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

CityPress - - Busi­ness -

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.”

PHOTO: VIC BRUMMER

UN­DER CON­STRUC­TION Nhlanhla Dlamini’s fac­tory in Jo­han­nes­burg will soon be hum­ming with ac­tiv­ity when it be­gins op­er­a­tions in March 2017

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