“The Radio 702 Small Business Awards was the most significant competition I’ve entered in my career, which spans more than a decade,” says Ngwenya, who was elected CEO of Young Entrepreneurs of Soweto, a body that equips young people with the skills and knowledge to start their own businesses.
“If you see entrepreneurship competitions as a driving force, then you should definitely go for them. However, you need to handle the disappointment if you don’t win and not allow it to impact your business vision. I myself have entered about three major ones and have come up short in all of them. I finally decided to stop entering, as some of them don’t even acknowledge your entry,” he says.
Not that Ngwenya’s in any way a quitter: far from it. He’s extremely tenacious in his drive to help others, which is why he also established Xhuma (isiXhosa for “connect”), a company which uses cellphone USSD codes so that parents in primarily rural areas can stay in touch with what’s happening at their children’s schools.
“Instead of feeling discouraged by not winning any of the competitions I entered, I took a step back to evaluate the situation. I realised that entrepreneurial initiatives are set up in ways that don’t cover all businesses. A large number of them only focus on certain segments, such as manufacturing, which plays a huge role in our country. They also tend to have very specific criteria, which immediately disadvantages certain entrants. For example, there’s usually a threshold for annual turnover, so if you’re doing really well, you’re not eligible to enter.
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“These days, a healthy social media following seems to be a prerequisite as well – something that eliminates more introverted entrepreneurs. Although I realise how critical social media is, some of us simply don’t have the time to pose for a selfie each time we successfully conclude a project. We’re more concerned about the job at hand,” says Ngwenya, who’s been voted by Advanced Media as the 36th Most Influential African Under 30.
Ngwenya’s priority list is less about competing and more about empowering young people in various parts of the country. He advises other up-and-coming entrepreneurs not to rely on external acknowledgement for validation of their skills and ventures.
“A lot happens behind closed doors in competitions. Sometimes entrants lobby the panel of judges in order to win and there also cases when the hardest-working people fail to make it. My advice? Stick to what you’re doing and you’ll be fine,” he says.