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Higher Revenues And Greater Optimism: Female-Owned Small Businesses Are Gaining Ground

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The momentum is strong for U.S. female-owned businesses. So strong, according to Sharon Miller, Bank of America’s head of small business, that “this was the first time in four years where we found that women were actually more optimistic than their male counterparts around their hiring outlook, their revenue prospects and their growth.” 

Miller’s evaluation stems from a  2019 Bank of America report that surveyed 1,323 small businesses, 524 of which were owned by women. The businesses had annual revenues ranging from $100,000 to $4,999,999 and between two and 99 employees. Its main goal was to assess the current climate for female entrepreneurs across the country. 

Eighty-four percent of the female business owners surveyed—most in the consumer products, professional practices and personal services industries—expect year-over-year revenue growth, according to the report, and 73% of them plan to expand their businesses, in contrast with only 66% of male business owners who have expansion plans.

READ MORE: Simplifying Big Money Talk

“We’ve seen more success across the board with women, and women can identify with other women,” says Miller. “When you can see someone else—their success and that they’re like you—I think it just goes well for confidence.”

Miller highlights the importance of business owners identifying with people who look like them, but the Bank of America report does not break down numbers by background or ethnicity. 

But a similar report by American Express does exactly that. It finds that the number of women-owned businesses grew 21% from 2014 to 2019, but those owned by women of color grew at double that rate (at 43%). For black women, specifically, businesses grew even faster—by a rate of 50%. It’s the first time the report took into account part-time entrepreneurs, according to American Express senior vice president Courtney Kelso.

READ MORE: Making Up For Millions

“In some cases, women of color are starting these businesses out of necessity—because they are struggling to find jobs or need to supplement their incomes—or because they want flexibility because they have caregiving responsibilities,” says Kelso. “Also, increasingly women of color may be testing a business idea while holding down a job or seeking a creative outlet or an additional challenge.”

While the two reports points to great strides for women-owned businesses, Liz Sara, National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) chair, thinks that it also speaks to “some of the major challenges that we’re trying to overcome to make it easier for women.” One major problem that persists: raising capital. In fact, according to Bank of America’s report, more than half of female entrepreneurs say they do not have equal access to capital.

To help combat this, NWBC has been working with members of Congress to implement an angel investor tax credit that would act as an incentive for individuals to support local women-owned businesses in their community.  

So far, Sara says, the proposed tax credit seems to be gaining momentum. And given the fact that female founders raised just 2.3% of the total venture capital funding in 2018, the tax credit would be one small step toward closing the venture capital gender gap.

Brianne Garrett

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Billionaires

How To Become A Billionaire: Nigeria’s Oil Baroness Folorunso Alakija On What Makes Tomorrow’s Billionaires

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One of only two female billionaires in Africa, with a net worth of $1 billion, Nigeria’s oil baroness Folorunso Alakija elaborates on the state of African entrepreneurship today.

The 69-year-old Folorunso Alakija is vice chair of Famfa Oil, a Nigerian oil exploration company with a stake in Agbami Oilfield, a prolific offshore asset. Famfa Oil’s partners include Chevron and Petrobras. Alakija’s first company was a fashion label. The Nigerian government awarded Alakija’s company an oil prospecting license in 1993, which was later converted to an oil mining lease. The Agbami field has been operating since 2008; Famfa Oil says it will likely operate through 2024. Alakija shares her thoughts to FORBES AFRICA on what makes tomorrow’s billionaires:

What is your take on the state of African entrepreneurship today? Is enough being done for young startups?

There are a lot of business opportunities in Africa that do not exist in other parts of the world, yet Africa is seen as a poor continent. The employment constraints in the formal sector in Africa have made it impossible for it to meet the demands of the continent’s working population of which over 60% are the youth. Therefore, it is imperative we harness the potential of Africa’s youth to engage in entrepreneurship and provide adequate assistance to enable them to succeed.

Several governments have been working to provide a conducive atmosphere which will promote entrepreneurship on the continent. However, there is still a lot more to be done in ensuring that the potential of these young entrepreneurs are maximized to the fullest. Some of the challenges young startups in Africa face are as follows: lack of access to finance/insufficient capital; lack of infrastructure; bureaucratic bottlenecks and tough business regulations; inconsistent government policies; dearth of entrepreneurial knowledge and skills; lack of access to information and competition from cheaper foreign alternatives.

It is therefore imperative that governments, non-governmental agencies, and the financial sectors work together to ameliorate these challenges itemized above.

The governments of African nations should provide and strengthen its infrastructure (power, roads and telecom); they should encourage budding entrepreneurs by ensuring that finance is available to businesses with the potential for growth and also commit to further improving their business environments through sustained investment; there must also be a constant push for existing policies and legislation to be reviewed to promote business activities.

These policies must also be enforced, and punitive measures put in place to deter offenders; government regulations should also be flexible to constantly fit the dynamics of the business environment; corruption and unethical behavior must be decisively dealt with and not treated with kid gloves. We must empower our judicial system to enable them to prosecute erring offenders with appropriate sanctions meted out. There should be no “sacred cows” or “untouchables”. The same law must be applied to all, no matter their state or position in the society; non-governmental organizations can also provide support for them through training and skills acquisition programs that will help build their capacity; they could also provide finance to grow their businesses; more mentorship programs should be encouraged, and incubators of young enterprises should be supported by public policy aimed at improving the quality of these youths and their ventures; and also, avenues should be created where young entrepreneurs will be able to connect, learn and share ideas with already successful well-established entrepreneurs.

What, according to you, are the attributes needed for tomorrow’s billionaires?

There is no overnight success. You must start by dreaming big and working towards achieving it. You must be determined to succeed despite all odds. Do not allow your setbacks or failures to stop you but rather make them your stepping stone. Develop your strengths to attain excellence and be tenacious, never give up on your dream or aspiration. Your word must be your bond. You must make strong ethical values and integrity your watchword. Always act professionally and this will enable you to build confidence in your customers and clients. 

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Entrepreneurs

The French Silhouette In Africa: How This Designer Started Her Own Business Despite A Shortage Of Funds

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From glamorous Paris to gritty Johannesburg, Zazi Nyandeni arrived with $2,700 and updated sartorial skills to showcase haute couture on South Africa’s racks and runways. 

With just $2,700 in her bank, transferred from her savings account in France, Zazi Nyandeni returned home to the South African fashion industry with her freshly-minted talent. But if Paris was school, Johannesburg proved to be university. Qualifying was never easy.

About 53kms from Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport is Constantia Kloof, a scenic, upmarket suburb in the West Rand, where we meet Nyandeni, the up-and-coming 25-year-old fashion entrepreneur whose brand, Zazi Luxury, has showcased in Paris, the fashion capital of the world.

“I wasn’t really introduced to fashion, but more so to art,” recalls Nyandeni of her early days. “Ever since primary school, I was exposed to paintings, drawings and music by my father when he would come back with artworks from his travels.”

She thought she was going to become a doctor growing up because of her choice of subjects in high school but still pursued design to stay close to art. Thankfully, her parents picked up that she was artistically-inclined and gave her their unstinted support.

In 2013, after high school, Nyandeni took the plane out of South Africa and went on to study fashion at ESMOD, an international fashion design and business school in Paris. She wanted to express herself without saying a word, and found her way. She spent close to six years there, studying full-time for the first three years and partially for the last two, whilst freelancing and interning for various companies in the glitzy city.

“I love to draw and not really to sew. For my first freelance job, I went for a company that would help me work on my weaknesses; I went to Loon Paris boutique and worked on my sewing techniques. They were very strict and meticulous when it came to sewing and I learned a lot about technique,” she says.

The intense training meant that even the inside of a garment had to be as exquisite as the outside and if the hand stitch was incorrect, she had to undo and redo it all over again.

READ MORE: Conscious Fashion: ‘So Much More You Can Do With Discarded Clothes’

“When I asked ‘aren’t we wasting material’, they would say ‘I’m wasting their time’,” she laughs.

The eager fashionista was juggling two jobs; the other was at a PR agency named DLX Paris, which was sourcing brands for international celebrities like American singer-songwriter Kelly Rowland.

She soon came to a realization that in fashion, there is nothing new, which is when she moved to fabric store Boutique Malhia Kent, a French manufacturer of haute couture.

Nyandeni has a soft spot for weaving. She clearly adores fabrics, and this is apparent in the weaving machine she has at her Constantia Kloof studio, placed in a corner of one of the work rooms.

She says her weaving differentiates her from the other designers, as she compares herself to South Africa’s Laduma Ngxokolo of MaXhosa Africa and Greek fashion designer Mary Katrantzou.

“You can make a silhouette similar to somebody else but the real interesting part is the fabric, so Malhia Kent deals with fabric customization, and this is where I learned that in the world of fabric, you are two years ahead of the industry; like Chanel orders their fabric from Malhia Kent,” she says.

That was the space she wanted to be in.    

So in between jobs, Nyandeni co-founded Garbage, a business that looked into environment-friendly garments.

“We wanted to speak on the notations of how do we pick up the fashion industry and say that there are other ways to look glamorous and chic and it doesn’t have to be wasteful and terrible to the environment.”

The business ran for a year and sold a few garments, but sadly, collapsed. That inspired the birth of an idea, one that would solely work for her, a business that would include all that she had learned from fashion school and the stylish streets of Paris. She had also personally worked with Katrantzou, building a portfolio and a first collection. She was ready and had under $2,700 in savings.

READ MORE: Here’s why women find it hard to sustain tourism businesses in Ghana and Nigeria

Nyandeni returned home to South Africa and registered her company in 2018.

“In my heart, I thought I was going to be able to buy sewing machines and a small car to travel back and forth for business, be able to get staple fabrics that people would love,” she says.

It was not the case, but she started the business despite a shortage of funds.

“I called it Zazi Luxury because it speaks to more of the inside and outside of a garment and the technique used which is the core of the business. The inside is about matching the outside; I should literally be able to wear it inside out, and if not, it’s not [a Zazi Luxury product].”

Her first client was South African comedienne Tumi Morake referred by a mutual friend, and later actress Zenande Mfenyana, but currently, her clients are also doctors, lawyers and drawn from the corporate world.

“In the beginning, the business was focused on couture and it developed a bit more into business such as television, dressing anchors, and we also have ready-to-wear garments. We are broadening the business to other boutiques too.”

Zazi Luxury recently showcased at South Africa Fashion Week. This year, she will be working on a fourth collection that will be both couture and basic women’s workwear garments but featuring the Zazi aesthetic.

Zazi Luxury currently employs seven young enthusiastic fashionistas; one of who is Lebohang Ketlele, who has worked with Nyandeni for two years.

“I am a dressmaker and stylist. I don’t think I would know the things I know now if I wasn’t working here, we have dressed celebrities and that is a great experience,” attests Ketlele.

Inspired in Paris, but made in Africa, Zazi seems to have made the cut.

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Brand Voice

A BIG Business Starts Small

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The secret of getting ahead is getting started, and with a keen appetite for ambition, Riaa Algoo has always had her sights set on success.

With an inherent entrepreneurial spirit, she registered her first business in 2007, at the age of 21; with limited resources to fund her vision. Despite challenges, she built her business from her parents’ backyard, where she spearheaded the first e-commerce website for hair and beauty in South Africa. She saw a lucrative gap in the market for luxury haircare and convenience, and proceeded to open the first salon offering free haircare delivery nationwide.

Online shopping was not widely used by South Africans in the early 2000s, and with social media in its infancy, this marketing medium was not yet optimised as a business tool; but despite venturing into the unknown, Riaa began to build an online and social media presence for her salon.

The road to success is always under construction, and unlike many of her competitors who stumbled at the signs of obstacles on their paths, Riaa has always believed that persistence and perseverance is key. To become successful requires hard work, and to maintain that success is even harder. She prides herself on talking less and listening more, which has been a core element in shaping her success thus far.

Taking countless risks, Riaa fulfilled many roles in her first year in business; from serving tea to banking cash; packing orders to making deliveries. A true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer; and whilst the physical, mental and emotional demands were taxing, her turnover was almost R4 million by her 22nd birthday.

While battling to retain good talent, yet determined to make her passion her paycheck; it wasn’t long before Riaa trained to become a stylist with Redken NYC, and just twelve years later, prides herself on owning one of the largest and most reputable online haircare retailers in South Africa.

To some extent, being an entrepreneur is a lonely journey and for Riaa, it certainly was the road less travelled; but the unwavering support of her family and husband Vidwan, has been the foundation upon which she has built her success. 

Going global and venturing into import and distribution; Riaa worked in India for two years before achieving her career highlight thus far, as Managing Director for Glampalm Africa and India; achieving the perfect balance between world-class technology and glamour, two of her greatest passions.

A visionary for this South Korean Company that designs and manufactures state-of-the-art luxury hair tools; Riaa is proud to be aligned with a brand that is renowned among the leaders in technology globally, having pioneered healing stone technology in the haircare industry and been awarded the prestigious International Good Design Award multiple times. Off to a successful start in 2020, Glampalm has been enlisted as the official hair partner at New York Fashion Week; and Riaa shares the brand’s exciting intentions to expand into Africa in 2020, with her at the helm of increasing Glampalm’s impressive international footprint.

 Some people dream of success, while others get up every morning and make it happen; and while digital marketing has revolutionised the way that brands conduct business, Riaa continually considers the critical development of brand loyalty in today’s ever-evolving environment. As platforms change and trends come and go, a loyal and trusted user base is incredibly powerful; and Riaa advocates that some of her greatest investments have been on initiatives that don’t necessarily translate into revenue, but that generate trust, build relationships and encourage longevity.

Believing that you should never start a business just to make money, but rather to make a difference; in addition to building the Glampalm Africa and India empire, Riaa is also the co-founder of the SAI Feeding Scheme, and her career journey has evolved into one of social entrepreneurship, where she endeavours to be the change she wishes to see in the world. 

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