He’s all fired up for busi­ness

Hard work, help from the Awethu Project and a loan from the Youth Fund helped Thu­lani Nt­shuntshe grow his start-up into a suc­cess­ful and prof­itable com­pany

CityPress - - Business and Tenders - CHRISTINA KENNEDY busi­ness@city­press.co.za

When Thu­lani Nt­shuntshe was 13, he would charge the girls 50c each and run to the school tuck shop to buy food for them so they could avoid the queues. Then he would buy his own lunch from the pro­ceeds. The fol­low­ing year, this en­ter­pris­ing young­ster upped his game and be­came a “loan shark” of sorts: he would go to his school in Jo­han­nes­burg’s north­east­ern sub­urbs with a bag full of coins, and for ev­ery R1 he lent his school friends to buy sweets, he de­manded they re­pay him R2.

“It was built on zero knowl­edge of in­ter­est rates – on both sides,” the 26-year-old en­tre­pre­neur chuck­les to­day, more than 10 years later.

“But I man­aged to make more money from that than from my pocket money. I think that is where the en­trepreneur­ship bug bit.”

To­day, Nt­shuntshe is CEO and co-founder of Five Star Fire, which sup­plies and main­tains por­ta­ble fire­fight­ing equip­ment for busi­nesses in the greater Jo­han­nes­burg area. The firm in­spects and tests fire ex­tin­guish­ers, hose reels and hy­drants to en­sure they com­ply with safety reg­u­la­tions.

Op­er­at­ing from of­fices in the his­toric Con­sti­tu­tion Hill precinct in Braam­fontein, Five Star Fire’s clients range from own­ers of pri­vate res­i­dences to large cor­po­rates such as Nestlé.

This start-up was born thanks to the men­tor­ship of the Awethu Project, a busi­ness in­cu­ba­tor, as well as a R1.3 mil­lion loan from the Youth Fund – which was jointly set up by the Small En­ter­prise Fi­nance Agency (Sefa), the In­dus­trial De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion and the Na­tional Youth De­vel­op­ment Agency to ig­nite a new gen­er­a­tion of busi­ness go-get­ters.

But it has not al­ways been plain sail­ing for Nt­shuntshe, though he main­tains he is grate­ful for the pit­falls he has en­coun­tered along the way.

Born in Tem­bisa on the East Rand, he com­pleted high school in High­lands North and en­rolled to study hu­man re­sources at the Tsh­wane Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy. But he dropped out in his first year, re­al­is­ing he was not cut out for it.

“I met some­one from high school and we de­cided to do some­thing en­tre­pre­neur­ial to­gether. We ran a con­struc­tion com­pany for four years,” he re­calls.

“We kept throw­ing money into it and it never took off, but the les­sons we learnt were in­valu­able.”

Some­what dis­il­lu­sioned but not bowed, his in­ter­est was piqued when Awethu in­vited him to at­tend a pre­sen­ta­tion – and even of­fered to re­im­burse his taxi fare.

Awethu even­tu­ally helped him set up a mo­bile eco-friendly car­wash ser­vice in the base­ment park­ing of Con­sti­tu­tion Hill, with R5 000 in seed fund­ing.

“By the end of three months, we had ex­panded our ser­vices to Mabo­neng and I had five guys work­ing for me.”

A year later, hav­ing con­firmed that this young man had tal­ent, Awethu helped him se­cure the Sefa in­vest­ment to start Five Star Fire – match­ing his per­son­al­ity and skills with a crack­er­jack busi­ness idea.

The busi­ness started in April 2014. A year later, it had al­ready quadru­pled its monthly rev­enues – and now even has a mo­bile app.

Nt­shuntshe cur­rently has two per­ma­nent staff mem­bers and em­ploys sev­eral sub­con­trac­tors and part-time work­ers.

“To build a suc­cess­ful busi­ness, you need good lead­er­ship, which I de­fine as a vi­sion deeply rooted in pur­pose and con­vic­tion,” he says.

“It is also a re­sult of the sac­ri­fices that are made be­hind the scenes.

“I used to dream of hav­ing a posh house in Sand­ton, but now my sole pur­pose is to di­rectly or in­di­rectly en­hance some­one else’s life – to live for some­thing that is big­ger than my­self,” he says.

“We are us­ing this in­vest­ment fund as a ve­hi­cle to build en­trepreneurs, who will sub­se­quently be­come role mod­els to their peers and the younger gen­er­a­tion.”

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PHOTO: EU­GENE GOD­DARD

BORN FOR IT En­tre­pre­neur Thu­lani Nt­shuntshe no longer dreams of a house in Sand­ton; he wants to ‘live for some­thing that is big­ger than my­self’

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