An unlikely pair investing into township entrepreneurs
Both are successful entrepreneurs who know what it means to build a business from the ground up and they both have an incredible passion to support others. In March 2021 the two friends and partners founded Qalisa Hub, a virtual accelerator that works with township entrepreneurs to help accelerate business concepts and ideas into a commercially viable business that is investor ready.
Also known as The Unconventional CA, Hiten is not afraid to shake things up. ‘It is important to have integrity and to stay true to yourself. I used to take off my earring when I went to corporate events. One day I asked myself why I am trying to fit into someone else’s box. Now I wear my earring, I wear floral shirts and coloured pants … For me, it is important to challenge the boundaries and find new ways of doing things.’
Sanjay remembers Hiten’s outfit was what first caught his attention when the two met. ‘He is a very flamboyant dresser – he was wearing bright pants, a floral shirt, earring, fancy hairstyle … and he had this swagger,’ Sanjay remembers laughingly. ‘I thought to myself, I need to have a chat with this cocky character! One thing led to another, and now we’re in business together.’
Because Hiten and Sanjay are so different, they counterbalance each other extremely well. ‘It’s a bit of a ying-yang effect and we complement each other very well,’ explains Sanjay.
Hiten is currently for start-ups, SMEs and NPOs but is also busy with quite a few other entrepreneurial projects in the background. He assists large-scale businesses, entrepreneurs, SMMEs and charitable organisations, to be sustainable for the future. However, one of his greatest life goals and passions is giving back to others.
To him, the most important characteristic of an entrepreneur is to be committed to the journey. ‘You have to trust and believe in yourself. That is vitally important. But to succeed, you must understand the importance of investing in yourself from a skillset perspective. You don’t always have a team to support you. You must be willing to upskill yourself, to know all the different aspects from a business perspective. And if you don’t have that, start building a network.’
During his life journey, Hiten has been through multiple start-ups and knows how difficult it is to progress from the ideation stage if you don’t have the right networks, the skillset needed and some cash in your pocket. ‘When I was finally given the opportunity through SAICA, and met Sanjay, it created a pivotal change in my life in terms of what mentorship can bring when you collaborate with the right people.’
Even though entrepreneurship is very much part of who Hiten is, his ultimate purpose and passion are to give back to society, to teach the things he has learnt and gained in the short space of time, to give others the opportunities that he didn’t get. ‘My career is very much purpose- and passion-driven around the legacy, I want to leave.’
It is this passion that makes Hiten and Sanjay the perfect business partners. Sanjay is a seasoned entrepreneur, mentor, strategist and start-up and early-stage investor who is passionate about uplifting and positively impacting leaders and start-up enterprises. ‘I help people think about their challenges differently and to support them in the way they think about life,’ he explains. He is also a co-shareholder and director in the Black Lite Group and CIRT.
However, Sanjay describes his ‘day job’ and his main focus as helping other people and is currently involved in four different mentor groups.
Sanjay’s daily challenge to himself is, ‘What can I do today to positively impact the life of at least one other person? If you have one person, with one job, they can feed three families. If I can help just one person, I’ve made a small difference. But multiply that effect, and can you imagine the impact?’
Both Hiten and Sanjay know what it means to build a business from the ground up. ‘Our vision is to support other people who have great ideas, but don’t know what to do with them,’ explains Sanjay.
‘These areas are the most under-serviced yet has incredible potential for sustainable growth in our country. I firmly believe an African unicorn will come from one of these township areas,’ says Sanjay.
In March 2021 the two friends and partners founded Qalisa Hub, a virtual accelerator that works with township entrepreneurs to help accelerate business concepts and ideas into a commercially viable business that is investor ready. Neither of the partners nor their advisors benefit financially in any way from this organisation.
‘In the South African start-up landscape, if you’re in ideation stage or a pre-revenue business, very few investors want to spend their time and effort growing you, taking you through the necessary steps to get you operational,’ explains Hiten.
‘We really want to help these people with our knowledge and know-how, but also connect them to other people who have access to information and knowledge that the two of us don’t have,’ says Sanjay.
Qalisa Hub’s purpose is to support these entrepreneurs by giving them access to skilled advisors (from Hiten and Sanjay’s own networks) who will help them to get their businesses investor-ready, including a go-to-market strategy, business plan, open access to networks in order for entrepreneurs to do their market valuation and identify the problems that need to be solved and potentially build a clientele.
For Sanjay, the most important characteristic of an entrepreneur, above all else, is attitude and passion. ‘You can teach people skills, but you can’t teach them attitude or passion. You either have it, or you don’t. The second thing I look for in an entrepreneur is self-belief. They have to believe that they are their best capital. The idea for the business is probably only number five or six on the list.’
The one difference between Qalisa Hub and other accelerator programmes is that it is not a theoretical, or classroom-based programme, but rather a practical, hands-on experience where the advisors are working alongside the entrepreneurs to guide them.
Qalisa Hub’s township entrepreneurs
To date, Qalisa Hub has assisted more than 12 entrepreneurs and the plan is to increase the impact and enrol more than 100 by the end of 2021.
Here is the story of six township entrepreneurs that Hiten Keshave and Sanjay Soni are mentoring to become commercially viable businesses that is investor ready.
One of the first entrepreneurs that became part of Qalisa Hub, was Thapelo Ramanasana (23) from Katlehong in the East Rand of Johannesburg. After studying mechanical technology at school, Thapelo found his passion, however, he was never really sure what he wanted to do with his life. ‘I love anything that moves! I find it fascinating.’
Thapelo bought his first vehicle in 2017. Not even two weeks afterwards the car broke down.
‘I realised this was a humongous problem in South Africa, especially in the pre-owned car market. We have a lot of dodgy car dealerships, selling stolen cars or vehicles that were involved in accidents and there is often very little transparency between dealerships and customers.’
After his experience, Thapelo started Best Cars, an online car website. ‘We advertise on behalf of car dealerships. We are different from other platforms because we only advertised pre-owned vehicles and are very discerning about the dealerships we allow. We take permanent dealerships with good reputations to create a safe environment for online buyers.’ Best Cars has an extensive due diligence process for dealerships to complete before advertising on the platform.
Thapelo knew Hiten before he knew about Qalisa Hub. ‘When I met him, I was tired of knocking on doors and getting rejected. Hiten, however, liked my idea and business plan and wanted to work with me.’
For Thapelo, Qalisa Hub has added a lot of value to his business. They found him a fantastic advisor. Hiten is helping him with accounting and Sanjay adds to the technology aspect of Best Cars. ‘They have helped me to create the best possible business by focussing on what is important and becoming investor-ready. I can’t even put a price tag on their support. Qalisa Hub saw gold in my idea. They took it out of the trash and polished it.’
My Female Carpenter
After matric, Turcia Keletso (24) from Pretoria studied criminal investigation but struggled to find employment and ended up working part-time in retail and doing learnerships. ‘Last year I decided to study carpentry at Deepeg Training Solutions, and it was the best decision I have ever made,’ says Turcia.
Although she always loved carpentry, she only decided to chisel a career out of her passion during the pandemic. The fact that this is usually a male-dominant industry only encourages Turcia to prove her worth.
The Female Carpenter is all about quality yet affordable woodwork – manufacturing wooden furniture such as kitchen units, remodelling of old furniture and DIY components such as wooden benches and serving boards.
‘A friend of mine, Akido Malabela, recommended me to Qalisa Hub after they helped him with his business and I decided to register and they are amazing, honestly! Their support means the world to me, especially in the business that I’m in. They don’t see me as a woman, but as an entrepreneur who wants to make it.’
Qalisa Hub has set Turcia up with great opportunities and a business advisor. ‘I now know how to handle money after doing a course and I’m 100% sure that my business would not be here if it wasn’t for them. I would have given up, but they have given me strength through checking up on my daily.’
The most important lesson Turcia has learnt from Qalisa Hub is not only how to handle money but to trust the process. Her business goal is to employ 15 people (mainly women) and standing in front of her warehouse and showroom, would be her biggest achievement. ‘All I can say is it’s never too late or too early to follow your dreams. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can never know who knows who that can help to uplift you.’
In 2013 Tokelo Mahanke (34) from Vereeniging realised how difficult it was to access the internet in certain areas – particularly within the lower-mid LSM.
‘Contracts were a hurdle and infrastructure were simply non-existent. The only access was via limited public hotspots if any, or to purchase data from cell phone internet service providers. I figured there had to be a way to swiftly and effectively connect these lower-mid income communities and eliminate the barriers of contracts and the need for installations and or additional hardware being required,’ explains Tokelo.
Tokelo began working on various different solutions and finally arrived at Woza Wi-Fi. Woza Wi-Fi provides wireless internet access to low-minimum income communities at affordable rates with no contract obligations and no additional equipment such as routers or other forms of receivers.
Tokelo came across Qalisa Hub through an online entrepreneurial group and was excited about their work and how they could potentially assist him. After receiving prompt feedback, their journey began.
‘I now have access to top minds who are champions of their various industries. This would otherwise have cost the business tens of thousands of Rands. Woza Wi-Fi now has a strong team to work on areas important to the business such as legal, access to telecoms, financials and marketing, access to financial training and to become investor-ready. Hiten and Sanjay are available to me as frequently as is possible.’
Tokelo has come to realise the importance of strategic alignments and associations in business. ‘I find that my business has developed a manageable operational structure. I can see the vision I have for Woza Wi-Fi successfully coming into fruition.’
The most important lessons Tokelo has learnt from Qalisa Hub so far is the importance of preparation, being meticulous in your work and being consistent in the drive towards your goals.
After matriculating, Xolani Mthembu (32) moved to Port Elizabeth from Soweto and got a job at Volkswagen as a vehicle test driver. ‘I pitched my idea to run an eco-friendly car washing business to my employers.’ His idea was to go to clients, instead of them coming to him. Management loved the idea and Xolani sourced fantastic products to use on their vehicles. It felt like all was well until Xolani realised another group of people he approached for investment, stole his idea. ‘I was heartbroken … shattered.’
Fortunately, he didn’t allow his disappointment to set him back too far. His new brainchild, Sicas Projects, focuses on smaller home improvement and maintenance projects. ‘It broke my heart to see how many older people use their retirement savings to improve their homes, but then miscalculate and run out of money or time before the project is completed. I wanted to help and realised the only way to do it, is by helping them to project manage.’
Xolani heard about Qalisa Hub through a friend during lockdown in 2020 and immediately got in touch with them. ‘They gave me hope for the future, and the help to back it up.’
At the moment the team is assisting Xolani with his business canvas and ensuring his focus and business model and strategy is the best it can be. ‘What I love about the Qalisa Hub model is the network of experts in different fields who can work together and help each other. If you want to make it, and you want to make it on time, work with somebody.’
Xolani’s advisor is currently assisting him with market strategies as well as getting investor-ready to expand the business. ‘Qalisa Hub assists me with almost everything. I know everything I’ve done, all the effort, is finally coming to fruition.’
Thabiso Matlhowa (31) from Mahikeng is the owner of Kompeh, an app that compares grocery prices across retailers for individual customers. ‘The customer can opt to buy directly from the app or use the platform as a method to compare the various stores’ prices.’
Thabiso has a bachelor’s degree in logistics as well as an honours degree in supply chain management.
The idea for Kompeh started by observing how households buy their groceries. ‘My grandmother would go to town and literally collect flyers from each grocery store. She will then come home, sit down and check which retailer has the lowest prices on what she needs. The next day, she will go back to town and visit all the retailers to buy her products at the cheapest prices.’ This method is extremely time-consuming and often requires a lot of transport to go from shop to shop.
After developing the Kompeh app, which is available on Google Play Store, Thabiso posted his need for investors on LinkedIn. Hiten saw his post, and the rest is history.
Qalisa Hub’s main support has been helping Kompeh with investors. ‘We’ve been learning about business, how to draw up a proper business plan and which untapped market we can go to.’
Kompeh is currently in discussions with certain wholesalers in order to cater for the township economy. ‘What I mean by ‘township economy’ includes tuck shops in villages. We are encouraging wholesalers to put their prices on Kompeh so that tuck shops can buy directly from them and in doing so, lower their own prices so that township people can get the best prices.’
The next step for Kompeh is to get investors to take the business to the next level and to make Kompeh available in the whole of South Africa so that everybody can get the best deal!
One of Qalisa Hub’s newest entrepreneurs, Sipho Ndala (46) from Mamelodi in Pretoria, saw an advert on Facebook for the virtual accelerator and checked out their website. ‘Our relationship is quite new, but I currently receive telephone advice on what to look for in my kind of business model and how to grow a sustainable business.’
Sipho is the entrepreneur behind Digital Displays, an online store for digital products such as music downloads, videos and e-books.
‘Most of the upcoming artists, video producers and books writers do not have a platform to sell their products on. Most are still printing books, writing CDs and DVDs and yet we are moving to a digital world. Our platform, Digital Displays, saves them a lot of costs when it comes to printing and CD-writing and they can easily reach their fans. Big music retailers have closed doors because people prefer to buy digital products rather than hard copies,’ Sipho explains.
The idea behind Digital Displays is not only to save costs on producing products, but also to provide a wider platform for exposure as well as a more convenient and cost-effective way for customers to get access to digital products.
The most important thing that Sipho is currently working on with Qalisa Hub, is financial planning and financial projections.
‘I am hoping to be the digital platform of choice in South Africa and take South African products abroad. I would also like to create job opportunities for rural and township youth.’
AUTHOR Marteli Brewis