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By: Catherine Young

So February 2016 presents us with the reality of a leap year. One extra day. 24 hours. 1440 minutes. 86 400 seconds. And that day is a Monday.

The last time a leap day was skipped on the calendar was back in February 1900, and the next time will be February 2100. The average life expectancy worldwide currently is 70.7 years. So we can very much figure that the current earthlings will not experience the February 2100 event, except if modern medicine youthfully boosts us into the next century!

My observation then, to all startups and entrepreneurs out there -

We were given one extra day this year to use as we wish. We so often complain about our lack of time in our overcrowded-overbusy-overcommitted entrepreneurial world, as we chase the next deadline or next big client that we forget to breathe. We forget to think. We forget to step away from our businesses and look at them from the other side. We forget the power of doing just that, and the power it will give us to leap forward. (No pun intended, of course).

So here is a challenge for you as an entrepreneur. Use Monday 29 February 2016 to step away from your business. If that means sitting on the beach, or sitting underneath a beautiful willow on a riverbank, or in your lounge at home, that does not really matter. But what matters is that you step out of the day-to-day of your business, and step into the possibility of what it could be, and more. It will require discipline, of course, but imagine if you spend the day looking at the future, rather than running between burning platforms, trying to kill fires that will still rage for many moons as the fuel burns off. 

This one day away from same-old should include a good bit of introspection, combined with a good bit of looking to the future. What are the trends in your industry? What has not been working for a while, and how to end or change it? Who are those clients that could really benefit from what you offer, and how can you approach them in a fresh way? What are people saying on social media about the sector you are in, the products you provide, or the products your competitors provide? How can you fast forward your business five years on the competitors by doing one thing different? Do you have the right employees in the business to propel it into the future? Do you have clients that see the relationship as a long-term partnership, or should you end some of these relationships? Are you truly achieving the dream you set out to achieve when you started? Are you still having fun, and if not, how do you bring fun back into your business? Are you taking care of your health that will serve your family and business for years to come? The list of questions is endless.

You will be surprised at the advantages of stepping back, changing lenses and taking a good look at yourself, your employees, your customers, your business and your family. Stepping back brings a different perspective. Think about it. If you are given just one section of a picture taken of a maze, it will be really difficult to understand where it starts or ends. It will be difficult to see the dead ends and potential loops. But if you step back it provides a different perspective on how to get to the right place in the most innovative way. 

And the most important part of stepping back would be to identify just those two or three things that you can change on 01 March 2016 that will truly make a difference. 

Join us on Monday 29 February 2016 to step back from the now and look forward to what will be. Thinkroom will be doing just that. Let's go find our places of solitude and discover the next steps.

We were blessed with an extra day. Let's make it count.







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January Jitters - feeling the impact of cash flow

January Jitters - feeling the impact of cash flow

By: Catherine Young

My brother-in-law taught me this mantra early on in my entrepreneurial journey - 

Turnover is vanity

Profit is sanity

Cash flow is reality

I did not quite understand the saying until feeling it in my own business, as well as engaging with other small business owners, albeit in a mentoring or coaching capacity, or just sharing war stories over a cup of coffee, that cash flow truly is what makes or breaks a business. 

We are at the start of the new year, and the start of anything new is usually exciting, full of promise, and fresh with possibility. But what was most interesting to me about these first two weeks of January 2016 was the lack of excitement about the promise of the new year, as the heavy load of cash flow concerns dominated the world of possibility with a sense of despair and fear among SME peers and partners alike.

I was fascinated to see the lack of clarity, the lack of energy, the lack of creativity and the lack of joy as a result of the lurking January month end jitters. And this got me thinking. A month when starting-anew should be bringing with it loads of creativity and possibility is being wasted on a month of worry and perceived misfortune. Instead of using the adversity to our advantage, we are tempted to retreat back into our corner of concern, and, literally, put our month on hold until month end comes, and goes, bills paid or not. And with that losing the opportunity of fresh minds and fresh client budgets after an end of year break.

Don't misunderstand me. Salaries and bills have to be paid, of course, but we have a choice on how we tackle the issue of cash flow constraints. We can choose to engage with it, bite by bite, so to speak, or we can choose for it to consume us. It was with this thought in mind this morning that I had an early morning coffee conversation with a dear friend, also an entrepreneur, about the impact of cash flow on our businesses, our lives, and our sense of humour! Reflecting on the conversation, these key points stood out for me.

It is okay to acknowledge the issue of cash flow. It is also okay to be concerned about it. But it is not okay for it to consume us so as entrepreneurs that we lose focus on our businesses, our employees and most importantly our clients. Some cool thoughts I would like to share, that may be of value to you if you are experiencing January Jitters:

1. Keep a great sense of humour, and believe the storm to be a teacher of better navigation, which it is!

2. Be open and honest with those you owe money to, and give them early heads-up should you not be able to meet your commitments on time.

3. Take every call, as uncomfortable as it may be, and continue to tell the truth. And if you can't take the call for valid reasons, send a message to advise you will call as soon as practically possible. And then do so.

4. Break the problem down into manageable chunks, if you continue to be blinded by the big monster, you will not be able to find ways to overcome the fear.

5. Breathe. Often. Pause. Often. Make a concerted effort to take at least two to three fifteen minute breaks throughout your day to be still. The power of breathing remains a gift.

6. Be firm with your debtors. Call every day. Collect the money you earned.

7. Whatever plans you make, pay your employees first. Without them you will not have a business.

8. To avoid January Jitters in the following year, ensure you plan for it. It is a fact of business that payments are often delayed over December month ends. Make it part of your planning now already for the end of 2016.

9. And lastly, don't lose hope. It is in the eye of the storm that the required clarity comes on how to navigate the business out of the storm, and reap the rewards of the rain that fell. Use the quiet of the eye.

Hoping you have a wonderful end to your January Jitters. 

Become the best skipper of your boat, so you can teach other entrepreneurs starting out how to navigate these wet January conditions.

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The South African SME Landscape: 2015

The South African SME Landscape: 2015

Although much is being done to assist SMEs in South Africa, many gaps require attention should we wish to see a flourishing SME landscape and to reach the goals set out in the National Development Plan. Thinkroom’s recently released report “The Conduciveness of Starting and Conducting Business in Africa: An SME Landscape Study” provides insight into the SME landscapes of twelve different African countries. This article explores the South African SME landscape in particular (specifically the macro environment, the SME environment, internet and mobile capacity, as well as infrastructure and logistics), and looks at some of the progress made by the recently established Department of Small Business Development. 

In Thinkroom’s landscape research, South Africa ranked in second place out of twelve countries, for the conduciveness for SMEs to start and conduct business in the country; this was a very close second to Mauritius, which ranked in first place, and is a promising finding.

Macro Environment in South Africa

Approximately 35.9% of the population currently live below the national poverty line, making skills development and job creation an important developmental goal for the South African government. It is anticipated that the South African economy will grow 2% - 2,1% between 2015 and 2016, and while the country experiences a relatively low level of social hostility, moderate levels of corruption and political stability are evident when compared to other countries in Africa. It is positive to note that South Africa is making strides in closing the gender gap in economic, political, educational and health domains, ranking 18th out of 142 countries measured in the latest Global Gender Gap Index.

SME Environment

South Africa ranked 43rd out of 189 economies measured in the World Bank’s Overall Ease of Doing Business rankings in 2015, while ranking 61st out of 189 economies measured in the Ease of Starting a Business. The Ease of Starting a Business ranking is influenced by the amount of time it takes to start a business (taking 46 days in 2015, while taking only 19 days in 2014), the cost of starting a business (0.3% of income per capita) and the number of procedures involved in the process (6 days).

South Africa ranked 52nd out of the 130 countries considered in the latest Global Entrepreneurship Index (GEI) (2015), which measured the strength of entrepreneurship across 130 countries. The country with the strongest level of entrepreneurship is ranked in first place, while the country with the weakest level of entrepreneurship is ranked in 130th place.

Internet and Mobile Capacity

Internet penetration in South Africa is at 51,5%; i.e. the estimated percentage of the country’s population making use of the internet. Mobile phone penetration is indicated in the research as a ratio between the number of mobile cellular subscriptions per every 100 people – in South Africa, the ratio is 150 subscriptions : 100 people.

Infrastructure and Logistics

According to the World Bank’s Logistics Performance Indicator (LPI), South Africa ranked 34th out of 160 countries, which indicates that the country is faring reasonably well on a global scale in terms of its infrastructure and logistics. The LPI measure took into account the following elements: Clearance process efficiency; Trade and transport related infrastructure quality; Ease of arranging competitively priced shipments; Logistics services competence and quality; Ability to track and trace consignments; and Shipment timelines for reaching its destination within the scheduled or expected delivery time.

SME Growth Barriers

Most SMEs and development organisations can recite the following barriers to business growth off by heart (Zulu, 2014):

  • An unfavourable legal and regulatory environment;
  • Limited access to markets and procurement opportunities;
  • Unfavourable access to finance and credit;
  • Poor skills levels;
  • Poor access to information; and
  • A shortage of effective supportive institutions


The Department of Small Business Development

The Department of Small Business Development was announced in May 2014, and before it lay the mammoth task of supporting the goals of the National Development Plan, which includes assisting the growth of the economy, the alleviation of poverty and the development of opportunities through the creation of jobs and the development of the small business landscape in South Africa. This means removing the obstacles faced by SMEs in the country.

Although the Department was largely well received, among some of the concerns raised was that increased regulation in the SME domain could potentially hamper SME development due to increased red tape. In order to address such concerns, SBD Minister Lindiwe Zulu expressed that the end user, including SMEs and Cooperatives, would be considered in all aspects of their operations and support provision.

In September of 2015, the Department presented their achievements for the first quarter of the 2015/16 financial year (April – June), which showed promising progress (Department of Small Business Development, 2015). Thousands of SMEs and Cooperatives received millions of Rands worth of support in association with the SBD Black Business Supplier Development Programme, disbursements and financing via the Small Enterprise Finance Agency (SEFA) and growth and sustainability support from the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA). Multiple youth-owned businesses, Black-owned businesses and women-owned businesses were supported in priority- provinces and sectors throughout the country, as per the New Growth Path and Industrial Policy Action Plan.

It is through partnerships with government and the private sector that true change in the SME landscape can occur. Many of these partnerships have already seen significant results pertaining to job creation and economic empowerment (e.g. Jobs Fund initiatives). 

It is evident from the research presented that, although South Africa has one of the most conducive environments in Africa for starting and conducting business, that efforts should be geared towards making it easier to start a business (especially as it relates to the time it takes to start one), as well as making it easier to do business with South African enterprises (both on a local and international level). Just under half of the country’s population still do not have access to the internet, presenting a further barrier to growth, especially when considering the significance of having access to information, as well as the possibilities of transcending local business barriers through the internet. Empowering entrepreneurs, particularly the youth, women and individuals from previously underserved areas, and the development of a supportive entrepreneurial ecosystem in South Africa, including efforts from the Department of Small Business Development, could serve as powerful mechanisms to alleviate poverty and unemployment, while driving the economy forward. 

Click here to download the complete Thinkroom report: “The Conduciveness of Starting and Conducting Business in Africa: An SME Landscape Study” 


Department of Small Business Development, September 2015. Media statement following the department’s presentation of its 2015/16 quarter one performance report to the Portfolio Committee. The South African Government (Government Website). Accessed from:

GEDI, 2015. The Global Entrepreneurship Index. Accessed from:

Internet World Stats, 2014. Africa 2014 Population and Internet Users Statistics for 2014 Q2. Accessed from:

Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project, 2014. Country Profiles. Accessed from:

Quandl, 2012. Estimated Political Stability by Country. Accessed from:

The World Bank, 2015. Countries and Economies. Accessed from:

Thulo, L., 2014. The Small Business Development ministry 2014 highlights. SME South Africa (Online article). Accessed from:

Transparency International, 2014. Corruption Perceptions Index 2014: Results. Accessed from:

World Bank Group 2014. Logistics Performance Index (LPI): Global Rankings 2014. Accessed from:

World Bank Group, 2015. Doing Business Report: 2015. Accessed from:

World Bank, 2014. Mobile cellular subscriptions (per 100 people). Accessed from:

World Economic Forum, 2014. The Global Gender Gap Index 2014 Rankings. Accessed from:

Zulu, L., 2014. SA needs more young entrepreneurs – Minister. Fin24 (Online article). Accessed from:


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The Story of Three Young and One Wise Engineering Entrepreneur!

The Story of Three Young and One Wise Engineering Entrepreneur!


By: Melanie Botha

On our last day of Global Entrepreneurship Week, I'm humbled to meet a few fascinating entrepreneurs. As we are finishing off the Virtual Academy session, debriefing the topic, I recognise a few very wise seasoned entrepreneurs in the audience. Soaking in the magnetic energy, I decide to sit back and give Lawrence Makembi the opportunity to share his most valuable lessons for which he can show the scars. As he starts to share, the audience engage and it is here where we come across these three awesome young businessmen who are facing the exact same challenge. Their faces light up as they engage with Mr Lawrence who shares with them his humble beginnings.

This is where the penny drops and they recognise the power of networking, and the power of learning from mentors who've walked the path. In the same industry! Engineering entrepreneurs have to pay thousands to get certification, and as a startup, it’s impossible if you do not have a strong source of funds available; they discuss this big challenge with him. He asks: “Do you have a tool and tester in your pocket?” Surprisingly, Raymond opens up his pockets revealing the equipment he is walking around with in order to be ready to take on a job the moment he closes a deal. Mr Lawrence tells a personal story of how he went to Livingstone with only three days' money provisions, and a cleaning machine. Giving up was not part of his vocabulary! He managed to get a deal and ended up staying there, being able to fund his accommodation for weeks and eventually finding an apartment. He says you have to build up a few income streams simultaneously in order to create cash-cows.

The young men have a challenge with funding for engineering registration papers; without this, they cannot conduct business. And then the magic happened... Mr Lawrence offered these young entrepreneurs the opportunity to use his papers and to trade under his legal terms until they have built up enough money to pay for their own papers. What an awesome opportunity taking place right in front of us! They will now submit their business plans to him and look at an agreement. All of this happened because people had a space to interact and had access to people who have been there before. 

I just loved this humbling experience. This is why I am so grateful for the amazing opportunity to work with incredible SMEs!

Saluting Mr Lawrence for his passion to make a difference in other peoples' lives! @ThinkroomTalk and @4Afrika, you certainly managed to create spaces for entrepreneurs to grow this week!

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 (Mel and I before the Expresso shoot)

By: Catherine Young

So our experience of #GEW2015 was extraordinary! We had very little sleep but much fun! Feedback received from the SMEs was overwhelming. They loved the engagement, mentoring, advice and focus on their businesses. With our #inmyshoes campaign we endeavoured to feature a startup per day for the week, and we therefore want to share with you the feature per day for days three, four and five of last week.

By day three we reached the halfway mark for Global Entrepreneurship Week 2015 and the feeling was overwhelming with the level of support we saw for SMEs. It was very evident that SMEs are supported in a massive way throughout Africa by corporates and governments alike, and the media is helping greatly in spreading the message as wide and as often as possible that SMEs are the future of many economies throughout our continent. We had the privilege of showcasing two entrepreneurs that we worked with over the last while on the South African SABC3 morning Expresso Show. The show was kind enough to allow these SMEs some airtime to talk about their challenges, their journey to date, and how to keep on keeping on.

One of the SMEs who accompanied us to the show on Wednesday morning was Melanie Botha from Orpheo International ( with a product they (Mel and her sister Sonja) recently launched called “It’s Me African Paper Dolls” through their Women Life Studio initiative. Orpheo International’s main focus are on two main pillars of helping others grow, predominantly: 1. Growing women in Africa; and 2. Growing SMEs in Africa. I asked Melanie to share a day in her shoes with us and to explain why growing others are so important to her.

This is her sharing a day in her shoes.

Mel worked in the corporate environment for many years, where after she decided to take the big step into entrepreneurship on a full-time basis. She traded stability for risk, certainty for excitement and the known for the unknown. Her energy levels were infectious as she explained her passion for the business and her hope to help SMEs and Women in Africa. She believes in paying it forward, and doing the work she does fulfills her. If you were part of the discussion you would clearly observe the same. She works a fifteen hour day most days. Weekend is only a word in the dictionary and she is relentless in her pursuit of connecting the dots. She clearly has a heart of gold, as she speaks, passionately, about helping. Albeit helping young African girls find identity or helping SMEs gain access to markets.

With their "It's Me African Paper Dolls" product, that Mel and Sonja made available in both South Africa and Ethiopia as a start, they found inspiration in the fact that young African girls can find a strong sense of identity through engaging with products that help them to do so. They launched the It’s Me African Doll Series successfully in Ethiopia and South Africa will be launched next. This is the perfect gift for young girls over the festive season at only R249 per pack! To order the product in time for festive season gifts, click here:







I wonder often what our economy, our world would look like if we make a conscious decision to start buying from small businesses. We have the ability as consumers to create jobs through our purchasing behaviour, and in turn change the world.

Why would we not?



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A day #inmyshoes - A look into Babies First Day Care Centre - Meet Nadeemah and Tasneem

A day #inmyshoes - A look into Babies First Day Care Centre - Meet Nadeemah and Tasneem


By: Catherine Young

What an awesome day two of Global Entrepreneurship Week this was! We started our day with a very interactive live streaming session through the Microsoft Virtual Academy, talking to SMEs about how they can grow their customer base, with questions pouring in from all around Africa. We then proceeded to our Thinkroom StartBiz Campaign, where we helped startups get their businesses registered, logos briefed, website designs briefed, as well as providing the SMEs with insights into their Entrepreneurial DNA, and mentoring in their key areas of need. The campaign was on fire! We had fun, had lunch, and had many discussions interspersed with much laughter. We are confident that the SMEs who participated had as much fun as we did!

As part of the StartBiz Campaign today I met two incredible sisters, Nadeemah and Tasneem. They decided to take the plunge and will be opening their first day-care centre on Sandton Drive early next year. They are passionate, relentless and eager all at the same time, and want to take a fresh approach to day-care, by using technology as a key enabler to give parents peace of mind, whilst providing the business with insightful data to take them to the next level. I asked them to share a day #inmyshoes.

They both gave up their day jobs to pursue this dream full time, and are balancing work and family whilst pushing ahead to get their business ready for an early 2016 opening. They tell me they are true soul sisters. They have been talking about starting this business for years. And when the opportunity came about this year, they grabbed it with four arms! They are hard working moms who understand how daunting it is to leave your baby at a place of care when returning back to work after maternity leave. Their aim is to help working moms and families cope with this dilemma in the best possible way. They strike me as stopping at nothing to get what they want, yet have the humility of spirit and kindness of heart you cannot help but embrace. 

They want to differentiate the business through a technology enabled platform that allow parents to have insights and feedback on a continuous basis, whilst still keeping the human touch with the little ones, keeping them happy, keeping them safe.

I want to make a prediction that this is a business to watch, as the second day-care centre is already under discussion with a warmth that make you believe our children would be happy and safe.

We salute you.



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A day in the shoes of a serial entrepreneur - Marcellin Binoko

A day in the shoes of a serial entrepreneur - Marcellin Binoko


By: Catherine Young

So we have just finished Day 1 of Global Entrepreneurship Week 2015, and I can categorically state that we had loads of fun and loads of learning! We engaged with many entrepreneurs across all stages of business, talking about things that matter to them most.

And in engaging with the entrepreneurs today, we were privileged enough to get a view of a day in Marcellin Binoko's shoes, a serial entrepreneur originally from the DRC who started a business eight years ago in South Africa called Asifiwe Corporate Solutions. Their aim of the business is to assist with trade and deal flow between South African SMEs and those from the DRC. Bridging the language barrier between English and French as business languages often prove to be difficult for trade between the two parties, and this is key to what Asifiwe Corporate Solutions do to help SMEs navigating this terrain.

Marcellin's day is typically 40 hours squeezed into 24 whilst he balances work and life. He is passionate about his business, and believes that hard work and focus will bring success. He is married to a wife who is a dentist and they have a handsome son of eight years old. Marcellin has aspirations of growing his business to a point one day where he will secure a bright future for him and his family, as well as enable his wife to open a practice in the DRC as well as keep her practice in South Africa. 

What struck me most about my conversation with Marcellin was the positive comments he made around the structures in place within South Africa for small business support compared to some of the other countries where he has worked in Africa. He categorically made the point that South Africa has relatively good support in place for SMEs just starting out, and that SMEs should continue to harness this position in the country, as it is much more onerous to get similar things done as SMEs in other countries.

Lastly, it is clear that he adores his family and wants to provide them with the best future they could possibly have imagined. And what better way to do so than to embrace being an entrepreneur with endless earning potential and untapped markets.

Let's salute Marcellin for doing the work he does, in the way he does it. The name of his business translates into Praise. No better way of describing the making of a successful business.

He can be reached on +27 72 691 6108 or +24 39 903 56450.


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By: Catherine Young

We are at the start of an exciting week for entrepreneurs the world over. Global Entrepreneurship Week allows seven days of focus on entrepreneurs who need reminding of the important roles they play in changing the world, one customer at a time, one job at a time. In our world of working with entrepreneurs, we often see the hardship, sweat and tears as they focus on starting and growing their businesses, whilst still having to put bread on the table. We see many a small business owner work eighty hour weeks, consistently, in the start-up phases of the business when resources are not yet at a level to employ competent others. We see many successes, many failures, but we definitely see more of them getting up one more time than what they have fallen. It takes guts, determination and resilience with a dash of insanity to keep on going on. And yet, we see so many lives changed through the success stories that all started as dreams. We are blessed to do the work we do.

During this week we will feature one entrepreneur per day who we have met through our various engagements for that day, with the aim of understanding their world. We want to share a day in their shoes, to enable a view of the road they are travelling to get them closer to their dreams. Although it is not possible to profile every entrepreneur we meet this week in detail, we will support this campaign by uploading selfies with as many entrepreneurs as we can with the hashtag #inmyshoes and one word given to us by the entrepreneur describing what drives them, as well as the name of their business and Twitter handle/URL. Please join our movement this week of supporting entrepreneurs worldwide between 16 and 20 November 2015 by adding faces to the names of giants in the making.

If we understand a day in their shoes, we may just understand why we should support them, how that will help creating jobs, which in turn could change the world.

So changing the world is in our hands after all.

Let’s go spend a day in their shoes.

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