BCom Entrepreneurial Management student Ms Kelebogile Ncholo is back in South Africa after three months in the Netherlands for an internship with the international business accelerator for startups Venture Lab. The 10-week programme at Rijks University Groningen (RUG), taught her an immense amount about living the entrepreneurial life, she says.
See the article before Ncholo left for the Netherlands here.
The experience has changed her views about starting a business, says the student.
“I saw a lot of bakeries in Groningen, which inspired me. I want to see bakeries like these in my community.”
A particular bakery in Amsterdam really inspired her, she says.
“As soon as you step in the door, you see this amazing display of cakes and biscuits. I bought one apple flap pastry in Amsterdam and went off visiting around the city. Just before I had to leave Amsterdam, I couldn’t help it, I had to go back to the same bakery to buy another one. This bakery has its name, details and website name on their packages and on the boxes that the cakes come in, which is good for their marketing.”
The people of the Netherlands love their bakeries, she says.
“There are a lot of bakeries there. First thing in the morning, people go to bakeries to have breakfast and coffee. They also go there for lunch. Some people go in the afternoon to buy bread, which they love, and have that at home. The supermarkets have aisles full of cakes as well. What you can buy at a standalone bakery you can also get at the supermarkets.”
She says her expectations were adjusted soon after arriving.
“When I got there for the three months, I thought we just needed to come up with a business idea, write up a business plan and that would be it. But there was more than that.
“Actually, what I learned is, to live an entrepreneurial life, you need to go out and talk to your potential customers about your idea. You can’t just assume that your business idea will work and that there’s a market for it. Before you can establish your business you need to do market research and talk to your potential customers first,” she says.
Ncholo and her three team members walked around in Groningen and pitched their business idea to people who looked like potential customers.
“Our business idea was to link elderly people with students. The students there find accommodation very expensive. At the same time, elderly people are forced to leave their homes and go to retirement homes once they reach retirement age because they don’t have anyone to stay with or to take care of them,” says Ncholo.
“So we tried to solve both problems. We thought, instead of elderly people going to retirement homes, let them stay at their own homes and rent out bedrooms in their house to students. This way a student can rent a room at an affordable price and an elderly person can stay at their own home with someone to keep them company,” she says.
However, when she and her team started talking to students at the RUG residences, they found out their potential market was much smaller than they had expected.
“The only students interested in the idea were Master’s students. The first and second years still want to live the varsity life and say ‘no, I’m not going to take care of an old person’. So we went with Master’s students.”
Ncholo reckons she learnt a lot during the three months.
“I still want to be an entrepreneur. What I learnt is that if you want to be a successful entrepreneur you need to work hard. You need to go out and talk to potential investors and customers and up your game at all times. People say they want to start and own their businesses because they want to be their own bosses.
“But they don’t know that being an entrepreneur is not just about being your own boss and ordering people around. It is also about working extra hours, working while others are sleeping and harder than any other person to make sure that your business is a success and that you succeed. You only get to relax when your business has grown and reached maturity stage.
“I also learnt to survive on my own away from home. The people in the Netherlands are very, very friendly and it is a nice environment to be in. It is a free country. You don’t have to worry about walking late at night because you are safe.”
She says she loved the bicycles. She had last pedaled one as a child. The first few weeks were not easy though. It was winter when they were there, close to the foul winter weather of the North Sea.
“You need to wear your hand gloves when you cycle so that your hands don’t get cold and freeze. I did slip with a bicycle on ice, but I didn’t fall,” she laughs.
What would she say to others thinking of becoming entrepreneurs?
“I would really encourage them to qualify for this experience in the Netherlands. There you are taught to do the practical work of being an entrepreneur, applying the theory that you learn here at UJ. When you go there, you see what it is actually like being an entrepreneur.
“If being an entrepreneur is what you want to be, then go for it and ignore negative talk from other people telling you that you don’t need to go to varsity to do this,” concludes Ncholo.
UJ Entrepreneurial Management students who qualify for Venture Lab work alongside students from RUG and other international students on a group project for a business startup. They can earn 15 credits during the 10 weeks, says Mrs Cashandra Jasson, a lecturer in the UJ Department of Business Management, who coordinates the internships.