I was just planning baby showers and small parties. Now I’m organising safe and memorable nightlife events for groups of tourists in the township. Being exposed to different ideas and having the guidance and opportunity to do market research gave me the insight I needed to understand my market and what is needed in the industry. Seeing the gap in the industry gave me the motivation to change my business concept. Since then my business has grown and it has allowed me to uplift those around me in Gugulethu,” says Luleka.
After the 8-week course, entrepreneurs are invited to pitch to the New Ventures Studio Incubator. The incubator provides entrepreneurs with all they need in order to accelerate their business. Each incubatee is offered services to the value of R150,000. Each services package varies based on the business type and the entrepreneur’s maturity, however the end result is the same - to assist each incubatee to have an operational business, employing a minimum of 5 people, in the next 12 months.
Nick is one of the five participants who were selected to join the incubator. “So far the one-on-one intensity of the incubator has been great. As a new business owner there are challenges that can be a minefield to deal with. In two months, the incubator has assisted me to register my company, develop a corporate identity, design marketing tools, create a financial system among other things, but mainly the incubator has provided me with support. I recently felt as though I had reached breaking point – where I felt stuck and had no idea what to do. I made my way to the New Ventures Studio where I received amazing support and motivation. We spoke about the problems I was facing and came up with a plan of action. I have never felt so supported and understood before,” says Nick.
Mitchell Barker, a brands and telecoms entrepreneur, and an incubator participant, talks about the full New Ventures Studio journey. “The initial course was challenging, exciting, inspiring, demanding – and more! It made me question much of what I do today and has opened my eyes to a magnificent framework in all spheres of business. This has allowed me to retrace my steps and understand why and how I have managed to get to the point I am now at, and to identify what I needed to do to progress in my business – even if that meant taking a few steps back. As an all-round course I was extremely pleased with the structure, the content, the facilitators and the support from the team. It was also so rewarding to have experienced what I now believe are crucial fundamentals to one’s entrepreneurship journey. These include leadership training, mindfulness and TRE. I am a huge believer of the power of the mind and I was inspired to connect more deeply with myself on an emotional and spiritual level.”
“My experience with the incubator this far, is that if I thought the course was challenging the incubator is another league. I have been spending the past two months refining my business model. We all have agreed that we will only move forward if we are 90% sure that it is a business model that can be scalable and replicable. We are getting industry experts to give input on the model before implementing.”
Asked whether he would recommend others to join New Ventures Studio, Mitchell says: “Yes!” without hesitation. “I have discovered that entrepreneurship can sometimes be a lonely journey, and that there is no shortage of ideas in the world. The reason why these ideas are not turned into something material is due to lack of resources, support and know-how. With the combination of a strategically constructed course, and an environment that fosters entrepreneurial expertise and collaboration, this is the perfect setting and forum to help make your dreams come true.”
Today, the New Ventures Studio incubator is working with five entrepreneurs, and a new batch of entrepreneurs are currently busy with the eight-week course.
New Ventures Studio has become a think tank for entrepreneurs, a place where ideas are made tangible and contacts are turned into networks. The beginning stages have proven highly beneficial, with many entrepreneurs changing trajectories, questioning the status quo, and increasing their drive to succeed.