It’s a business that people hardly knew existed 20 years ago. It is also not for the faint hearted. Some call it the business of death, but it is broader than that. Murders, suicides, and decompositions are just some of the scenes that Eileen de Jager and her sister, Roelien Schutte, attend to most days.
Their business, Crime Scene Clean Up, started 17 years ago, when Eileen and Roelien saw a need to start a business that would save people from the trauma of having to clean up crime scenes of their loved ones or friends.
“We discovered this idea after we saw one of our neighbors had to clean her daughter’s suicide scene. We decided we needed to do something to change this,” says Eileen.
When the sisters started out they used to travel to scenes around the country with a minibus equipped with everything, including a kitchen sink.
“The only thing we were short of was a shower,” Eileen chuckles.
Today, the business employs about 32 people and has nine branches across South Africa. The Blood Sisters, as they are popularly known, started the business with only practical experience. In a challenging and demanding field like this, the sisters felt a need to further their skills by studying. Roelien and Eileen’s husband, Francois, who is the CEO of Crime Scene Clean Up, went for waste management courses, while Eileen studied environmental health.
Studying further was important to grow the business.
“Having the knowledge and professional skills to do the job enabled us to understand this work better,” says Francois.
They are the last to arrive at a crime scene. Eileen says they do their job so thoroughly it can be difficult for law enforcement officials to extract evidence afterwards.
Crime scenes vary in nature – some are more suited to a woman and others a man.
“Women are usually labeled as cleaners in a household, hence I never found it difficult to adapt, but sometimes there’s an emotional attachment that we sometimes leave behind,” says Eileen.
Before becoming entrepreneurs, Francois, Eileen and Roelien had nine-to-five jobs. Francois was a motor mechanic, while Eileen was a foreign exchange trader. Despite the blood and gore, Eileen says crime scene cleaning can be easier.
“What I am doing now is less stressful than what I used to do when I was in the corporate space,” says Eileen.
An ordinary day of work can border on the bizarre for these entrepreneurs. One day, Francois called Eileen while she was at a scene, wearing her mask and bloody gloves in the middle of a cleaning operation, to ask what she wanted to eat for supper.
“Can you imagine how ridiculous this is,” the couple say simultaneously, as they share a chuckle.
This profession is no laughing matter though. According to Eileen, cleaning a crime scene without professional help may lead to respiratory problems and post-traumatic stress.
“You must be compassionate and this field must be something that you want to do,” Eileen warns.
There is also bureaucracy to deal with. After fighting for years for their business to be recognized by the law in South Africa, the three say they still have to fight every year for their renewals.
“Like any other business in the country, there are fake ones that register for the same business and mess it up, making more problems for us with the government,” says Francois.
Eileen, Roelien and Francois aren’t just in this business to make millions, they’re also working hard to bring tranquility to a troubled period in someone’s life.
This Woman Could Save Your Life
It’s a sunny August morning in Midrand, 30 kilometers north of Johannesburg. In a calm, yet busy, environment sits a crew responsible for despatching the emergency services that could save your life.
Nokonwaba Mgcoyi, a 35-year-old mother of two, has been working for the 10111 center – a 24-hour crime reporting call center – for more than 10 years. Today, she takes us through how the center operates.
The Gauteng regional centre, where Mgcoyi works, is South Africa’s largest. It caters for the 12 million people that live in the Gauteng province.
It’s a faceless profession, which some have seen as non-functional for decades. Though it is not listed under essential services, it is crucial for the public.
“10111 has become part of my life as I spend 80% of my time serving the public through the center,” says Mgcoyi.
Women are sometimes perceived to be vulnerable and incapable of handling pressure, but Mgcoyi seems to be calm and confident while on duty.
Mgcoyi deals with trauma on a daily basis, including domestic violence, accidents, murders, robberies and gang violence. The call center’s agents, like Mgcoyi, deal with up to 200 phone calls a weeknight and as many as 10,000 on a weekend night.
Although the public constantly complains about the effectiveness of the 10111 center, Mgcoyi says they work very hard in a challenging job.
“For us it takes up to 10 minutes to take a call and despatch a van. What happens after that is up to the police,” she says.
“10111 has two divisions, the call center that answers the calls, and the despatching department that despatches the vans according to the location of the emergency.”
A lack of resources can make a difficult job even tougher.
“A shortage of vans in police stations is one of the major problems that we face,” she says.
Hard decisions also have to be taken. Mgcoyi has to prioritize emergencies according to their importance.
“We categorize the emergencies from alpha complaints, which are known as priority number one, down to the least threatening situations. This helps in ensuring that high priority crimes are given preference.”
In South Africa, where a high crime rate is the norm, and the roads are perilously dangerous, the service that people like Mgcoyi offer is vital.
What Will It Take To Close The Funding Gap For Black Female Founders?
If you’ve heard the statistics once, you’ve probably heard them a thousand times: Of the nearly $100 billion in venture funding that goes to entrepreneurs in America, less than 3% goes to female founders and just 0.2% goes to black female founders.
There’s a growing consensus that venture capital’s race problem needs to be fixed.What’s less clear is precisely how to start closing the massive gulf. And at the inaugural Black Women Raise conference in Manhattan on Friday, a gathering of some 80 black female founders, a series of candid conversations laid bare the frustrations around the lack of an obvious path forward. In several raw moments of interchange, however, some answers started to emerge.
Investors “could ask different questions,” Charles Hudson, founder and managing partner of Precursor Ventures, said during a panel conversation with BBG’s Susan Lyne, First Round Capital’s Hayley Barna, and Female Founder’s Fund Sutian Dong. “There are all these questions—‘Well, do you think she can recruit? Do you think she can hire?’—I know what’s behind that question.
It’s ‘Do you think she can get people to work for her because she’s a black woman?’ And people ask these, what on the surface sound like innocent enough legitimate questions about investments, but they’re not innocent. They’re loaded. And you learn a lot by the questions people ask.”
Despite the existence (and, arguably, preponderance) of these loaded questions, Hudson and the others cautioned the entrepreneurs in the room against becoming disillusioned with the traditional venture capital community. Instead, they said, minority founders should prioritize investors who have a track record of investing in entrepreneurs who look like them.
“Vet investors up front. Don’t let them waste your time only to give you a half-ass answer after you spend an hour with them or even two weeks later,” said Barna, who started her venture capital career after successfully cofounding e-commerce darling Birch Box. “Just ask, ‘Is this in your sweet spot?’”
Dong noted that investors should be self-monitoring for where they’re over- and under-indexing, too. “We’ve said we don’t like the ratio of founders in our portfolio. About half are nonwhite, but only two are African-American. So we asked our network who we should be talking to,” she said.
It can be hard, in an open and on-the-record forum, to ask the hard questions about investing in underrepresented founders—much less to receive forthright answers to those questions—but to the credit of the Black Women Raise attendees, no one shied away from speaking about the reality of her experience as a founder of color.
“Everyone talks about the ‘friends and family round.’ I raised $63,000; I am the friends and family round,” quipped Star Cunningham, founder and CEO of health management platform 4D Healthware. But underpinning her self-funding, Cunningham continued, was a lack of capital access. “I have debt, because I had to get it, because no one wanted to give me any money. So what are you, as investors, going to do to look at our companies differently?”
Barna’s reply: Don’t be afraid to talk about your distance traveled. “The same stories about people getting straight A’s from Ivy League schools isn’t what gets us fired up; it’s instead hearing about how someone put themselves through med school from driving an ambulance,” she said. “You might think that you’re not supposed to talk about your life story, but I think it’s an important data point in helping [investors] make the right decision.”
This isn’t to say that a little bit of information and clever storytelling will fix the funding gap for founders of color. Viola Llewellyn, cofounder of African fintech platform Ovamba, pointed out as much, saying that many of the investors she’s come across don’t seem interested in asking the questions that lead to the sorts of decisions Barna is referencing.
“Here’s the problem: No one gets punished intellectually, emotionally, or financially for saying no to black women or to Africans. You will instead be congratulated if you don’t make the ‘foolish mistake’ of investing in something that doesn’t fit into the preconceived ideas of what success is,” Llewellyn said to Hudson, Lyne, Barna and Dong.
“At what point do we find a way to tell the story of the fool that said no?” she continued, to applause from the room.
Hudson waited a beat, and responded with empathy.
“There’s a million reasons [for investors] to say no, but until we have more success stories, I think there’s always an easy out for people to say, ‘No one has proven to me that investing in this way and this type of person works out.’ It’s intellectually lazy and it’s wrong,” he said. “You have every right to be angry.”
Angry, yes, but also motivated. Among the clearest takeaways from the conversation is that one of the best ways to change the system is to start from within. In Silicon Valley and Arlan Hamilton parlance, fight pattern-matching with pattern-matching.
“More black women need to control capital, in whatever form that may be,” Dong said. “More black women need to be controlling capital to put that into companies run by black female founders.”
Masai Ujiri’s dream of harnessing untapped African talent
The President of Toronto Raptors, Masai Ujiri, on his adoration for Africa as a continent filled with unlimited potential and talent.
The tall man in sport, Masai Ujiri, is a name in professional basketball far beyond the borders of Africa and his native Nigeria.
Born in England but having grown up in Zaria in Africa’s most populous country, Ujiri’s adoration for Africa sees him on the continent often, inspiring the youth.
“Africa is no more afraid. We are not afraid of anybody anymore. The continent is bold. The people are bold,” says Ujiri, when FORBES AFRICA meets him in Johannesburg in November at the Africa Investment Forum in which he participated.
The continent has a special place in his heart.
The President of the Toronto Raptors in the National Basketball Association (NBA), also founded Giants of Africa (GOA) in 2003, as a way of harnessing budding, untapped talent.
“As long as I am in a position where I am able to, we have to give the youth a chance. We have to pave a path for them and there is nothing I can’t do. I have to do everything, it is an obligation, I have to be an example for them by creating that pathway,” he says.
Ujiri, who started playing basketball at the age of 13, travels to Africa every August to visit the GOA camps across seven countries on the continent, training young boys and girls to be leaders in both sport and everyday life.
He says he draws inspiration from each and every country in Africa, and the feeling is inexplicable.
The history and culture are a constant reminder of his years growing up in Africa.
Whether it is in Kenya, where his mother was born, or the lasting friendships in Rwanda, Senegal or Nigeria, each country holds special memories.
Apart from the numerous trips in and out of the continent, 2018 granted Ujiri a rare once-in-a-lifetime moment.
This was in July when Barack Obama, the former president of the United States, visited Kenya, and with him, Ujiri opened a basketball court in the country.
Ujiri’s outreach program GOA launched it at the Sauti Kuu Foundation Sports, Resources and Vocational Centre in Alego; familiar ground for both leaders.
Managed by Auma Obama, Sauti Kuu, much like GOA, is focused on youth development.
“To spend that time with somebody that Africa means so much to, meant so much to me and so much to Auma. We are trying to inspire youth, we built a court that is going to impact the youth and that was special,” says Ujiri.
Being able to scout African talent is what is imperative for Ujiri, and it all comes down to building facilities to help the youth play basketball.
Ultimately, his dream for Africa is not only to see material wealth but for talent to go beyond what he has achieved.
“My dream is to have one of the youth become bigger than me, and bigger than everybody. People think I always dream of building this and doing that but I want one of these kids to take everything that they learn and do better in each and everything.
“I love the continent; I love the culture of different places. I am almost like Anthony Bourdain [the late American celebrity chef], that is how it really is with basketball, with the culture, the people and the food,” says Ujiri.
Staying true to his African roots, when we meet him, Ujiri speaks about his favorite yam and stew dish that he says reminds him of his childhood.
It’s such memories that see him taking the long-haul flight out of Toronto to Africa each year.
Brewing Success: Lessons From A Beer Baron
Canadian John Sleeman shares his entrepreneurial lessons with Africa.
cis not your typical textbook entrepreneur. His belief in what it takes to be an entrepreneur is so controversial that his advice is no longer welcome in MBA classes. The white-haired charismatic brewer, who re-established his family’s brewing business in 1988 as one of the most successful in Canada, offers sage advice to African entrepreneurs, although he has no plans to expand in Africa – yet.
Nonchalantly, in his automated beer manufacturing plant in Guelph, Canada, surrounded by people enjoying his craft beer, Sleeman says he believes entrepreneurs are born, not made. He argues that unless you are prepared to go bankrupt, work over 80 hours a week, lose your friends, face the prospect of divorce, put your house on mortgage and miss meeting friends for drinks on Fridays, then entrepreneurship is not for you.
He should know. This is the toll he took to restart his family business. It had lost its licence and was banned from the market for 50 years in 1933. This was for smuggling beer during the roaring 1920s by brokering deals with bootleggers and gangsters like Al Capone when prohibition set in in Canada.
Passionately, the beer baron, who plans to open a micro-distillery later this year, and is considering expanding his business in either the eastern or western parts of Canada, tells FORBES AFRICA: “If you want to be an entrepreneur, be very focused on what you want to achieve and don’t let people talk you out of it. If it is a dream, pursue it until you are successful.”
He attributes his success to surrounding himself with the right people. They will make or break your business, says Sleeman. You should be ready to change your business model if the current one isn’t working, he adds.
In his own case, he did this after his colleague advised him that rather than opening up new breweries across Canada, he should buy existing ones that share Sleeman Breweries’ crazy passion for beer and authenticity.
Sleeman reckons you shouldn’t grow so big that you lose your entrepreneurial flair, first-mover advantage and risk-appetite, but you also shouldn’t remain so small that you get knocked out of business or get bought out by someone who does not see your vision and wants to dismantle you, as it almost happened to his business in 2006. If you do sell, reminisces Sleeman, sell to someone who sees your vision, like Sleeman Breweries did, when Japanese company Sapporo saved the Guelph-based firm from a hostile takeover.
But that’s history. Since then, Sapporo has helped fund research and development and training for the business, whose humble, down-to-earth founder is now taking it on its next spirited journey.
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