Whole new business vistas have opened up for Tumi Mphahlele and her company Ardhi Business Services since she joined the TechnoServe AWESAM Accelerator Programme, beginning with a complete rebranding campaign for her eco-friendly detergent and personal skincare range.
Mphahlele ‘s passion for biochemistry started in high school with research for solutions around water purification. This led to her developing microbial inoculants, which specifically target pit toilets, requiring just one cup to be poured into the pit to prevent all odour for a long period.
This product offers a simple yet innovative solution for assisting in many areas of South Africa where there are no flush toilets. The biological sanitation solution uses beneficial microbes – a technology imported from Japan.
The other arm of her business, a beauty product range, was the result of her struggle to find lotions and soaps that could accommodate her very sensitive skin type that included an acne condition.
Her starting point was to research the ingredients found in conventional skincare products and match them with natural alternatives. Those ingredients that she was unable to match, she simply did away with. The subsequent products proved to be effective on her skin to the point that family members joined in the testing process. This trend extended to include friends and neighbours.
The down-side was that whilst she was sharing her own personal products with friends and family, her personal resources were slowly being depleted. She made a decision to start charging for the products and found to her astonishment that there was little resistance to her pricing. Ardhi Business Services was born in Kelvin, Johannesburg, in 2013.
Mphahlele realised that the business opportunity was there but that branding was now essential to distinguish her products in the eyes and minds of potential customers.
At this stage there was no business or marketing plan to drive the fledgling business. It was a business operating almost by accident. The lack of seed capital and machinery was also an obstacle.
On the sanitation side of the business, teething problems included struggles with municipalities who could not see the obvious advantages in her products. There was also a problem finding and retaining reliable agents to sell the sanitation products.
Although she remained firm in her belief that she could succeed, she realised that passion and drive were not a substitute for set goals and a business plan. She urgently needed to refine her business model, put budgets in place and establish targets and niche markets. She also had to convert her recipes into workable formulations.
Comprehending her need for assistance, Mphahlele joined the AWESAM Programme and has not looked back since: “Teaming up with TechnoServe has already been beneficial to my business. They have helped me with one of my biggest challenges – structure and discipline. I hope that I will receive continued support as my business grows.”
Within the AWESAM Programme, Mphahlele is receiving assistance with branding and packaging, customer segmentation, business model validation and the expansion of her access to the market place.
Mphahlele and her company are currently in the incubation stage of the programme and the advice to date has been to re-model her business, specifically the beauty range. For these products to appeal to her target market, re-branding and re-packaging is essential.
Part of the plan is to promote the products using a more aggressive approach, including e-commerce, direct marketing and promotions.
To help establish her company, Mphahlele has been advised to place her products in spa wellness centres and gyms. Only once this has been accomplished and is producing the desired results, should she then consider building the skin boutique that is a part of her dream.
TNS put Mphahlele incontact with FICA and she now runs an accounting package off Pastel. She is in the process of talking to the IDC for funding and has put in a grant application with the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA). TNS is assisting with website development and once this has been completed, she hopes to begin a PR campaign to promote her products.
The local community is important to Mphahlele and her business. On the sanitation side, she is in the process of forming a close working relationship with a group from Mmakau, a local village. The intention is to provide other entrepreneurs an opportunity to trade and supply her cleaning products in local schools.
Also on the agenda is a programme to begin treatment of pit toilets in rural communities. The business goes beyond just supplying the product as they aim to educate local communities about environmental conservation through their packaging – a did-you-know feature with environmental facts.
Mphahlele believes that she is being afforded an opportunity to grow and develop in a society that encourages not only physical or racial liberation but mental freedom as well: “I have the freedom to not only dream but to create. My parents and grandparents would never have imagined their child would step into a territory like manufacturing. Today my clientele extends to all racial groups.”
Mphahlele’s advice to any up and coming entrepreneur is to have a vision and to turn that into a short and long-term goals: “Have a plan and structure but ultimately be as tenacious as a bulldog because as rewarding as it is to live in your first calling and passion, challenges will always test and stretch you. I call it the refinery.”
Mphahlele’s long term plans include establishing a fully comprehensive skin care boutique and lifestyle store in upmarket malls or shopping centres.
TechnoServe SA is calling for entrepreneurs to join their AWESAM BUSINESS ACCELERATOR PROGRAMME:
TechnoServe talks directly to Enterprise Development in South Africa, helping entrepreneurial men and women build businesses that create sustainable income, opportunity and economic growth for themselves and their families.
Who can apply?
South African Citizens and permanent residents – women and youth – if you:
- Live within the six metros (Johannesburg, Erkhuruleni, Tshwane, Durban, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth);
- Make a turnover / revenue of R5 000 or more monthly for those are in their first and second year of operation; if your business has been operational for more than three years, revenue must be at least R20 000 – R100 000 per month;
- Have a business that has been in operation for more than 12 months,
- Have established a good market base
- Employ 2 – 10 people
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