Serial Entrepreneur’s Crowdfund Helps Anyone Who Owns A Cow Get Financial Services
This article is one in an AFKInsider series that follows some of the young African leaders chosen to participate in U.S. President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). The initiative is a U.S. effort to invest resources in the next generation of African leaders and entrepreneurs. Each year 500 young Africans are chosen to visit the U.S. and receive six weeks of mentoring at top U.S. universities. It costs each one about $24,000 to come to the U.S., half of it paid for by universities and sponsors. Here’s the story of one YALI fellow.
South Afrian Ntuthuko Shezi knew from an early age he wanted to be an entrepreneur, starting a small business that would help uplift his family and lighten their financial burden.
After opening his first business as a young boy designing and printing T-shirts, there was no stopping him. But it wasn’t until he participated in U.S. President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative that his latest idea fully took shape.
Shezi, 36, got to take part in the first YALI program in 2014, studying at the University of Notre Dame. Upon returning to South Africa, he was able to develop and grow his company, Scratch Mobile, founded in 2006. Scratch Mobile is the only auto body repair, auto glass, and tire replacement facility located completely within Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport.
Shezi also operates a laundry, dry cleaning and shoe repair business, Airport Dry Clean, at the airport, providing convenient service for travelers and airport staff.
The business lessons he learned participating in YALI helped Shezi launch yet another business — Livestock Wealth — in Livestock Wealth is a crowdfunding platform that allows anyone to be a farmer. It gets people who own cows access to financial services such as loans, medical insurance and life insurance, Shezi said.
Shezi studied electro-mechanical engineering at the University of Cape Town. He has won various awards for his business success including the General Motors Best Speed shop category in 2013. In addition to running his own businesses, Shezi has been a program manger consultant since 2014 in a collaborative partnership between professional services company Accenture, the University of Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development and South Africa-based Rural Development Company.
Shezi spoke to AFKInsider about what he learned from his YALI experience.
AFKInsider: How did you hear about YALI?
Ntuthuko Shezi: I received an invitation to apply from the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa. They had seen my profile in a 2013 Mail and Guardian newspaper article on 200 young South Africans. So I submitted my answers to the essay questions for the embassy. I passed the panel interviews and was accepted into the program.
AFKInsider: What you get from the YALI experience?
Ntuthuko Shezi: During the course of the program and meeting the other participants from different parts of Africa, I began to understand how similar we are as African youth. We all shared accommodation, meals, and classes as 20 young Africans from 14 countries — from South Africa to Mali to Nigeria. Realizing our similarities was eye opening.
AFKInsider: Could you use what you learned in YALI in your country?
Ntuthuko Shezi: We studied business and entrepreneurship at the University of Notre Dame. Some of the things we learned were about scaling up a business. I applied those skills plus my life experience to create my current business, Livestock Wealth.
AFKInsider: What is one unique thing that happened for you?
Ntuthuko Shezi: I am now doing part time consulting work for the University of Notre Dame based on a rural development project they are doing in South Africa.
AFKInsider: How do the University of Notre Dame consulting job come about?
Ntuthuko Shezi: That came through a program they were doing in renewable energy in Africa. And it’s worked very well. We have been able do some some good work. I will be consulting for about.another 12 months and then we’re done. One of the projects was to create a solar irrigation model for farmers so that farmers don’t ever have to stress about how the water gets to their crops. We use solar energy to get the water to the crops.
AFKInsider: Do you feel YALI should continue?
Ntuthuko Shezi: YALI should continue. America has been very involved in Africa for many years with various aid programs, but I think the past model was a bit flawed as it didn’t really recognize that we can build our own roads and our own clinics. What we need is to be empowered with information and support. And this is where I think President Obama has got it right with YALI.
AFKInsider: How did you fund your newest startup, Livestock Wealth?
Ntuthuko Shezi: I have another business I have been running for nine years, an auto body repair company called Scratch Mobile. I borrowed from that business to get the new business up and running.
AFKInsider: How do you juggle the businesses?
Ntuthuko Shezi: It’s called sleeping less. But since my Scratch Mobile business is established I only need to spend one day a week there and I can concentrate on Livestock Wealth the rest of the week.
AFKInsider: What are your Livestock Wealth goals for 2016?
Ntuthuko Shezi: This year our main goal is to have 1,000 cows under management and it looks like we are going to make it. We are closing in on 200 now. And then we also will start a credit facility to enable people who can’t afford to buy a cow to buy the cow on installment. We already have all the necessary government approvals to start this and we will be offering the installment options in the next two months.
AFKInsider: How is South Africa’s livestock industry doing?
Ntuthuko Shezi: The livestock industry in South Africa is big yet we have only about 13 million cows, which is a drop in the ocean when you look across the world. There are 1.2 billion cows worldwide.