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8 March 2021
Women In Business: UWC Women Entrepreneurs To Watch

“Small business development and entrepreneurship are extremely important to growing the South African economy. And empowering women entrepreneurs with access to information and opportunities can advance an economy and a society by leaps and bounds.”

So says Charleen Duncan - Director of the University of the Western Cape’s Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) - a woman with a vision for small business in South Africa.

That vision - to empower as many Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) as possible through the work the CEI team - does in the areas of entrepreneurship training, innovation and small business development as it has done in so many other areas of national development.

South Africa has one of the lowest start-up survival rates, with only 3% of start-ups surviving beyond the first three years – and one of the contributing factors is low business skills among business owners.

That’s why UWC’s Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation specialises in entrepreneurial training, upskilling local entrepreneurs and giving students the chance to start and develop their own businesses. 

“It is important to highlight the journey of women in South Africa, and to reflect on the achievements of women,” says Duncan. “Woman entrepreneurs need other woman role models - and this is an opportunity to share information, learn from each other, and establish a presence.”

Here are just a few of the women who’ve made the most of the entrepreneurial opportunities UWC provides.

Lana Franks - Empowering Entrepreneurs Through UWC Enactus


Lana Franks walked a long road from Belhar (born and raised). She studied electromechanical engineering at UCT, and worked in the field for a few years. Then she was an educator at a school for a bit, before going back to study sustainable energy and development. Realising she wanted to give back, she decided to start up a coding academy, aimed at developing skills and creating a pipeline of employment for youth in the tech industry. And that was - well, it was difficult. So when Charleen Duncan offered her the chance to share her experience and test her ideas through ENACTUS (a global, non-profit organisation that aims at challenging students to address real world problems and economic issues in their communities), she jumped at the chance. 

“Young people - aged 18 to 25, say - that’s a group I have a huge connection with, and who have a great degree of potential,” Franks says. “They’re also regarded statistically as the generation at risk: 3.3 million of them in SA have the status of NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training). That’s a lot of wasted potential - so Enactus allows me to help address that challenge, to harness that potential and to help young people build their futures. It also builds our futures as well - Enactus covers the SDGs, and those are more important than ever. And at the same time, they sharpen my skills as well - the coding school is now a thousand times better, and I owe it all to them.”

Qondisa Mbekwa - Fashion Forward With Ezamabhinqa Creations  

Qondisa Mbekwa has always loved art. She used to draw their classroom pictures when in primary school, and in grade 4 her English teacher spotted something special. She found a seamstress who constructed a dress from Mbekwa’s sketches - and it was there and then she knew what she wanted to do. Starting her clothing brand in 2018, Ezamabhinqa Creations, made her realise that entrepreneurship is necessary for a brand to grow and succeed - and for that, she needed to educate herself.

“I started off by entering the Entrepreneurship Intervarsity competition in 2019 - that was quite a learning phase!” she recalls. “I then participated in a two-month programme to train women in Cape Town to start online businesses. Currently I am part of the Box Shop incubator programme, the programme takes us through the journey of entrepreneurship. And my journey is just starting: In ten years’ time I definitely see myself owning a boutique for my clothing brand and possibly a second establishment where I combine a few more aspects within the beauty industry with my clothing brand (it’s still a concept). I’ll definitely have collaborations with other brands and most probably dress contestants in beauty pageants here in the Western Cape.”

Olivia Ngweni - Trust In Thembela Kuthi Staffing Services

Olivia Nocawe Ngweni was born in Cape Town at Somerset Hospital, and soon after was sent to the Eastern Cape to her late grandmother, as her mother had to work as a live-in domestic worker to support her and her 10 siblings. She eventually moved to Cape Town to stay with her mom while earning her National Diploma at College of Cape and BCom degree at UNISA - but her experience had shaped her understanding of how important employment can be to women, and their families. That only became more clear when she lost her own job - which led her to start (with the support of her former boss) Thembela Kuthi Staffing Services (TKSS).

“Thembela Kuthi Staffing Services means Trust in - because we’re a one stop shop where the client trusts us with all their recruitment, background checks, HR Administration, Compliance, Coaching and Mentoring as well as Training and Development needs,” she notes. “With my qualification and experience in Recruitment and Human Resources  Management I saw a gap of assisting our people to find employment, as well as a gap with our entrepreneurs where we can provide cost effective, customised  and streamlined services to both candidates and clients. But I knew I needed more - and UWC CEI consistently empowered me as a business owner on various business topics that affects business and personal lives, eg. finance and tax issues, compliance, etc. This has been an amazing opportunity - and taught me to never stop learning and growing.”

Stacey Jane Smith - Personal Care With African Secret

As an ex- sales agent for personal care companies, Stacey Jane Smith often had customers complain that the products irritated their skin or caused breakouts.  She quickly became aware of harmful ingredients found in commercial products, and just how common sensitive skin and contact dermatitis is. When she became pregnant, she made it her mission to start using natural oils on her body (because what we put on our bodies gets absorbed) and that’s when the extensive research and testing began. Today,  African Secret has a growing range of personal care products using natural ingredients that some customers cannot live without.

“Entrepreneurship is tough - everything takes longer to achieve without sufficient resources and assistance,” she says. “UWC's CEI has equipped me with theoretical knowledge of how to run and grow a business and prepared me to adapt to change. I’d like to acknowledge Charlene Duncan and Wendy Mehl for this initiative and for the excellent work they are doing.  I believe that if we had facilities and programmes for developing entrepreneurship and innovation so easily available to us back when I completed high school, there’d be many more successful SMMEs around, less unemployment and less employees complaining about their jobs while working themselves to ill-health.”

Want to know more about UWC’s Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation? Or what it takes for an entrepreneur to succeed in South Africa? Or how you can prepare for life after UWC? We’ve got you covered.