Opportunities out of obstacles
SA needs to produce more of its own consumer goods as a primary way to ignite economic growth. Young black industrialist Nhlanhla Dlamini has accepted the challenge, writes Christina Kennedy
Smart entrepreneurs look for opportunities where others only see obstacles. That’s the belief of Nhlanhla Dlamini, a young industrialist who has hit on the idea of taking offcuts of ostrich, game and crocodile meat and processing them into high-end pet food and treats for the overseas market. “It’s basically taking waste products from abattoirs and converting them into premium, value-added products, using proteins that aren’t available in other markets,” explains the brains behind Maneli Pets.
His new venture is securing Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) financing to buy machinery and convert a factory in Sebenza near Edenvale, east of Johannesburg, into an export-grade facility, which is due to begin production in March next year.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, so the saying goes, and Dlamini is excited about his new pet food venture using meat byproducts. The factory will create 40 new jobs (semi-skilled, unskilled and management) when it opens for business, with up to 300 positions being created in its first three years of operation.
Maneli Pets is an offshoot of the Maneli Group, a diversified food company that looks for opportunities to build businesses in the agricultural and green energy sector, while boosting black entrepreneurship. Maneli is his mother’s clan name, and he named his business in honour of “one of my biggest supporters”.
The backdrop to this is that South Africa has relatively few black-owned food production businesses, and government is actively promoting agroprocessing and the manufacturing sector in general to spur economic growth.
The country needs to make products to consume locally and also to export, instead of importing them. As such, the local food production and processing arena is ripe for the picking – with funding entities such as the IDC willing to step in to invest in worthwhile projects that create or expand manufacturing capability in the agriculture value chain.
“In Africa, the bulk of food is grown by multinationals and there are opportunities for black entrepreneurs in this space,” says Dlamini animatedly. “With the country experiencing slow growth, we need a new generation of industrialists to step forward.”
Dlamini’s pioneering spirit was born in the Soweto Anyone starting a small business needs to be mindful of the peaks and valleys that entrepreneurship brings. From week to week, day to day, hour to hour, you can be on top of the world and then in the depths of despair.
You have to find ways of coping with this roller coaster – be it spiritually, actively or interpersonally – otherwise you will burn out quickly.
“I’m firmly committed to South Africa – to try to grow the economy, create jobs and lower inequality,” says Dlamini.
“One of the bigger influences on my life was growing up seeing Nelson Mandela coming out of prison and becoming president, and others who sacrificed their lives for democracy. The sacrifices of this generation are far smaller than those of previous ones, so it’s up to us to stabilise the country and make it prosper.”
Dlamini believes the “formula” for a good entrepreneur is someone who can “spot an opportunity, build good teams and who has business acumen from formal education or work experience”. The last point is not something that can be brushed aside, he says, as selling your business to funders and your product to the market require a certain amount of business savvy.
Fortunately, there are small business “incubators”, such as the Awethu Project, that “build on the raw ingredients” or qualities that a budding entrepreneur has, and add extra skills and knowledge to help him or her get ahead, and this is where Dlamini obtained some of the seed capital for his first business.
Passionate though Dlamini is about South Africa, he “loved my time abroad” and is a firm advocate of travelling, broadening one’s horizons and learning from the world. In fact, it was while he was overseas that he spotted business models and innovations that he thought could be applied to South Africa.
“South African society is very insular, and we need to find new ways of working better. Ideas come from a diversity of experiences and interactions – you can come up with good ideas about business and life if you push your boundaries beyond what you usually do,” says this former Rhodes Scholar and Goldman Sachs Global Leader.
“We also need a greater level of ambition. Americans are famous for being their own biggest supporters, and it’s a good skill to be your own biggest fan and be wildly ambitious – don’t let your mind constrain your ambition before you even start. South Africans are quite conservative and need to be more open to taking risks.”
Dlamini is not naive in his thinking – he knows that South Africa’s manufacturing sector has many challenges when it comes to labour, infrastructure and logistics.
“But there are pockets of opportunity and the challenges are not insurmountable,” says this natural optimist. “It’s how you navigate them that matters.”
UNDER CONSTRUCTION Nhlanhla Dlamini’s factory in Johannesburg will soon be humming with activity when it begins operations in March 2017