Two Women Flying the SA Flag High in the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme

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Two South African women, Siphiwe Sithole and Bonolo Mataboge have been selected as part of the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme. The African continent is full of passionate entrepreneurs who all want to contribute towards positive change in the continent and initiatives such as the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme provide the perfect platforms for these entrepreneurs to implement their goals. The idea behind this programme is to create 10 000 start-ups across the continent within the next 10 years, start-ups that contribute to employment and wealth. A whopping 20 000 African entrepreneurs from over 50 countries applied to the programme. A thousand entrepreneurs were selected, two of those selected applicants are two South African women who also happen to be mother and daughter. Nunnovation sat down with these two remarkable women to find out more about this significant achievement and what it means for the country.

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Q&A with Siphiwe Sithole (S) and Bonolo Mataboge (B)

Nunn: For those who don’t know yet, tell us a bit about yourselves and what you do?

S: I am Siphiwe Sithole a Journalism graduate and a Chartered Marketer. I come from a small township in Mpumalanga. Throughout my life I have always sought business opportunities, while holding a full time job I will always have something that I do on the side, that keeps my creative side active and makes a difference to other people’s lives. I have started a number of businesses, owned, managed and later passed them to other people or moved on. In the 90’s I started a clothing label Ashanti Exclusive Wear and I had the likes of Patricia de Lille as my clients. While working in Mthatha I launched the first meter taxi business called Siphiwe’s Executive Shuttle and Tours, I also opened the first Bridal Shop called Simply Weddings, I ran my own PR Agency called Siphiwe Communications and also operated a tuck shop at the then University of Transkei. In 2008 I relocated to Cape Town where within no time I opened a shop at Jabavu Street in Kwa-Langa while holding a marketing position at Sanlam. I am currently employed as a Senior Manager Group Stakeholder Relations for Sanlam.

B: I am Bonolo Mataboge, a plus-size fashion designer and entrepreneur. I design ready-to-wear clothing for plus-size women (size 34-46). My designs are modern, bold/daring and like nothing in the plus-size market at the moment. I like to call myself an African gypsy because I’ve lived all over South Africa and I was an exchange student in the US for 10 months when I was 16. I am very down to earth, fun-loving and enjoy the simpler things in life. I am very driven and ambitious too, a bit of a serious clown.

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Nunn: What inspired you to apply for the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme?

S: I had been working on the idea of producing African foodstuff to service our African expatriate community living in SA for over two years. When I saw the TEEP advert, I saw it as my chance of turning my idea into a viable and successful business venture. The Tony Elumelu Foundation appealed to my own values and beliefs and I needed to be part of it.

B: I decided that I won’t be returning to university this year until I can afford to attend my dream school, Parsons the New School of Design in New York so I started looking for short-courses/programmes that will allow me to work and study. I came across the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme and felt that it was exactly what I was looking for. I like that it didn’t just offer education but a network of entrepreneurs from across the continent to learn from and hopefully work with and form lifelong relationships.

Nunn: When you applied, what hopes/expectations did you have?

S: I alerted so many people to the opportunity and my greatest hope was that one or two of the people I know should be admitted to the programme as I believed that will take us forward as a country and as a continent. I had confidence in my idea that I was hoping to make it into the Class of 2015, but would have also accepted the outcome if I was not part of the 1000 entrepreneurs selected out of over 20 000 applications. I was also hoping that between myself and my daughter one of us should make it, especially for her who had to suspend her studies. I felt this will be a great opportunity for her to be in the midst of dynamic entrepreneurs from across the continent, to have the opportunity to form partnerships, synergies and collaborations that will benefit Africa and humanity at large.

B: Well, being as young as I am (20years) and failing to get into the Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship, I didn’t really expect much. I just thought I should give it a shot.

Nunn: What does being selected into this programme mean for you and your business?

S: This is the biggest boost and push I needed. Now there is a fixed timeframe to do and complete things. I have access to the TEEP’s resource facilities where I can access all sorts of business and general material. I have a mentor that acts as a sounding board, and I am part of a forum of entrepreneurs in the Agricultural sector where I am able to bounce off ideas, test some of my crazy ideas, give input to other people’s ideas, chat to people from East, West, South, North and Central Africa on a daily basis.

B: I feel validated about having a solid business and ideas that will be successful especially with the support offered in the TEEP. It means that I will be able to take my business to the next level, maybe even out of our borders; I will be able to gain the necessary skills to run my business effectively and professionally and I will make contacts all over the continent which will be very useful in the future.

Nunn: What do you think made your application stand out?

S: My idea is authentic and innovative. It speaks to a real gap in the market, and illustrates a deeper understanding of the impact of migration, the importance of food security, and how we should respond to that. It seized an opportunity that will allow host communities, businesses and expatriates to be integrated and benefit from one another. I think my business is unique, bold, talks to the values of the African Union, Pan Africanism and getting our businesses to take a major role in creating social cohesion and benefiting from globalisation.

B: I think my target market made me stand out because very few designers cater for the plus-size market so it is a virtually untapped market, my passion for what I do and possibly what I have been able to achieve so far at my age.

Nunnovation congratulates these two phenomenal women!

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