He started out in the business world armed with a digital camera and a lot of determination. He made his first buck charging high school learners R10 to take their photograph. He saved what he made from that and bought his first computer – a second hand HP tower, monitor and keyboard from a store in Stanger.
Today he is runs a thriving Internet Café – the first on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast – out of a strategically located container at Groutville High school and employs five people. Meet small business man Bheki Buthelezi joint winner of last year’s ‘The Entrepreneur’ competition.
Run by the Ilembe Chamber of Commerce on the back of sponsorship by African Bank and Enterprise Ilembe, ‘The Entrepreneur’ competition provides mentorship and guidance to North Coast small business owners.
“The objective of ‘The Entrepreneur’ is to take people who are already operating a small business, who show potential but need essential skills, give them this through intensive training, guidance and support to kick start their business to reach a higher level, “ said Ilembe Chamber chief executive officer Trenley Tilbrook.
This year’s competition was launched recently on the back of news that two other Chambers in other parts of the country will be running the same competition and the final three winners will compete against each other at a national final in Gauteng.
Three additional sponsors a Dutch engineering company called Royal Hanskoning DHV, King Shaka International Airport and the University of KwaZulu-Natal also announced their participation in this year’s competition.
Meanwhile back at Buthelezi’s Internet Café all the computers are occupied. It is lunch time during a working day. The users are busy surfing the Net, posting comments on Facebook, learning computer skills, looking for work and registering for tertiary level and college education.
Buthelezi’s Internet Café is bringing the outside world to Groutville and through its location learners are able to get connected for a small discounted fee. Bheki in turn pays the school a small fee to rent the space which is fully fenced and security tight. It is open from 8am to 5pm weekdays and afterhours for classes should the need arise.
“We opened here in April and for the first six months I am giving students a special deal for surfing the Net,” said Bheki.
In addition to the more obvious aspects of his business, Bheki offers website and Facebook hosting, graphic design, printing as well as video recording and photograph taking at special occasions at private functions and more.
He also runs a similar operation out of a Vodacom supplied container in Etete, just about five kilometres away, the place where he first started out. Without the support of his parents, Bheki said after finishing matric in 2009 he tried to study computer science and later business administration but lack of funds forced him to quit without completing the minimum requirements.
He said he entered the competition by chance after he saw a box advertising it and calling for entry forms to be filled out at the Stanger library. He said he could not believe his luck when he received the phone call from Chamber CEO Trenley Tilbrook. He was sitting in a taxi on his way to Empangeni and had to cancel his trip.
He said winning was like a dream come true. Bheki and Cindy Gien both won R50 000 in prize money as the top two winners of the 2012 “The Entrepreneur” competition. The rest of the prize money was shared by the other three finalists.