In the mountainous kingdom of eSwatini, a former pre-school helper is turning trash to treasure.
On a sunny afternoon in May, Swaziland entrepreneur Lungile Beuta sets up her stall in the swaying sugarcane fields of Malkerns, a small sleepy town with a magnificent view of the mountains in the landlocked country now known as ‘the Kingdom of eSwatini’.
May is also when the annual bushfire festival brings together thousands of music-lovers from around the world to this little strip of land for a cultural fiesta. Beuta’s stall selling bric-a-brac is set up in a corner of the marketplace surrounded by other stalls.
A banner fronting her stall and created out of used paper packets says ‘ban-twa-na’ – the name of her business – meaning ‘children’ in siSwati. Around her are more empty packets and wrappers that contained chips, snacks and sweets. It’s a riot of plastic and color at first glance, but passers-by soon realize this isn’t just meaningless rubbish, but everything from purses to pencil cases to handbags made out of them.
“For me, there’s nothing more that brings joy than making these products,” says Beuta.
The 43-year-old grew up in Mbabane, the mountainous capital city of the kingdom.
After high school, she wanted to study design. Her parents sent her to Technikon Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she pursued a diploma in fashion design.
In her last year at college, tragedy struck. A week before the 21-year-old Beuta’s graduation, she was asked to leave for Swaziland immediately. Her mother had gone missing. Her world came apart.
Even today, Beuta is hopeful she will one day find her mother.
“We tried to search and search and it didn’t help. We were told to look here and go there, but I still do have the hope that she is alive. That’s me. And people look at me like ‘ok, she should be in her 70s’ and I’m like, ‘is there anything wrong with that’?”
As Beuta gets emotional, passers-by stop by her stall, intrigued by her products. One customer asks for Beuta’s business card. She wants to make a bulk order of her bags for a wedding in South Africa.
“Thank you for giving us something worthy to buy,” the client says.
Her sorrow forgotten, Beuta’s face lights up. The over five years in this business has been worth it.
After her studies, she had been a self-employed designer, working from home. It didn’t work. In 2006, she secured a job as a helper in a pre-school in the town where she lived. Beuta loved children, would help them learn nursery rhymes and take them for nature-walks. She would also pick up the waste scattered in the streets a few meters from the school.
Beuta planned on giving the children farewell gifts for their end-of-year party. She then had the idea of creating beautiful objects out of the waste packets she picked up. With her sewing skills, she made them pencil cases out of used chips packets. The children loved them.
“Their parents were like ‘hmm, chips? Why are you giving my kids chips?’ And I had to tell them, ‘no it is actually a chip bag’,” she says.
“It was exciting and then the parents were like ‘ok, you know what? Why don’t you try and turn this into a business’.” The rest was history.
Beuta decided to join the Swaziland Fair Trade (SWIFT) to attain crucial skills selling handicraft and running a business.
Her husband worked with Beuta to get her business off the ground. They would collect the waste bags, she would sew them and he would manage the brand and finances.
She says the business has since grown by 75% and she plans to employ more people to help with the production and grow her business into a wholesale company.
In 2016, she participated in 100% Design South Africa, a large curated exhibition platform for sourcing high-end contemporary design in Africa. She stocks her products in stores and hotels around the country and has become a SWIFT board member.
“I use [the profits] to support my family. I am now able to save and not just [live] hand-to-mouth, which is important,” says the mother of two.
Besides the growth in the business, she is content she can also give back to the environment.
“…you’ve got the aspect of knowing what you are doing out there for the environment as well, because we have a major problem here in Swaziland, with plastic flying all over the place, and people burning plastic,” she says.
Beuta has also expanded to up-cycle cans, washing powder packets, newspapers, magazines, maize meal packaging and more into nifty key holders, coin purses, eye glass cases, wallets, sling bags, shopper bags.
This year, she has also introduced limited edition Afrocentric laptop bags, toiletry bags and backpacks.
In her search for more success, Beuta hopes that one day she will also find her missing mother, who she says has been her biggest inspiration.
Nothing is life is a wasted opportunity for this Swazi entrepreneur.
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.
Danai Gurira: ‘Fully Feminine And Fully Fierce’
What does it mean to be HIV-undetectable or to have a suppressed viral load?
Famed Cullinan Mine Banks On Big Diamonds To Drive Down Debt
Software Pirates Use Apple Tech To Put Hacked Apps On iPhones
The NBA’s Highest-Paid Players 2019: LeBron James Leads With $89 Million
- 30 under 304 weeks ago
Forbes Africa Under 30 Opens Nominations For 2019
- Entrepreneurs4 weeks ago
What Will It Take To Close The Funding Gap For Black Female Founders?
- Agriculture4 weeks ago
How Investment in Irrigation Is Paying Off for Ethiopia’s Economy
- Agriculture4 weeks ago
Zimbabwe Seeks Wiser Ways to Use Water Amid Erratic Rains
- Agriculture4 weeks ago
Ugandan Firm Uses Blockchain To Trace Coffee From Farms To Stores
- Lists4 weeks ago
The Most Sustainable Companies In 2019
- Technology4 weeks ago
Robots Will Be Your Colleagues Not Your Replacement: Manpower
- Arts4 weeks ago
Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi Dies At 66