In celebrating Women’s Month we turn our attention to the vibrant and charismatic entrepreneurs who prove that gender is no barrier to starting and running a successful business. Here NALEDI MHLONGO shares a few tips for other entrepreneurs looking to blaze their own trails…
24-year-old NALEDI MHLONGO cofounded NEPTECH in May 2016, with the vision of owning a social enterprise that gives every South African child an opportunity to have equal, quality educati on. She believes that information technology is the key and the company partners with academic institutions to provide these solutions. She is part of the “AccelerateHer” programme organised by the Seed Academy, WDB Investment Holdings and Shell Downstream South Africa.
THAT FIRST CUSTOMER. We have met most of our prospective partners at networking functi ons, through word-of-mouth and cold calling. We have a niche market to target and our services are B2B (business-to-business) and B2G (business-to-government). We are currently piloting a project with a JSE-listed company at a primary school in Gauteng, which they have adopted and have been supporting through conventional food and blanket donations etc. They are now ready to increase their social investment, looking at a more sustainable and real-impact solution, and that is where we come in.
FROM FUNDING TO BOOTSTRAPPING. Our biggest challenge, like most SMEs, has been cashflow. After registering our business our focus for the first few months was fund-raising, by means of approaching SOEs (state-owned enterprises), family and VCs (venture capitalists). We soon learnt that people and institutions are more willing to invest in businesses which have traction. We’ve since shift ed our focus from acquiring capital to acquiring clients. Clients will bring the cash-fl ow, and grow our credibility simultaneously. In the interim we have been bootstrapping, which is a very tough challenge on its own. However, we are driven by our company’s vision, and that
is the fuel that pushes us on. I have found running my own business very liberating – it tests me every day, and every day I am learning new lessons.
GOING FOR GOLD. We feel that the Edutech space is a gold mine waiting to be explored. The benefits of exploiting this space is the upliftment of millions of disadvantaged young South Africans, and ultimately securing the economic future of our country. Our short-term focus as a business is signing more partnership agreements with corporates and supporting the State. We are aiming to achieve our target of rolling out our educational soft ware and having 10,000 learner and teacher users registered by end of 2018. Being so deeply passionate about NEPTECH’s long-term vision gives a strong sense of purpose and a reason to get out of bed!