Ending off its 15th successive year, the NSBC and World Famous Events announced South Africa’s Top 5 Startup Winners, Top 10 Winners, Special Award Winners and the Main Category Award Winners at the 2023 South African Small Business Awards gala breakfast on 16th November, a glittering affair attended by the business elite. These prestigious awards have gathered a diverse range of entries all with one thing in common – a driving entrepreneurial force.
“We are astounded at the diversity of entrants again this year, but equally encouraged as it shows the depth and breadth of South Africa’s entrepreneurial spirit. Growing small and medium businesses is vital to the local economy and its ever-growing rate of unemployment. This type of innovation and entrepreneurial spirit will undoubtedly cultivate a much healthier business landscape for all involved,” says Mike Anderson, Founder and CEO of the NSBC.
The 2023 National Sponsors are, in alphabetical order; Absa, AWS, Experian, FedEx, Nashua, Netstar, Sage, Telkom, Toyota, and Vodacom Business.
“We are humbled by the support of such esteemed industry leaders. Without their commitment to building tomorrow’s entrepreneurs, these businesses would have less opportunities to thrive and flourish,” says Anderson.
2023 Top 5 Startup Winners:
2023 Special Award Winners:
National Business Excellence Award
AJ Digital Agency – Andile Mzobe
Made By Mosaic – Terry Niemack
Neslo Technologies – Jordan Olsen
nFold – Izane Cloete-Hamilton
Zevoli Growth Partners – Mpopi Khupe
National Community Award
Hot 102.7FM – Lloyd Madurai
National Innovation Award
Paws-Itive Paws-Abilities – Heather Whitfield
National Youth Empowerment Award
Cranium Medical Products – Allen Cliffe
The Never Surrender Award
Varsity Vibe – Dino Talotti
2023 Main Category Award Winners:
National Woman In Business Champion
Xanthe Havenga – Minx leather
National Entrepreneur Champion
Lloyd Madurai – Hot 102.7FM
National Small Business Champion
Hot 102.7FM – Lloyd Madurai
“Each entrant has in some way made a difference to someone’s life, either through employing them or by offering services to them. At the heart of this great nation is its people and I am proud to be associated with all these worthy winners,” says Anderson.
He says that the NSBC and World Famous Events would not only like to congratulate all the winners, but also thank them for their relentless commitment to building a better tomorrow.
Meet our Top 10 Small Businesses
AJ Digital Agency
AJ Digital Agency offers a wide range of services to help businesses optimize their digital presence and achieve their goals. Their services range from Web and app development to branding and marketing to IT consulting. They have been rated as Africa’s number one digital agency. Their passion lies in bridging the gap between underserved rural communities and technology. Andile Mzobe, the founder of AJ Digital Agency, grew up facing significant challenges in accessing technology and digital opportunities.
With no access to technology at home or school, he felt disconnected and excluded from the opportunities it offered. But this was the fuel which ignited his passion for the digital space.
With a diploma in IT technology, Andile Mzobe founded AJ Digital Agency. In the beginning, he bootstrapped the business so that he could maintain control and independence. He wanted to attract talent from the rural areas and give them the opportunities he wished he had had. The pool was small so he created internships and training to give young individuals a chance to gain hands-on experience and develop relevant skills. This has led to a larger pool of qualified talent. He and his agency have also engaged with local communities, schools, and educational institutions to identify and nurture talent at an early stage. This involved conducting workshops, career guidance sessions, and collaborating with educational institutions to design curricula that aligned with industry needs.
Cranium Medical Products
The inception of Cranium Medical Products can be traced back to a profound realisation of the quality and accessibility issues surrounding specialized mental health furniture within local hospitals. This led Allen Cliffe to create a business which develops superior mental health furniture solutions which are ISO-accredited.
At the heart of Cranium Medical Product’s mission were these pivotal questions:
Would we want our family members or loved ones to be in an environment like this? Could we find comfort and well-being in such an environment? Why does the field of mental healthcare, something as vital as caring for our minds, receive comparatively less attention and investment than other healthcare sectors?
Driven by these questions and a deep belief that there had to be a better way, they embarked on a journey to pioneer change in mental healthcare furnishings, championing a brighter and more compassionate future for patients and caregivers alike. They are the sole manufacturer of specialized Rotomolded furniture in the southern hemisphere.
For Allen Cliffe to become an entrepreneur has taken bravery, obsession, confidence, self-determination, sacrifice and a whole lot of coffee. Some of these traits can lead to unhealthy work-life balance. But with the birth of his two children in the last few years, he has realised the need to shift his mindset. From putting work first, understanding that work has its place, but family also needs to be prioritized.
HOT 102.7 FM
HOT 102.7FM is an award-winning owner-managed commercial music radio station, broadcasting to the greater Johannesburg area with a format of “Old Skool and R&B” and a focus on playing only the hits from the 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s.
Lloyd Madurai started HOT 102.7 FM as HOT 91.9 FM, a community radio station, but new regulations from ICASA caused him to pivot and change the radio station to a commercial one.
Though there were challenges at the start, HOT 102.7 FM has managed to remain profitable since its new beginning. Currently, HOT 102.7FM is the fastest-growing radio station in the country, in terms of listener numbers, with an incredible growth of 93% in the last seven months alone – to October 2023. Even though HOT 102.7 FM is owner-managed and not part of a larger media group, it gives big, established radio stations in the Gauteng market a run for their money.
Lloyd Madurai’s passion for radio started at a young age listening to Kevin Savage on Capital Radio. He was captivated by this medium which made him feel like he had a one-on-one relationship with someone he had never met. He was given an opportunity to enter this exciting world of radio and has never looked back.
At the heart of the station is a desire to give back.
Made by Mosaic
Made by Mosaic was an initiative started by an American missionary, Jordan Ridge for Mosaic Community Developments. Through the production of leather and baked goods, they employ, upskill and train foster parents with limited levels of education and skills who take care of orphans. They also help to train matriculants who don’t go to university in administrative duties, computer skills, manufacturing, business systems and how to represent themselves at events for the brand.
Made by Mosaic products are manufactured to the highest standards and they have been awarded membership to the Proudly South African label. Their products have a South African twist and are classy, trendy, and classic. Furthermore, they are designed for all ages, tastes and cultures. They have diversified into repurposing PVC banners to provide more cost-effective product choices to customers out there looking for alternatives to leather but still wanting to support the story behind the business.
In the future, Terry Niemack envisions Made by Mosaic as a business where they can offer willing young people and unemployed members of their community a place to learn to bake, sell, exhibit, manage, sew, cut, make patterns, manufacture beautiful products, do administration, and learn computer skills to enable them to start their businesses and pay it forward to others who need an opportunity to learn and grow.
Minx Leather offers a wide variety of genuine luxury leather products. These products can also be personalised through laser engraving which makes them perfect end-of-year gifts for corporates. 50% of the bags are manufactured by local leather artisans based in Khayelitsha while the other 50% comes from India. Minx Leather gives back to the community through different initiatives. In South Africa, they are busy with a cancer drive called the Margie Cancer Drive and started a skills development drive in India called B.BOLD B.KIND B.YOU for the women who work on making the metal tags for the bags.
Xanthe Havenga, the owner of Minx Leather, believes that having a strong professional network with other women business owners helps them to share perspectives, learn from each other, and understand their market as a huge part of their market are women. Xanthe believes that being a successful entrepreneur involves resilience, persistence, commitment to goals, and fun.
One challenge they face is the volatility of the leather price. They are also influenced by the rand/dollar exchange which has caused their imports to increase in cost. With these increases in costs, they had to increase the price of their bags. To help remain relevant, they have included a locally sourced leather cream with the sale of each bag and this gift has helped them keep their edge in the leather market.
nFOLD helps businesses win more work through strategic proposals, tender support and pitches. They are the first and only company in South Africa that covers this niche from an end-to-end perspective. nFold is a 100% female-owned business. They have 17 permanent staff members and 7 consultants. The current owners of nFold have grown it from a one-person business making a million rand in revenue to a Qualifying Small Enterprise (QSE) which supports employees and makes a revenue which is over 10 million rand.
One of the recent challenges faced was the loss of a large retainer contract. To conquer this challenge, they adopted a day-by-day management approach with an unwavering focus on transparency and a shared determination to succeed. By openly discussing the situation with their team and involving them in finding solutions, nFOLD fostered a sense of ownership and commitment among their staff. The staff members’ insights and contributions were crucial in identifying new sales opportunities and adapting their strategies to meet evolving market conditions.
By tapping into the team’s collective talents and expertise, nFOLD not only avoided staff retrenchment but also discovered new avenues for growth and continued success in their business.
Neslo started in 2019 when a young Jordan Olsen decided to follow his vision and kick fear to the kerb. With eight years of technical knowledge in software engineering, he created a business which offered a diverse collection of services from concept to creation through carefully crafted and intuitive design, and leading-edge technologies. Neslo Technologies recognised the lack of talent in their industry and created an internship programme which enables individuals to become unrivalled technical talent.
They are devoted to nurturing local talent and contributing to the growth of technical expertise within South Africa, thereby making a positive impact on their community and addressing the skills gap.
Starting Neslo at 23 was a bold move, and Jordan Olsen’s ability to form partnerships, lead a skilled team, and contribute positively to the industry, all while maintaining financial prudence, is a testament to his entrepreneurial spirit and dedication to his mission.
As mentioned above, Jordan started Neslo at a young age and faced age-related bias from potential clients and industry peers. To overcome this challenge, he focused on delivering exceptional results for early clients, regardless of the project size. Demonstrating a high level of professionalism and technical competence helped build trust. Jordan also actively sought out opportunities to form strategic partnerships with industry veterans and experts. These partnerships not only provided access to larger networks but also lent credibility to Neslo. Finally, he ensured he and his team were continuously improving themselves on the testimonials and feedback they got from clients.
Today, Neslo’s track record and reputation speak for themselves, and they continue to grow and thrive in a competitive market.
Paws-itive Paws-abilities is a veterinary physiotherapy practice dedicated to the well-being of their canine and feline patients. They provide specialized care that goes beyond the ordinary. They’re dedicated to helping specialist vets work with patients who have undergone orthopaedic and/or neurosurgery, trauma, or injury aiding them in regaining full strength and functionality. In 2022, Paws-itive Paws-abilities received the South African Prestige Award 2022/2023 for the most innovative vet physio practice under the veterinary category, and for the best customer service in the veterinary industry.
In the future, they envision their business becoming the leading national brand relating to pet parent education in terms of veterinary physical rehabilitation.
Heather Whitfield has had to overcome some major personal challenges since 2005. These challenges have caused a change in her career and learning that the relationships you have with employees, clients and family are extremely valuable. When faced with a challenge, she believes it can be overcome by prayer, meditation, writing down the pros and cons of the situation, and discussing it with a confidant who doesn’t have an emotional attachment to the challenge. This gives you a chance to evaluate the challenge more objectively. A mentor can also help you to celebrate the small as well as the big wins and give you faith and confidence in the process.
Varsity Vibe is South Africa’s first student’s deals app. They help the youth of South Africa get more bang for their buck. They also help businesses all over South Africa better engage with the future leaders of South Africa.
They have over 700 thousand users currently benefitting from over 100 exclusive deals from South Africa’s most popular brands at over 5000 stores across South Africa and online.
Dino Talotti believes that to become an entrepreneur, one needs to do consistent hard work and care about what you are doing. Know that you must believe full-heartedly in your business before others will. There will be sacrifices on all fronts that will need to be made but in the end, have faith. And have meaningful relationships with people because they are often the backbone of your business. Always under promise and over deliver and lastly learn how to embrace difficulties and use them.
As with most small businesses, the COVID-19 storm was tough but they managed to weather it by cutting new projects early and changing their forecasts for the year. They also invested the time they had into improving their offering and in 2020, they grew their base by over 300%.
In the future, they hope to generate a platform for young professionals or adults to help them navigate the treacherous world of “adulting”. They would also like to expand their product globally.
Zevoli Growth Partners
Zevoli Growth Partners is your dedicated partner in driving impactful change. With a focus on bridging gaps between corporates and SMEs, they are committed to supplier diversity, socio-economic development, and fostering resilient communities.
Through a range of programmes, including funding initiatives, mentorship, and access to markets, it has empowered MSMEs to realise their full potential. They have also developed a series of funding handbooks targeted at South African SMEs.
Zevoli was founded to empower and inspire entrepreneurs to turn their innovative ideas into reality. Not only do they offer entrepreneurs access to knowledge and skill-building for their businesses but they have established strong partnerships with both public and private sector organisations, working collaboratively to create a supportive ecosystem for entrepreneurship.
To ensure that they are making an impact and are effective, they use data and feedback to refine and improve their programmes and other offerings.
Zevoli Growth Partners’ journey has been marked by a steadfast commitment to its mission, a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities faced by entrepreneurs, and a passion for fostering economic growth and innovation across South Africa. Its work has not only supported individual businesses but has also contributed to broader economic and social progress in rural and peri-urban communities.
Meet our Top 5 Startups
4Matat Tissues (PTY) Ltd. manufactures and supplies quality toilet paper products. The company was established in 2021 and has grown its roots from its humble base in the villages of Matatiele in the Eastern Cape.
4Matat Tissues was chosen to showcase their product for President Cyril Ramaphosa during the Youth Month Celebrations held in Umthatha in June 2022. They were 1 of 10 inspiring youth-run companies in the Eastern Cape chosen for this event.
Aquinas Yandisa Buntu Mfene’s appetite for entrepreneurship was heightened when he went into a mentorship programme in Walkerville, South of Johannesburg. This programme taught him leadership, exposed him to different industry leaders and government officials around Africa, and instilled in him the commitment to becoming a solution towards Africa’s development. From 2015 until 2020, Aquinas worked in different business operations. Some of them grew and some failed, but from each one Aquinas took the lessons he learned to apply to his next venture.
In the future, they would like to open a warehouse and sales office in Midrand to supply the growing demand for their product in Johannesburg and by 2025, they will look to distribute their product to neighbouring countries.
Food Sock Meals
In the face of escalating poverty and hunger in South Africa, one innovative solution is making waves – the Food Sock. Born out of the vision of Carl van Blerk, a George local who saw the growing need for an affordable, convenient, and nutritional meal solution, Food Sock is more than just a meal—it’s a revolution in addressing food scarcity and malnutrition. Since their launch of an online store in February 2023, their growth trajectory has been phenomenal. With an initial product line of six unique meal solutions, they managed to achieve an astounding sales growth of over 5000% by March.
The introduction of two additional flavours added more fuel to their growth, catapulting them into the spotlight of a popular local TV show on Kyknet as well as on SABC News.
In the future, Food Sock Meals envisions a world where no one goes hungry due to a lack of access to nutritious food. Due to its rapid rise in demand for Food Sock Meals, it hopes to become a staple in every corner of the country. Finally, they are in negotiations with large retail stores to get Food Sock Meals at the fingertips of all South Africans.
Great 4 Business
Great 4 Business’ philosophy is rooted in the idea of business made simple for small to medium enterprises. G4B aims to simplify the complexities of business for SMEs, allowing them to focus on their core competencies.
One way, they have simplified the process of dealing with multiple suppliers is by creating a one-stop-shop solution for SMEs. On their platform, you have access to products, services and training needed to build an SME and different packages can be tailored to the needs of the SME. They are also focused on each step of an SME’s growth.
The areas which they are focusing on are laying a foundation of knowledge and skills which help with the basics of business. Then it offers green energy and backup solutions for sustainable business for the future. Next, they offer different hardware and software solutions for business. With technology comes growth and the need for cloud-based technologies, cyber security, POPIA compliance, voice and data packages and finance.
By helping businesses with the nitty gritty of IT, communication and learning, SME owners can focus on creating profitable and growing businesses.
In the future, G4B hopes to create a reseller option which will help increase job creation in South Africa.
Gifted by Matte
Launched in May 2022, Gifted by Matte is committed to creating products that not only enhance the ambience of your personal space but also promote sustainability, use natural ingredients, and develop eco-consciousness.
They started with a modest selection of scented candles and have expanded their product line to include mould candles, diffusers and body care items. Currently an online store, they hope to have a brick-and-mortar store in the future.
With their dedication to responsible entrepreneurship, they ensure that they use eco-friendly practices in the production of their products. They use soy wax, cotton-based wicks, and recyclable packaging.
Keabetsoe Matshediso’s entrepreneurial journey has been filled with dedication, perseverance, and a deep commitment to the business’s vision and values. To ensure growth in her journey, she has stayed informed and open to new ideas. She also believes resourcefulness is a key to her success as she has had to navigate some challenges in unique ways.
Keabetsoe has faced many of the common challenges that entrepreneurs face. Two of the most common being facing competition and maintaining product quality. To stay ahead of her competition, she has to be continually innovating. This has meant introducing new product lines, introducing new fragrances and experimenting with package design.
As for maintaining quality, Gifted by Matte has to maintain a rigorous quality control process, source the finest ingredients, and prioritise craftsmanship.
In the future, Gifted by Matte envisions significant growth and expansion that combines both the physical and online presence to better serve their customers.
Zobiah Holdings is a marketing agency that focuses on end-to-end project management. Their brand’s ethos is “where excellence meets experience”. With 13 years of experience and knowledge in marketing and communications, they are passionate about empowering brands to grow and through this growth have a positive and sustainable impact on the communities in which the brands operate.
Ipeleng Ntaye believes being an entrepreneur takes a lot of mental preparation to overcome fear, take risks and acknowledge the sacrifices that may need to be made to achieve her entrepreneurial dream. She has been forced to be confident in herself and bold in her approach even if she hasn’t fully believed it or felt it.
Two of the biggest challenges SMEs face are access to the market and access to finance. By having access to a market, you can build your network which may open doors which could help with your financing challenges.
One way Zobiah Holdings overcame its access to market challenge was by entering the NSBC Launch My Start-Up programme which offered amazing benefits and platforms to create a tangible difference to her business. By creating awareness and educating potential customers about their offerings at The Business Show South Africa, Zobiah Holdings was able to give a personal touch and grow its network.
Though challenges have come along the way, Zobiah Holdings has looked for solutions and is conquering the challenges to build a strong, sustainable business.