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Record-high unemployment, particularly amongst South African youth, is one of our country’s greatest challenges. Starting a business and all that it requires such as raising funds, marketing goods or services, managing cashflow and hiring (and retaining) employees, is notoriously difficult. The harsh reality is that the majority of South African small businesses fail within their first year of operation.

And yet, within this turbulent environment thwart with difficulties, several young entrepreneurs are defying the odds. All of them share one important commonality – a deep-seated mindset that sees challenges as hidden opportunities. These young entrepreneurs are paving the way for a new generation of businesses; many of which are on a mission to uplift their communities, tackle some of our country’s most pressing issues and contribute to South Africa’s economic recovery.

Three of South Africa’s young entrepreneurs to watch:

Ezlyn Barends: founding director of DreamGirls Academy

Having been recognised as one of Mail & Guardian’s Top 200 Young South Africans and one of FastCompany’s Top Creative South Africans in Business, Ezlyn Barends is a force to be reckoned with – a much-needed force for good. She is on a mission to empower young girls and women in South Africa by shifting their realities from economic dependency to self-sufficiency.

DreamGirls Academy, her organisation co-founded with equally successful female leaders, is a powerful means by which young females can develop sought-after skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, leadership and digital literacy. The Academy has made a significant foray into the untapped potential of young South African females by harnessing the power of mentorship, educational programmes, coding bootcamps, internships and learnerships.

Arabella Parkinson: founder of Eat to Thrive

The global movement towards sustainable living and awareness drives around issues like food security and the need to democratise nutrition, inspired Arabella Parkinson to start a plant-based nutrition studio that today, is at the forefront of food activism in South Africa. Arabella is a plant-based chef and holistic health coach. Her brand, Eat to Thrive enables people to thrive using plant-based food as medicine.

Arabella’s personal goal is to explore the convergence of technology and food in order to make plant-based food more accessible to a wider group of South Africans. Eat to Thrive sources ingredients for its “superfood” from suppliers who share the brand’s values around building a more sustainable future for all. These suppliers work closely with farmers who practice sustainable farming methods and do not use artificial ingredients or genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to cultivate their food. Organic and wild-harvested superfoods should be accessible to more South Africans, and Arabella is on a mission to ensure that this objective is achieved.

Nyakallo Mokoena: founder of Mcofana

The artisanal coffee landscape has long been dominated by a bevy of international players but young entrepreneur, Nyakallo Mokoena is chiselling out a niche for South Africa amongst the leading brands. Mcofana, the name of his business, is a township slang term for coffee. His journey began in a small town in the Free State called Sasolburg where he put his entrepreneurial inclinations to the test at high school, selling sweets and custom-made timetables to fellow students. Later, he would be swept up by the artisanal coffee trend and upon doing some research, decided to start his own brand and become a self-taught barista. Today, Mcofana is an on-the-move coffee shop featured at events and tasting, with its own exclusive range of products that are available online. In the long term, Mokoena hopes to own his own coffee farm and proudly African franchise.

Developing countries such as ours need more innovators such as these three trailblazers who are brave and determined enough not to give up in the face of adversity. They are an inspiration and we’ll be keeping our eye on them.

About the Author: Ben Bierman

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Ben Bierman has been our Managing Director since 2015. He joined our company in 1990 and has risen through the ranks occupying various positions ranging from being a management accountant, Head of Information Technology and Chief Financial Officer. Ben is an avid reader, enjoys classical music and being in the outdoors including for hunting trips. He is our go-to-spokesperson for our SME Confidence Index, SME sector policy and trend matters, and business leadership articles.