After a month of intense deliberation, the judges of the Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year competition have chosen 16 finalists – all deemed to be the country’s most promising and resilient emerging small and medium businesses.

This year marks the post-Covid return of the competition which is aimed at celebrating and showcasing the accomplishments of South African entrepreneurs and SMEs who are setting new benchmarks within their industries – often despite all odds.

David Morobe, executive GM for Impact Investing at Business Partners, says this year’s finalists have proven their mettle in the face of a severely harrowing economic environment . Each of the businesses selected by the judging panel was chosen for their inherent resilience, as well as their ability to serve as entrepreneurial role models for South Africans and aspiring businesspeople.

Moving forward despite the uphill climb

South Africa currently has one of the highest start-up failure rates in the world, with approximately 70% to 80% of small businesses failing within the first five years of operation. The pandemic catalysed an era of hardship for millions of SMEs across the country with lockdown regulations interrupting “business as usual” and compelling many entrepreneurs to change direction in order to keep their doors open.

And while South Africa presses on towards post-pandemic recovery, the past few years have presented their fair share of headwinds for both new and existing ventures. Civil unrest, adverse weather conditions, infrastructural failings, and the ongoing energy crisis have all played out locally amidst the turbulence of geopolitical uncertainties abroad.

Currently, as the most recent SME Index conducted by Business Partners has revealed, the major challenges facing small businesses are cashflow, unfavourable economic conditions, and lack of access to funding. These factors are among the most significant contributors to the erosion of business confidence, as well as several other key metrics.

According to the 2022 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, total early-stage entrepreneurial activity in South Africa decreased by roughly half when compared to 2021. Likewise, fear of failure among small business owners increased to 59,44% from 53,03% the previous year.

Of encouragement is the fact that the percentage of South Africans who have identified promising opportunities for starting a business increased to 61,31% compared to 57,88% in 2021. In Morobe’s opinion: “contests like the Entrepreneur of the Year competition play a vital role in honouring the pioneers and innovators who find creative ways to thrive, even in the most trying circumstances.

“What we hope to achieve through this competition therefore goes beyond the recognition of achievement – it’s about so much more,” Morobe adds. “It’s about promoting entrepreneurship as a rewarding career path and, in doing so, to build a nation of entrepreneurial thinkers who can tackle some of the country’s most pressing issues such as poverty and unemployment.”

Morobe says it is within this context that the following finalists were short-listed:

In the Emerging Businesses category:

• Hook, Line & Sinker (HLS), founded by Adam Hunter

• Ngaraga properties T/A Lindiwe Sanitary Pads, founded by Tinny Masesi Nkuna

• Doggo Holdings Pty Ltd, founded by Graeme Bettles

• Trash Converters, founded by Musitha Rotondwa

• Maysene Logistics Pty Ltd, founded by Semenya Phuti

In the Small Business category:

• KCM Environmental Services, headed up by Kevin Munsamy

• Eruditio Skill Development Consultants Pty Ltd, headed up by Joel Emmanuel

• Company Wellness Solutions, headed up by Damien Seid

• Innovo Networks, headed up by Damian Michael

• Infinite Programme (PTY) Ltd, headed up by Sheryl Hoffmann

In the Medium Business category:

• Coimbra Confectionery CC t/a Pie in the Sky, owned by Sergio Luiz

• Bathu, owned by Theo Baloyi

• Shonaquip Pty Ltd, owned by Shereen Usdin

• JP Markets SA, owned by Justin Paulsen

• AKELO Group (Pty) Ltd, owned by Andrew Weinberg

• Bontle ke Botho Consulting Pty Ltd, owned by Monageng Legae

These finalists stand a chance of winning prizes valued at R2-million, including cash prizes of over R500 000 coupled with ongoing mentorship support.

“As was the case in previous years, the 2023 Entrepreneur of the Year competition offers so much value beyond cash prizes,” says Morobe. “We have designed this process to serve as a springboard to success – a way for these inspiring individuals to build their support networks, engage with their peers, and establish themselves as they strive towards achieving their forthcoming milestones.”