How three young entrepreneurs grew their ideas into successful businesses in SA’s green economy

Despite living in different parts of South Africa, Simphiwe Makapela, Kylie Davids and Luvuyo Gushu each began their entrepreneurial journey with one common goal in mind – exploring opportunities to develop successful businesses in the water, biodiversity, and environmental sectors. 

Historically, entrepreneurs looking to venture into specialised sectors, such as water and biodiversity, often encountered barriers to entry caused by a lack of access to mentorship, training, and support. Initiatives like Imvelisi’s Enviropreneur Programme – an ideation and early-stage business development platform, now offers young innovators access to the resources and mentorship required to overcome these challenges and learn, pivot, and network within the sector.

The support and mentorship Simphiwe, Kylie and Luvuyo received from Imvelisi helped them overcome these barriers and establish their businesses in the green economy.

The Hamelin

For Gauteng-based Simphiwe Makapela, establishing the Hamelin, a rat eradication business, has been a life-long dream. Growing up in a township exposed Simphiwe to the growing rat infestation problem plaguing countless communities in the province.

“I realised that although there were attempts to eradicate rats in townships, these efforts weren’t very effective,” adds Simphiwe Makapela, Co-founder of the Hamelin. “So, my partner and I decided to patent a design for effective traps to finally rid communities of this rat problem.”

“After completing the programme, I was able to adopt a business mindset, despite already being entrepreneurial, and started to think more strategically. What was truly amazing was seeing entrepreneurs enter the programme with nothing but an idea and leave with the knowledge and resources required to turn that idea into something tangible and navigate the green economy,” adds Makapela.

Simphiwe’s business idea was to design poison-free traps that could be installed in the ground within townships across Gauteng, capturing rats without hurting the environment. After 38 attempts over a year, 20 Hamelin traps were successfully installed and tested in an informal settlement in Msawawa, on the outskirts of Randburg. The test was successful, with the traps capturing over 6000 rats in just over a year.

Simphiwe has plans to expand the Hamelin’s footprint beyond the country’s borders following a TEDx talk about his version of “the rat race”, which grabbed the attention of interested parties in Brazil and even France.

Whale Deck Eco

For five years, Luvuyo Gushu envisioned starting his environmental education centre. It wasn’t until 2020 that this dream became a reality after establishing Whale Deck Eco – a centre in a small community in Ramsgate, Kwa-Zulu-Natal.

The business provides educational walking tours for holiday-goers and school groups and offers a magnificent view of the ocean from the whale viewing deck.

“Imvelisi’s Enviropreneur Programme changed the game for me. I didn’t study anything entrepreneurship-related, so venturing out on my own saw me hit quite a few walls,” says Luvuyo Gushu, Founder and Managing Director of Whale Deck Eco Centre. “Imvelisi provided me with the knowledge and guidance to get through the theory and the academic aspects of starting my own business. When I look back at everything I gained, I feel like the old me didn’t know what he was doing. The clarity, the direction and the focus I received have been incredible.”

Luvuyo considers his transition into a business leader as the defining moment of his entrepreneurial journey.

“The programme helped me realise that business is about people, so a business leader must be able to communicate and engage with his or customers. Imvelisi covered the personal and business aspects of becoming a successful entrepreneur through it’s holistic, well-rounded programme,” concludes Gushu.

Luvuyo is now looking to venture into organic farm tours through partnerships with other conservancies along KZN’s south coast.

Shanti Natural Care

For as long as she can remember, Kylie Davids has loved nature and even studied natural sciences in university, obtaining two degrees in environmental and water sciences. In 2009, she established Shanti Natural Care, after moving to a small farm in Cape Town’s west coast that was surrounded by fynbos and other herbs.

Her business formulates and manufactures hand-crafted natural healing products, including creams, soaps and tinctures, using fynbos, essential oils, indigenous herbs, honey and CBD found in the cannabis plant.

“Nature has always been my passion, but I encountered a couple of hurdles while starting my business,” says Kylie Davids, Founder and Director of Shanti Natural Care. “While struggling in the early stages of my business with challenges like labelling, packaging design etc., I saw the ad for Imvelisi’s Green Entrepreneur Programme, which I considered to be a risk at the time but still a risk worth taking.”

Throughout Imvelisi’s five-day bootcamp, Kylie gained business development skills as well as access to one-on-one mentorship.

“The mentorship I received was especially beneficial for me because the person assigned to me understood my business. Her academic background was natural sciences and she also had a cosmetics business, so I gained valuable knowledge about product design and labelling.”

While Kylie’s still undergoing mentorship, she has plans to grow Shanti Natural Care by expanding into the organic clothing space.

Developing SA’s future Enviropreneurs

The Imvelisi Entrepreneur Programme is an ambassador for the critical area of early-stage entrepreneurial development in the country’s green economy. The programme draws on the extensive expertise of executives and mentors from various sectors in the green economy, water and biodiversity fields, as well as in-depth industry research and knowledge drawn from Imvelisi’s Market Intelligence Reports. This insight is then used to equip aspiring young entrepreneurs with the knowledge, skills and resources to develop their business ideas.

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