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 Entrepreneurs stepping into the education breach

 

 Arguably the most exciting industry in which to be a South African entrepreneur today is the educational sector. Not only is there an unprecedented willingness among huge numbers of the South African population to pay for a good education for their children, but information technology and progress in the science of learning are opening up great opportunities to improve teaching.

Who better than entrepreneurs to drive such innovation, and Business Partners Ltd (BUSINESS/PARTNERS) finds itself on the forefront of this movement as it embraces increasing numbers of excellent finance proposals for private educational facilities?

One such enterprise is Wonderland Educare, an early-childhood development centre in Cape Town, which a few months ago was able to relocate to a brand-new, purpose-built centre in Sunningdale from its former premises in nearby Parklands.

Entrepreneur and Wonderland co-owner Frank Manson explains how they were able to fund the expansion of Wonderland from 110 to 170 children. At first he approached the banks with an expansion plan based on a clear demand in the market for a bigger school.

The idea was to sell their Parklands centre, which Frank and his wife Beverley also custom-built about ten years ago, and to part-fund the new school with the proceeds. “But when I got to the banks their lending criteria were so strict it was actually frightening,” he says.

The best bank deal he could find insisted that the Mansons bring at least 60% owners’ contribution, and then they also wanted collateral on top of that. He reckons the banks simply do not understand that the profit margins in the burgeoning educational sector are not big enough to sustain such finance.

“I just said to them there is no way we can do that kind of a deal, I need to go to someone who is going to grow with us. And that is what BUSINESS/PARTNERS did.”

Apart from being able to run a bigger centre, the new school allowed the Manson’s to capitalise on fourteen years’ experience of running an early-childhood centre. (In Beverley’s case, the experience goes back even further, as she was raised by her mother who also ran a pre-school centre.)

Frank says they built in all sorts of small improvements into the new building which can only come from years of experience. For example, they have placed the toilet facilities in between the classrooms instead of off to one side, and they now have an after-care centre which also serves as a space for the usually outdoor activities when the Cape Town weather turns nasty.

The couple started Wonderland with 20 kids in a rented space in Table View when they relocated from Johannesburg to Cape Town fourteen years ago. Beverley always wanted to start her own pre-school and Frank, who studied marketing and ran a successful corporate gifting company in Johannesburg, joined her in the venture.

They started off with a five-year plan, but within three years they were bursting at the seams with 60 children, and decided to build their own school in Parklands. In those days, before the big financial crash, they could still get bank finance, but with their second expansion bank finance had become all but impossible, despite the growth of the market.

“Small operators who have been giving good education have grown quite big, and now they need finance (to expand). All kudos to BUSINESS/PARTNERS, because they have gone out to finance this growth sector, while the banks have been averse to do so.”

Wonderland, with its 14 specialised staff members, moved to the new premises in September. Frank says the recruitment drive to fill the extra spaces in the new year is going “exceptionally well”. He expects the school to be virtually full by January.

Although they shun formal titles, Beverley is in effect the principal of Wonderland, managing the teaching staff and the interactions with the parents, while Frank focuses on the administration, the compliance of the school’s programme to the regulated curriculum, and the marketing.

Safely ensconced in their new building, the Mansons are looking forward to a year of consolidation and strengthening of the school that they have developed, but the educational sector is simply too exciting not to continue growing. Frank says they have a plan to start a private primary school in the near future.

He says while the government tries to meet the educational demands of the public, there is simply not enough resources, and the demand for schools remains very high. Parents are not only looking for quality teaching, but also a caring and nurturing environment for their children. Frank believes that the continued growth of private sector education proves that the South Africa’s community of entrepreneurs is creating such spaces for South Africa’s childr

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