/ 15 January 2008

It’s child’s play for Sowetan entrepreneur

Video games in freight containers won a Sowetan entrepreneur a cash prize of R100 000 at a Johannesburg business college on Tuesday.

Between October and December last year, more than 50 hopeful Sowetan business people entered the Soweto Entrepreneur Business Plan competition — the brainchild of the Branson School of Entrepreneurship, Cida City Campus (which hosted Tuesday’s event) and Richard Branson’s Virgin Unite, a non-profit entrepreneurial foundation.

Aspirant entrepreneurs sent in their business plans along with strategies they intended to implement in small businesses that they already had or planned to start.

“The competition was unique to Soweto, and I know that some people from Soweto had friends who wanted to move in with them because they wanted to enter the competition,” said billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson on Tuesday.

Musa Maphongwana (32), of Pimville, walked away with the prize of R100 000 for his gaming entertainment company, Starplex Gaming Zone, which he runs with his business partner, Amos Mtsolongo (38).

“We started the business with capital of plus minus R50 000,” Maphongwana told the Mail & Guardian Online on Tuesday after receiving his prize.

Starplex was established in September 2006, providing entertainment for children in a single freight container containing Sony PlayStation gaming consoles. It has now fitted seven such containers with consoles — six PlayStations to each container.

“The children like it very much because we have popular games that people who own consoles have, games such as Fifa 2007,” Maphongwana said.

Apart from the cash prize that they received, Maphongwana and Mtsolongo will also receive a business mentorship from the Benson School of Entrepreneurship.

Branson, after handing over the prize, said that Starplex was a worthy winner. “This business is keeping children out of the street and if there is one reason why they won, this is definitely it,” he said.

Starplex employs 15 people, seven of whom are permanent employees. The containers open at 10am and close at 7pm every day, and the owners say that the response from parents has been great.

“We don’t allow kids wearing school uniform to come to the container before 1.30pm, so they don’t skip school to come to the containers. We do, however, find some who spend the whole day at the containers, especially on weekends,” said Mtsolongo.

While an average PlayStation game costs about R300, Starplex charges R1 per game for 10 minutes.

Dr Teddy Thatcher, CEO and founder of Cida City Campus, said he was happy that Cida was affiliated with this project because it has drawn attention to entrepreneurship in South Africa.

“Entrepreneurship has not been a sexy thing in South Africa and this project will hopefully show people that entrepreneurship is not something that you do because you couldn’t be an accountant,” he said.

Maphongwana believes his company won because its concept is “innovative”, saying: “Many businesses in Soweto are all the same; they want to start either pubs or shops. Our concept was fresh and so was our business plan.”

Peter Boyd, CEO of Virgin Mobile South Africa, told the M&G Online that Soweto was the perfect township in which to launch a project like this. “We started the competition in October last year, which was a month after the opening of Maponya Mall. It was only natural for us to do that because we [Virgin Mobile] had launched our first store in Soweto and we wanted to celebrate it and all the entrepreneurs in Soweto,” he said.

Nicholas Maweni, head of corporate affairs for Virgin Mobile, said the competition won’t be taken to a national level, but it will involve other communities too from next year.

Maphongwana said he will use the prize money to buy more freight containers and expand his business. “We will use it to set up more containers around Soweto and maybe venture into other places, but our main target now is Soweto.”