/ 11 January 2009

Branson dares young entrepreneurs to dream

Virgin CEO Richard Branson was in Johannesburg to present awards to students at his School of Entrepreneurship on Saturday.

”South Africa has been oppressed for decades,” said Branson.

He said that there was not presently a generation of entrepreneurs in South Africa because young people had few role models while they were growing up.

The day’s event was a competition between business proposals from students of the Branson School of Entrepreneurship.

Proposals ranged from fashion design to maize-grinding. All were small businesses that had only recently been started up.

Announcing the winner, Branson stumbled over the pronunciation of the name, ”Mmm … Mnee … I don’t know how I’m going to say this name let alone find it on the internet. Whatever your name is!” He then pointed to the winner — Sonwabile Mngenela (29) of Mngenela Promoters.

Mngenela creates unique ceramics and says he wants to take his company global.

Branson said that one of the goals of the competition and school was to create small businesses that could compete with giant companies.

”You can build international empires with small amounts of money,” he said.

”We don’t discourage them from dreaming,” said James Wanjohi, managing director of the school.

”We saw some great thoughts, but those great thoughts need to be brought to reality,” he concluded.

The competition prize was R10 000. In addition to this, Mngenela will be offered business advice, ”if he wants it”, Branson added.

The CEO of the Umsobomvu Youth Fund, Malose Kekana, spontaneously offered all eight contenders R10 000 in funding for their businesses.

Branson also announced that an anonymous businessman was so impressed by the programme he had pledged $10 000 to the winners of the competition for the next five years — starting next year.

”Sorry, wrong year,” Branson told Mngenela with a friendly laugh.

In addition to the formal prize, one of the judges of the competition, Peter Callum, is also the head of the Cass Business School in London He offered Mngenela a place at Cass’s summer programme.

Mngenela is originally from the Eastern Cape and ceramics run in his family. His entire family produces ceramics, from his sister to his 100-year-old grandmother in home-made stoves. He credits some of his success to his grandmother, ”from her blessings”.

One of the school’s business managers, Martin Lugho, said that the School of Entrepreneurship was different from institutions like the University of Witwatersrand or the University of Johannesburg.

”They are not here to get employed. They are learning to start businesses and employ others,” he said. – Sapa