The role of networks in the entrepreneurial process cannot be underestimated. Times columnist and vice chancellor and rector at the university of Free State, Professor Jansen, recently wrote about the challenges that many disadvantaged youth, even those with degrees, face because of a lack of influential networks – “which could mean the difference between a great career and serial unemployment.”
In entrepreneurship, an influential network can translate into successfully securing a meeting with a potential investor, getting important business referrals or accessing valuable industry knowledge.
Fashion and lifestyle entrepreneurs, Theo Ngobeni, founder of MrSlimfit and Zano Sithetho, founder of The Skorzch menswear brand are hoping to play their role in filling this gap in a very unique way – by promoting the concept of the ‘modern gentleman’.
Navigating the business landscape
Last year Ngobeni and Sithetho launched the ‘The Good Sir’ campaign whose mission is to help young professionals and entrepreneurs navigate the challenges of the professional and business landscape by focusing on a number of key areas – the importance of respect, doing good, and also learning from and celebrating others.
Through the campaign they are also hoping to counter some of the negative sterotypes about men, specifically black men, says Ngobeni.
“Being a gentleman is about having self respect and extending that respect to your fellow beings, both male and female. We want to define for ourselves and educate young men about how to become a modern gentleman,” says Ngobeni.
“Gentlemen don’t need money to do business, we use our skills to barter”
The event takes the form of monthly dinners bringing together young professionals together with established and successful business leaders or ‘ambassadors’ who share insights and guidance with those trying to make it.
So far they have hosted the likes of social entrepreneur, Khathu Mashau, and entrepreneur, Weza Matomane – with entrepreneur Kojo Baffoe and comedian Loyiso Gola as well as other well-known personalities attending.
The objective is for them to learn from other people’s experience, in life and business, says Ngobeni.
“Ambassadors serve as a form of inspiration to many. From our past events we’ve noticed that entrepreneurs go through the same challenges but at times they don’t interact with people who have gone through the same challenges and have succeeded. So when they share their story of how they made it, it’s inspiring and motivating to a lot of us.
According to Sithetho, they have a few success stories of both businesses and mentorship relationships coming out of the events.
“We are creating a platform where individuals can interact with other business prospects and establish working relationships. Our platform creates a very neutral ground for individuals to interact and engage with others and also sell their product”, says Sithetho.
Business skills and networking
A key focus of the campaign is to help attendees develop networking skills and to integrate themselves into networks.
“Today, having a great network can be the difference between success and failure. I was taught about the importance of networking very early in life, and I have seen it work for me. I want to share the same experience and benefits with others.
“At every event, I always share this with our guests that gentlemen don’t need money to do business, we use our skills to barter. You need the great network to achieve this,” says Sithetho.
There is also a focus on soft skills needed in both their personal lives and in business alike, such as leadership, empathy and the art of negotiation says Ngobeni. These are skills which many young men are not exposed to are not often talked about when we talk business, but are important, he adds.
An example of this in the real world is communication skills, says Sithetho. “A lot of the time young entrepreneurs lack communication skills. You find that they have great ideas but communicating them across is a challenge.”
Going forward the pair say the plan is host more events and add more content in the form of speakers and activities.
“We plan to travel across South Africa and hopefully do a bit of Africa also. There’s is a lot to explore in terms of building the gentleman so we looking at going into underdeveloped communities and starting programs that will empower men,” says Sithetho.