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Zizipho Nyanga, CEO of the Masisizane Fund, on How Attitude Helps Business Owners Access Funding Often, the difference between the super successful and their less fortunate counterparts is preparation. Being in the right place at the right time isn't luck - it's working towards a goal and ensuring that all the pieces come together.

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Devin Lester

Vital Stats

  • Player: Zizipho Nyanga (née Mqwala)
  • Company: The Masisizane Fund
  • Position: CEO
  • What they do: The Masisizane Fund is an Old Mutual initiative that was established in 2007 following the closure of the Unclaimed Share Schemes Trust in consultation with the National Treasury of South Africa. Masisizane was set up as a non-profit funding company to provide loan financing and support to SMEs.
  • Launched: 2007
  • Visit:

Are you willing to put in the time to really make a success of yourself? Funders look at the entrepreneur as much as the business model. They evaluate the entrepreneur's mindset. Are you working on yourself as much as you're working on the business?

Zizipho Nyanga unpacks what the Masisizane Fund looks for in entrepreneurs, and how you can be more successful through the right mindset.

My own career and the path that led me to developmental finance has enhanced the certainty in me that we create our own futures. What you put in is what you get out. I was a CA(SA) who worked within EY's external audit and risk advisory services. I've always wanted to add value and help people in everything I do.

I quickly realised that I enjoyed identifying challenges that companies faced and helping them find and implement solutions. It's the reason why I left EY to become a financial manager at Kagiso Media. It was an entrepreneurial business in a high growth phase. From there I joined an investment firm, and then the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC).

Each step brought me closer to where I am today, and built on my personal skills and understanding of business and the support that SMEs need. If you're doing what you love, and you're willing to build the necessary skills, you'll forge the right path, whether that's in a corporate career or your own business.

As a dealmaker at the IDC I got my first clear look at why people are rejected for funding. Too often it comes down to a simple lack of preparation: Not preparing an adequate business plan; not taking the time to really understand your market, competitors and even your own positioning; and not researching the funder you're approaching to ensure their mandate aligns with your business offering.

I was particularly surprised by how many people outsourced their business plans. How do you run your business if someone else does the plan for you? We saw so many entrepreneurs who weren't willing to do the most basic things.

Getting funding requires patience; there's a lot of necessary legwork

People want the money, but they're not willing to do the work to get it, and that's often just their first big problem. Success takes time. It takes hard work. And it takes a willingness to patiently and systematically follow a growth path. In other words, success begins in the mind.

If you want to be successful, you have to look to the future, keep your eye on the ball, and then painstakingly work towards your goals. From a funding perspective, step one is developing your own business plan and all that this entails. Step two is researching each organisation you're thinking of approaching and learning what they offer and what their mandate is.

Step three is planning ahead

So many business owners approach funders when they are under pressure and need cash immediately. Not only does this reveal a detrimental lack of fore-planning, but it means the whole process becomes rushed, and owners approach any and every fund they know about. This means there's little regard to whether it's the right funder whose mandate matches the business. The more a business owner does this, the more it discourages them should they be rejected by funders.

Funding takes time

Start your business. Bootstrap it if you can, and begin the process of identifying and approaching the right funders with a goal of securing funding in 18 to 24 months, instead of a few weeks. Those are the businesses that attract attention. If you can show you're a planner who is willing to go the distance, you're already ahead in the game.

You need to leave your ego at the door

This is one of the best pieces of advice that I can give to any business owner. Passion is great, but be careful of being too internally focused. If you spend too much time celebrating your business idea and your own cleverness, you won't focus on how to access your market. Who is going to buy what you're selling?

Understand that you have to have a market you're serving, and that this is the single most important thing a funder is interested in, because they know that without a market, you have no business.

It's amazing how many entrepreneurs start with "me' instead of their target market. As a business owner, your goal is to serve someone else's needs. Who is the customer? And what are their needs?

Entrepreneurs tend to want to run the business alone. We call these "one man bands', and they're far too prevalent. They've had an idea, it's theirs, and they're precious about it. So precious that they don't appreciate a sense of partnership. This can be a technical partner, a financial partner, someone with the necessary business acumen and experience that the entrepreneur might lack.

The reality is that no-one has all the skills and experience necessary to build a robust and sustainable business. The best businesses are built by teams who complement each other. If you can leave your ego behind, and find someone who can take a stake and help you scale the business, you're already well on the path to success.

Success is all about partnerships

I was fortunate to have the experiences I did at the IDC with SMEs looking for funding, because it gave me the peripheral vision I needed to really understand the important role the Masisizane Fund can play in South Africa's entrepreneurial development. First and foremost, it's about working with other funders and corporates to achieve our goals. It's through partnerships that real change is achieved. No one ever achieved real success alone.

We see this within SMEs, and will always support partnerships at the helm of a business and in the roles we play. Our model is to partner with organisations with a similar mindset to our own, such as the SEFA, IDF, Anglo-Zimele and various government departments that offer grants.

This allows us to achieve measurable impact and de-risk. Many entrepreneurs don't have owner's contributions and can't afford 100% debt. They will never be able to repay it and build a sustainable business.

We're an organisation that offers loans, and so we partner with organisations that can assist entrepreneurs with equity/grants. This reduces the debt entrepreneurs are looking at, and increases a business's chance of success. We've found that the right combination of debt, equity and grant solutions gives businesses a real chance at success.

Partnerships go beyond finance; however, they're also about skills, support and mentorship. It's said that it takes a village to raise a child. The same is true of business. The stronger your network and support system, the higher your chances of success. We're all about capacity building.

We identify entrepreneurs who we believe have the right attitude, mindset, willingness to put in the hard work required, and either technical skills or business acumen — and then we put support systems in place. This could be through a mentor who co-manages the business, business courses, or placing financial managers in the business.

It's all about identifying what the business needs are. We have a partnership in place with SAICA that places CA(SA) in the SMEs we support, creating jobs for graduates and supporting entrepreneurial businesses simultaneously.

Often, the difference between success and failure is the right support at the right time. This isn't about waiting for someone to come and assist you though. It's about walking a journey with the right partners. This begins with accepting that you need assistance, and being willing and able to continuously learn and develop yourself and the business. If you can do that, and you have the patience to see your own goals through, you will be successful.

Nadine von Moltke-Todd

Entrepreneur Staff

Editor-in-Chief: South Africa

Nadine von Moltke-Todd is the Editor-in-Chief of Entrepreneur Media South Africa. She has interviewed over 400 entrepreneurs, senior executives, investors and subject matter experts over the course of a decade. She was the managing editor of the award-winning Entrepreneur Magazine South Africa from June 2010 until January 2019, its final print issue. Nadine’s expertise lies in curating insightful and unique business content and distilling it into actionable insights that business readers can implement in their own organisations.
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