Like many young South African men and women today, Thabo Kunene is frustrated.
He’s frustrated that there are not more quality education and employment opportunities available to him. He’s frustrated that the majority of his fellow South Africans live in poverty and lack access to basic services. He’s frustrated at crime and corruption, which impedes access to potential growth and development opportunities. He’s frustrated that the country, since ending Apartheid and enshrining democracy, has failed to realise much of its great potential. Kunene dreams of a South Africa with accessible entrepreneurial support across the nation to drive positive economic growth.
Despite the challenges of doing business in South Africa, Kunene has taken matters into his own hands by launching his own entrepreneurial venture. His start-up, Gimac, first conceived in August 2013, focuses on providing households and small businesses with renewable energy-related products and services. Major services include the installation of solar panels and solar water heaters. On why he selected to focus on renewable energy over other services and industries, Kunene says that he has “always maintained an interest in energy production, has done a lot of previous research into the subject, and has followed the industry closely since South Africa hosted the COP 17 United Nations climate change conference in Durban in November 2011.”
After spending six months completing a formal course on entrepreneurship at the Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurial Development affiliated with the University of Johannesburg, Thabo’s eye were opened. The course helped Kunene make a personal transformation from “a technical-minded person to a business-minded person.” The Academy’s website describes the course as being “practical” and “inspiring and innovative” and is designed and offered to “empower young people on their entrepreneurial journey.” During his studies Thabo gained valuable insights and experience into the different elements involved in starting, growing, and managing one’s own business. The course also taught him that “everything is possible as an entrepreneur when you take calculated risk.” He adds that “entrepreneurship is not something that you are born with but, rather, it is a skill that needs to be learnt.”
Since launching Gimac, Kunene has already opened an office and completed two solar water heating product installations. Previously, Gimac operated out of a local library and relied on the use of pay phones and library computers to contact suppliers, clients, and other organisations. Now that Gimac has done its first installations, Kunene is planning for rapid business growth in line with the company’s vision “to become the premier renewable energy product and service provider [in South Africa].”
Kunene believes that a lack of running capital has been his major challenge to date. “Without running capital it is difficult for Gimac to cover daily expenses, pay staff on time, and penetrate the market without a marketing budget.” As a result of these challenges, he has had to rely on many volunteers in order to develop his business. Nevertheless, Kunene stills believes that he can develop and expand his business into an enterprise that is financially sustainable, can create new jobs, help promote renewable energy products, and benefit the overall South African economy. He encourages others like himself, who are perhaps also a bit demoralised and frustrated, to consider starting their own business. According to Kunene, “unemployment, retrenchments, and unsatisfying jobs are all reasons why entrepreneurship is needed in the country. It’s personally and financially fulfilling in the long run, and it can provide financial freedom.”