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Business Ideas

25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who's making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.
25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa
Image credit: Bigstock
Entrepreneur Staff
Sales Enablement - Content Developer
15+ min read

You're reading Entrepreneur South Africa, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

1. I Am Emerge Provides An App For Township Spaza Bulk Purchasing

Spaza shops do around R9 billion worth of business annually. They are the backbone of township economies, but the lack of credit, vulnerability to crime and not being able to compete with big retailers are serious challenges they face daily.

I Am Emerge’s award-winning app Vuleka, taps into the collective buying power of township spaza shop owners, aiding them in ordering goods directly from manufacturers and benefiting from bulk discounts.

“The goods are cheaper than they would be from wholesalers, so we save them time and money,” says Brian Makwaiba, MD of I Am Emerge. “Where there are spaza shops who don’t have technology, we have youth marketers to take their orders manually.”

I Am Emerge does the legwork, including negotiating with manufacturers, warehousing orders and delivering their purchases. The network of spaza shops spans three of Gauteng’s biggest townships: Alexandra, with around 500 members, Soweto with over 4 500 and Tembisa with around 2 000.

2. Tuluntulu Offers High Quality Video Streaming On Low Data Speeds

Tuluntulu’s innovative technology manages low data speeds and video streaming together in such a way that it always keeps the audio track in place. This disruptive invention offers a seamless video delivery adapting to a variety of throughput rates for each connected user without disruption.

Not only is the disruptive business taking over this market, but it’s offering access to video content to users throughout Africa. A messaging engine is built-in to reduce cost of entry where the adverts are integrated into the video space.  Tuluntulu also uses easily scalable architecture for large numbers of simultaneous viewers and or including individual adapting video streaming.

Tuluntulu has received several awards including:

  • In 2015, A Frost & Sullivan Customer Value Leadership Award VOD 2015
  • In 2015 and 2016, several Technology Top 100 awards
  • In 2015, Best African App AppsAfrica award
  • In 2015, MTN App of the Year Finalist award
  • In 2015, Tuluntulu was selected by Unilever Foundry 50 as one of the top 50 start-ups in the world
  • In 2016, Tuluntulu was selected by Interbrand (global) / Facebook as a global ‘Breakthrough Brand’.

3. SSG Consulting Developed KEY360

Over-running construction projects are notoriously common in South Africa. Resulting in projects being built at significantly higher costs and over longer timeframes than originally planned. Globally, overruns in costs and time range from 27% to 200%, according to Steven Golding of SSG Consulting.

Golding developed KEY360 to manage large-scale projects, on time and within budget. It does this by integrating 140 different business systems and processes, along with unlimited global access, data validation and real-time reporting.

“Although we started in project management as a core business, and this indeed still is, KEY360 has so many Enterprise functions that we now service many other industries.”

They’ve recently launched the KEY360 app, which offers mobile access to the KEY360 platform and speeds up business processes by x 10.

4. Pargo Solving Last-Mile Distribution Challenges

Many people in South Africa have challenges to get goods to their doorstep. On top of that, we see that it’s very challenging to deliver to townships, rural areas and estates,” says Lars Veul Co-Founder of Pargo. “We solve that challenge by allowing people to send and receive goods at nationwide pick-up points at different stores throughout the country.”

This logistics solution also links up suppliers with a whole host of new customers who wouldn’t traditionally have had a postal address to have parcels delivered to. They’ve enabled their customers to get their parcels delivered when and where it’s most convenient for them.

Pargo is an innovative business because it is disrupting the postal industry, effectively competing with the South African Postal Service. “What we want to do is enable e-commerce and connect the people to the rest of the continent,” says Veul.

In 2018, Pargo was one of eight finalists for FNB Business Innovation Awards.

5. HouseME Is A Digital Real Estate Platform

This property-technology company offers Africa’s first integrated, trusted residential rental platform to tenants and landlords across SA. HouseME disrupts the agency model by offering a full automation of the letting agency process including payment collection, marketing, lease placement and management functionality.

“We're the first kind of such type of platform that looks to genuinely serve both sides of the rental equation,” says Ben Shaw, CEO and founder of HouseME. This digital property platform also creates a fair and transparent pricing system for a fraction of the traditional price.

“The way we've identified that rental can be something made more efficient is a very good example of how technology can create disruption,” says Shaw.

“You have to ask: is something good because it has always been done in a particular way? If that's the reason we continue to do it, then it probably means it's right for disruption.”

In 2017, HouseMe secured a place in Webber Wentzel’s Ignite legal incubation programme. It has since grown to twice the size of the average rental agency regional office, in the past 18 months.

6. Olympic Paints Has Developed A Built-In Paint Tray Causing An Unexpected Industry Shift

The Flip ‘n Roll is Olympic Paints newest and latest innovation. This new concept in decorative paints is a paint bucket with a dual purpose of a built-in paint tray. Their innovation is solving the challenges customers have with the waste caused by conventional paint trays. These typically have a one or two litre capacity, which can create spilling when consumers are constantly refilling the tray.

Now the twenty-litre container has a built-in tray reducing spillage and waste and making the job cleaner and faster. When customers need to pack-up then just close the container and any excess paint goes straight back inside, reducing the amount of cleaning they need to do.

“The paint industry is very competitive with everyone doing the same thing. We thought, how can we be different? How can we be a bit innovative? How can we give our customers that extra edge that saves them money and saves them time? So, we came up with this concept of Flip ‘n Roll, where the roller tray is incorporated in the paint bucket,” explains Sejal Purbhoo, Founder of Olympic Paints.

In 2018, Olympic Paints was one of eight finalists for FNB Business Innovation Awards.

7. Passion4Performance Developed A Recognition of Prior Learning Assessment Concept

“Most qualifications take years to complete. However, if what you already know, and can actually do with that knowledge, is taken into account, your completion time could be compressed into a matter of months, weeks or even days. This is the beauty of recognition of prior learning (RPL), the key to which; is credible, meticulous and instant assessment, says Darryn van den Berg, founder and Visionary MD of Passion4Performance

He continues to explain that in 2017 one of their clients had 40 human resources managers undergoing diploma training, which would usually take two years. By using the RPL concept, the average completion time was three months, with the majority of managers completing the course in three weeks and one lady, in three days.

“80% of learning takes place in the workplace. People learn by doing. When you go for training, you might already know a lot of the content and as such only need one or two training modules to wrap up your qualification.”

This is where Passion4Performance (P4P) comes in. “Knowledge is good, but a knowledge test does not show what the learner is capable of doing in a real-life scenario. So, instead of writing a test, learners go back to the workplace, apply the skills acquired and are assessed in a live environment.”

8. NewSpace Systems Delivers High Quality Components At Lower Costs

NewSpace Systems designs, develops and manufactures components for the USD200 billion satellite build-and-launch industry, exporting to fifteen countries across five continents. This disruptive business manages to supply it’s clients with high quality components, while still paying lower prices.

“Our customers are space agencies; NASA is one of our customers, universities, but mostly commercial customers, such as Airbus,” says James Barrington-Brown, Founder of NewSpace Systems.

This innovative business started four years ago and has grown from 1 to 21 people. Since NewSpace Systems didn’t take on any external investors, they’ve been growing organically 30-40% annually, and are competing on a global scale going head-to-head with some of the biggest names in the industry.

In 2018, NewSpace Systems was one of eight finalists for FNB Business Innovation Awards.

9. My Online Presence Creates End-To-End Solutions For Online Brand Presence

My Online Presence is a team of highly skilled developers, who focus on designing and developing systems to simplify complex business workflows. This small business specialises in adding some energy to their customers online presence or creating one from scratch.

They focus on creating ideal custom software solutions for small, medium and large enterprises locally and abroad. My Online Presence offers services in business analysis, consulting, custom software development and maintenance of their custom-developed systems.

They also specialise is building and developing iOS and Android Mobile Applications, Customer Relationship Management Software (CRM)customised internal business solutionsContent Management Systems (CMS)eCommerce solutions, as well as SMS and USSD services.

In 2017, My Online Presence won the National Small Business Champion award presented by the National Small Business Chamber (NSBC), in association with World Famous Events.

10. Skynamo Offering Insights To Sales Teams In The Field

This B2B sales app is used to manage sales people in the field. Skynamo gives reps in the field access to information, be it customer information or past sales history. This innovative technology also give sales managers access to the reps in the field, so they can understand what their customer activities are.

“The business started by accident,” says Sam Clarke, founder of Skynamo. He had a friend who was finding it challenging to manage his sales team in the field. “So, we started writing an app to try and help him. As we developed it, more and more people wanted to buy this app, and we started to penetrate the South African market at a phenomenal rate.”

Field sales environments tend to be characterised as low trust environments, Skynamo introduces data, which takes the environment from low trust-to-high trust. This converts managers into coaches instead of micromanagers.

In 2018, Skynamo was one of eight finalists for FNB Business Innovation Awards.

11. RecruitMyMom Creating A Platform For Job-Seeking Moms

This online recruitment platform assists skilled Moms find meaningful, part-time and flexible employment opportunities. RecruitMyMom has played a critical role within the recruitment industry, having created a trusted platform that connects employers to this specific group of job-seekers.

This platform helps mothers find jobs based on both their unofficial and official qualifications. Whether it’s chefs, cleaners, party-planners, coaches, hairdressers, nurses and taxi drivers, or  human resources, research, writing, graphic design, accounting, customer service, sales, legal, strategic planning, and science skills.

“The business started because I saw that there was an opportunity in South Africa to aggregate skills for women who previously had careers but had decided to stop largely because they wanted to start a family or integrate their work with their family."

"At the time, there weren’t many agencies that would be interested in part-time or flexible work,” explains Phillipa Geard, Founder of RecruitMyMom.

In 2017, Phillipa Geard won the National Woman in Business Champion presented by the National Small Business Chamber (NSBC), in association with World Famous Events.

12. GAAP Provides A Hardware And Software Point-Of Sale Solution For The Hospitality Industry

GAAP provides a solution to a restaurant owner, to control his business. They also provide a complete enterprise solution for a big franchise, to control the franchise as well as the individual stores.

Their unique competitive advantage is that they offer a fully encompassing rental to the hospitality industry, and they act as a bank. “This solution has enabled us to create a lot more sales than we would have in the past, because normally a restaurant would have to go and get finance for their hardware, but we do that financing for them,” explains Jean-Paul D’Abbadie, Founder of GAAP.

GAAP have been able to build an infrastructure in every small town as they’ve grown over the years, which gives them a unique advantage when a national franchise needs local support.

In 2018, GAAP was one of eight finalists for FNB Business Innovation Awards.

13. HeroTel Bringing Wi-Fi To Low Income Communities

ProjectIsizwe brings free Wi-Fi to low-income communities opening up access to information, supporting informal learning and enabling people to search for jobs online.

They aim to successfully deploy a mix of fibre and high-speed wireless to create a winning formula never seen before in smaller towns and rural communities across South Africa. HeroTel has expanded its coverage via its Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) in the North West, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and surrounds. This makes it South Africa’s largest wireless Internet service provider.

“The North West is a glimpse of the future of the WISP industry, where fibre is deployed in the densely populated zones, while high-speed wireless fills the gaps between the towns. This is how next-generation rural networks will be built. We are delighted to be part of it with the amazing team,” says HeroTel CEO, Cornè de Villiers.

14. Saryx Engineering Offers Digitised Compliance and Safety For Companies

Saryx Engineering Group is a software engineering company and they do that bespoke software solutions for industrial corporate sites. This platform allows companies to track their compliance documentation, whether it’s company, people or equipment-related. Businesses can securely share this documentation through a digital, transparent, collaborative workflow process.

It offers peace-of-mind, because it reduces the risk that businesses have regarding outstanding or missing documents or information. This system automatically sends customers reminders about items that could become an issue.

“We’ve actually started to sprout smaller health and safety contracting companies that can now look after multiple safety files instead of just one. It’s a feel-good story for us because we’re actually improving the entire country,” says Julie Mathieson, Co-Founder of Saryx Engineering Group.

In 2018, Saryx Engineering Group won the FNB Business Innovation Award.

15. BrightBlack Is An Energy Providing Innovative Solar Energy Solutions

Bright Black offers innovative solar energy options. One of their sites generates 1,000,000 kwh per annum – a saving of 1,320 trees or 621,000kg of coal.

“Bright Black can help its customers with innovative technology and innovative financial solutions. Our predictive models allow us to develop savings predications for what the customer is building, or what the facility can achieve,” says Ken Cram, Director of BrightBlack.

“As BrightBlack is a complete efficiency platform we conduct technical and financial evaluations of the various products and solutions available today. These could include a number of different technologies, such as occupancy sensors, lighting retrofits, power factor correction, air-conditioning control, water efficiency, solar and wind power. These all lead to measurable carbon reductions, so sustainability reporting is realised through live monitoring tools,” says Emmett Green, CEO of BrightBlack.

16. Howler Is An Event Technology Platform

This platform offers event organisers technology to assist them in managing and promoting their event. “We make it easier for event goers to discover the event, get through the door in a flash and transact with a tap, completely optimising the event-goer’s experience,” says Shai Evian, Co-Founder of Howler.

“There are so many technologies out there, event organisers have to deal with so many different service providers. What Howler does is; it allows the event organiser to deal with one company, allows them to have one point-of-contact, and deals with multiple facets of their event, from ticketing online, to access control, to cashless payments, to vendor settlements, to cash management and event marketing,” says Steve Cuzen, Co-Founder of Howler.

They’ve scaled the business by listen to their clients’ demands and requirements, which is an ever-growing process of understanding the market and reacting quickly to market needs.

In 2018, Howler was one of eight finalists for FNB Business Innovation Awards.

17. execMobile’s PocketWifi Keeps Business Travellers Connected

execMobile’s PocketWifi offers travelling executives a personal, secure connection to the internet. This allows them to work wherever and whenever, while eliminating data roaming costs.

“We have saved our customers more than R10 million in the past year alone,” says Craig Lowe, founder at execMobile.

“The technology behind the PocketWiFi has undergone a metamorphosis based on 14 months of customer feedback. The key, however, for our customers is not the disruptive technology we have employed, but simply that our service is now more convenient than ever before and offers superior benefits.”

The benefits of this innovative technology include coverage in 127 countries and growing, decreased daily rates, improved internet connection quality, longer battery life and being able to use the device in South Africa at local rates.

“When travelling overseas, the need to remain connected is becoming increasingly important. This is especially true for business travellers whose companies support a mobile workforce or have moved their services into the cloud. This is really where PocketWiFi comes into its own, allowing travellers to better manage their data connectivity and charges effortlessly while abroad,” says Lowe.

18. Rhino Africa Provides Online Touring Assistance

Rhino Africa is an online tour operator and for the last decade they have been creating tailor-made African experiences for both private and corporate clients. They have quickly become one of Africa’s leading online tour operators specialising in luxury, tailor-made itineraries and facilitating the travel plans of over 10 000 guests annually.

“We use the internet as a conduit to connect guests to tailor-made experiences using destination and product knowledge. We operate in about 31 source markets around the world, bringing inbound travellers to Southern Africa, and we operate in five different languages,” says David Ryan, Founder of Rhino Africa.

The disruptive aspect of Rhino Africa focuses on using the internet and building on traditional travel by using expert destination and product knowledge to build unique experiences.

In 2018, Rhino Africa was one of eight finalists for FNB Business Innovation Awards.

19. Snapplify Is Offering Students Access To Textbooks

Snapplify offers digital publishing solutions that are changing the way South African students learn. This innovative business is tackling the challenge a large percentage of students have; access to textbooks. Using this disruptive platform, users can now download eBooks without an Internet connection.

Snapplify is a mobile solution that also allows content producers or distributors such as authors, artists, publishers, retailers and corporates to sell their content in custom-branded mobile applications.

Wesley Lynch founded Snapplify to address a gap in the digital publishing industry. “The current technology is too expensive for emerging markets,” he says. “And Kindle is great, but it’s far more likely that mobile devices will be the way to reach people in developing countries.”

He launched Snapplify at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2011. “Frankfurt is a massive event and people come with their business hats on so we had a captive audience,” says Lynch. “We set up meetings and demos and let the product speak for itself. One Australian publisher was so impressed that he gave us his content there and then.”

20. GoMetro A Commuter-Driven Mobile App

GoMetro already has more than 120 000 monthly active users interacting, collecting, and sharing information on public transport routes and delays.

This innovative platform links to a data manager and planning tool that generates maps and graphs in real time from data collected via the app. “Transport planners and software developers can use the service to track any form of transport, from walking to minibus taxis and buses,” says Justin Coetzee, Founder of GoMetro.

“This platform allows planners and developers to calculate things such as the revenue a vehicle makes on certain routes, to things like what the actual routes are that vehicles opt to take,” says Coetzee.

Bus companies can also use the app and platform to conduct inspections of their fleets in real-time, where the app can detect whether a bus is on route or not.

21. Domestly Connecting Cleaning Professionals and Homeowners

This innovative marketplace aims to combat unemployment and connect cleaning professionals with clients via a user-friendly app. It utilises technology to make housekeeping more affordable and accessible to everyone and create business and opportunities for cleaners.

The cleaner decides their own rates and schedule. They are also reviewed by previous clients and their ratings are visible on their profiles.

“I think it is the fact we are able to empower cleaning professionals, who are underemployed. They are readily available and willing to work, they just don’t know how to get themselves out there." 

"How do you market yourself? How do you position yourself as somebody who is experienced, credible and reliable? And how do you access a market that wants you? Where do I find customers and where do customers find me? So, we are pretty much solving that need, particularly for the unemployed,” says Thatoyaona Marumo, Co-Founder of Domestly.

22. NMRQL Using AI To Deliver Consistent Returns

NMRQL Research is South Africa’s first investment manager powered by machine learning. This innovative and disruptive concept uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to drive research, analysis and stock selection, offering a hedge fund and unit trust fund.

Michael Jordaan, the former CEO of First National Bank invested his retirement savings into the NMRQL unit trust “It is important to demonstrate to outside investors that I have proper skin in the game,” he says.

NMRQL’s model adapts in real-time as new information becomes available. “This technology can be used to predict factor performance,” says Thomas Schlebusch, CEO of NMRQL Research. “NMRQL could, for example, identify stocks that appear cheap but then continue to languish or decline further.”

23. Colony Live Connecting Users Across Multiple Platforms

“Colony is a platform that helps radio stations better understand who their audiences are. We take what is known as a traditional medium, a measurement system that only exists in survey format, and turn it into a real-time measurement medium. So, stations can know to the last second who their listeners are, that are actively engaging with them,” says Marco Broccardo, Founder of Colony Live.

In two years, this innovative business has grown from 13 stations within South Africa to 77 stations across Africa, with the aim to expand into the USA and capture it’s 16 000 radio stations and eventually the whole world.

This disruptive system is web-based, which means they’ll never be offline and available to clients across the world, in any time zone, 24/7.

In 2018, Colony Live was one of eight finalists for FNB Business Innovation Awards.

24. codeX Is Growing The Work Experience Of Coders In Africa

“There is a large demand and a very small supply for developers across Africa. And as a result they don’t have to be very good and they’re hugely expensive,” says Elizabeth Gould, Co-Founder of codeX. “There’s nothing really focused on the South African market, and it seems crazy, because there’s an acute need. We’re training high-end people that can think, we’re not training people to get a piece of paper. At the end they get a portfolio, and contracts at real companies.”

Instead of running codeX like a coding academy, they chose to run it as if it was a development shop. They try to embed the necessary skills in the context of a larger context.

By giving these coders work experience they know what companies want and how to build it. This also gives them the opportunity to start their own businesses throughout Africa.

25. This Is Me - Disrupting By Offering A Unique Business Model

To compete for talent with the technology giants like Amazon and Google, This Is Me came up with a different strategy to keep themselves competitive. They let their staff take all the credit for solutions they invent while working there.

A concept that is probably unheard of in Silicon Valley, and corporate South Africa, where licences, royalties and patents make big money for the companies that own them. By choosing this innovative path not only are they keeping their staff, but they’re thriving on their creative thinking.

Innovative products developed by their staff include a mobile verification solution, a breach-tracking solution that can test whether an email address has been compromised, and a soon-to-be-launched product that protects against identity theft.

“It’s important to have a set of clear and understandable goals, focused around your client’s requirements, and then to give your staff free rein to get it done. Junior staff are part of the decisions and can see their work become legitimate products,” says David Thomas, founder and Managing Director of This Is Me.

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