Two award-winning entrepreneurial students from rurally-based universities are continuing to inspire others from around the country as their businesses go from strength to strength.

Mr Promise Nyalungu (left), from the University of Venda (UNIVEN) – who was the 2020 EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity 2020 Studentpreneur of the Year – and Ms Mashoto Mphahlele, a 2021 EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity category winner from the University of Limpopo, shared their success stories and advice at the national launch of the EDHE Student Entrepreneurship Week (SEW) 2022 last week.

Mr Nyalungu is the founder of Struu Artzz Entertainment. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations from UNIVEN and is currently enrolled at the same institution for a Bachelor of Arts Honours in International Relations.

Since his win, Mr Nyalungu and his company have grown, transformed and become even more successful while also showcasing themselves on a global stage.

Promise – who has certainly lived up to his name – was named as one of the Talloires Network Next Generation Top 40 Global Leaders and has been part of The Talloires Network Leaders Conference hosted by Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life and the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School. He is also a recent graduate of the Cultural Producers Programme (CPP) presented by Business and Arts South Africa (BASA), Common Purpose South Africa (CPSA) and Manchester International Festival (MIF The CPP is supported by the British Council Creative Economy Programme.

Through the Struu Artzz Africa Network, Nyalungu and his team train young rural and township creatives in media, broadcasting, graphic design and other information technology fields.

“Being named the Studentpreneur of the Year changed my life completely – my WhatsApp has never been the same,” he said while acknowledging that the journey to success and recognition was not always an easy one.

“I started my first degree at UNIVEN in 2014 and it was supposed to take me three years to graduate. In reality, it took eight years to complete. Sometimes when we speak as successful entrepreneurs, it is all fancy and about the glory. But it takes so much of your time and some of the other elements in your life suffer because of it. I even lost my bursary because I focused more on my business at some stages than my studies.”

He also emphasised the importance of perseverance and fluidity when beginning the entrepreneurial journey.

“I entered the inaugural EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity in 2019 – I made it to the national finals but returned with nothing. I entered the competition again the following year and came out victorious. The title alone opened a lot of doors that had previously been closed to me,” he reiterated.

“I also want to encourage everyone who has a business idea to just start; you will figure it out as you go along but you can’t be scared to begin. The feeling can be horrifying and you might be filled with self-questioning and self-doubt but you can’t let these emotions get the better of you.

“Six years ago, when the business started, we couldn’t imagine it would grow into where we are now. Your idea will never develop – it will remain stagnant – unless you get going.”

He says Struu Artzz was first mooted as a stage and theatre company.

“Today we own a media and entertainment company that was never part of the initial plan. When we were pitching to people they said ‘you are not only singing and acting; you are a more broad entertainment company’ and we took cognisance of this and changed our focus; we are still shaping what we are doing. The lesson is that anything is possible.”

Highlights of the Struu Artzz journey

“We’ve been to Germany where we attended a course on international business administration and leadership at Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW) and where we worked on a communications plan.”

He stressed that budding entrepreneurs should not be scared that people would steal their ideas: “So what? You won’t believe the number of ideas that people have stolen from us. But we keep soldiering on and it opens our eyes on how to approach a deal the next time around.”

The Entrepreneurship Intervarsity win brought Struu Artzz Entertainment to the attention of BASA, a not-for profit company whose purpose is to attract corporate sector support for the arts and culture as well as helping artists learn about business.

“We were first part of their debut programme which helped provide us with business and entrepreneurial skills development.” In March this year, Promise was one of 25 mid-career creative and cultural producers chosen to be part of BASA’s Cultural Producers Programme, which is focused on accelerating growth in skills development, capacitating global networks and driving innovative new work in ever-changing markets. This also led to him collaborating with a theatre in Mpumalanga where they shared business models.

“They said we should focus on environmental issues in future theatre productions and we are also going to focus on climate change. We recently shot an arts film around sustainability of the environment. While in Germany we worked with the World Wildlife Fund on a strategy to save lions. It is all about learnings, networking, being adaptable and taking advantage of the opportunities that are presented to you,” he said.

Expect bumps along your entrepreneurship journey, Mphahlele advises

His fellow entrepreneur, Ms Mashoto Mphahlele (left), was a final year media studies student at the University of Limpopo when her cosmetics business Mash Organics was named the winner in the Existing Business general category at the EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity 2021. In 2019 Mphahlele – who is currently studying towards a second degree in stage performance – was also a SEW competition winner.

Mash Organics specialises in African black soap and unrefined shea butter products that are 100 percent organic and treat skin and hair problems like acne, hyperpigmentation and hair loss.

“I am so excited to be part of this year’s SEW launch because this is where I was initially recognised in what was my first business competition. Winning these awards has given me motivation and encouragement to grow my business. I am also grateful to EDHE, USAf and the University of Limpopo. I would like to tell students to take these opportunities seriously as it helps you learn and develop while also networking with other student entrepreneurs,” she said.

“Remember that our journeys are not the same and entrepreneurship is not easy. There are going to be bumps along the way but you have to be flexible and learn to deal with what gets thrown at you. Focus on what plan you have and, if that’s not working, find another strategy on which to build your business.”

Her last piece of advice: “It’s really important to plan and do your research. Go to student entrepreneurship seminars and network. Be proud of yourself. Preparation is key. You need to understand all the ins-and-outs of your business.”

Janine Greenleaf Walker is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.

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