What do business leaders like the influential businesswoman Phuti Mahanyele, radio personality Sibusiso Leope (known as DJ Sbu), well-respected businessman Bonang Mohale and other seasoned entrepreneurs like York Zucchi, co-founder of SME Movement, Precious Mvulane of GAD Consulting Services, and Vuyo Tofile of EntBanc Group have in common? All of them are passionate about entrepreneurship in South Africa and are paying it forward by volunteering their business expertise to the 67 CEOs Foundation.
67 CEOs Foundation is a non-profit company that brings together established CEOs and emerging entrepreneurs who receive mentoring and coaching from those that have walked the walk.
The focus of the foundation is mentorship, entrepreneurship, education, investment and enterprise development. They aim to impact 10,000 SMMEs in South Africa by 2022 through their mentorship, education and enterprise development programmes.
Nigerian-born Sam Apata is the man behind 67 CEOs Foundation. Apata, who’s been living in South Africa since 2006, says he was 13 years old when he started helping with his parents’ businesses – his mother ran a spaza shop and his father sold cds and dvds. But it was when he was a teenager that he says he had his first experience with the hardships that come with being an entrepreneur. “One day my mom asked me to hawk at the market. I remember coming home crying because I had not sold anything that day.”
Apata says this early encounter with hardship taught him that entrepreneurship is about solving problems. “If I cannot change it, it means it’s not for me to change it,” says Apata.
An entrepreneur himself, Apata is the founder of PitchaLot, an online video pitching platform for entrepreneurs and Apata Concepts, a website development company. He explains that it was while providing tech solutions to small businesses that he realised that many business owners were in need of business development.
“I got interested in entrepreneurship development and I started a platform where young entrepreneurs are being mentored by CEOs of different companies.”
The foundation launched in 18 July 2017 on Nelson Mandela International Day (known as Mandela Day) enabling CEOs to volunteer their skills to inspire, mentor, coach and teach entrepreneurs who are in their startup phase.
The foundation has since hosted various events including workshops and masterclasses covering a myriad of topics such as financial management, mentorship and business compliance and BBBEE and ESD readiness. Each of the events are recorded and are available on their YouTube account.
Apata says when he started the initiative, he thought that CEOs would rush to be part of the initiative. He was wrong.
“When 67 CEOs Foundation kicked off, I had great expectations, I thought people would eagerly come on board, but since then I experienced rejection after rejection.
“I would send proposals to CEOs especially to JSE-listed companies, they would be busy with a board meeting or AGM, they’re just too busy (to talk with me).”
Sometimes, out of 100 invitations, he says he would only get one “yes”.
This, however, did not stop him. The first programme only had five CEOs who participated. This number has grown to 50 CEOs – some volunteering once off and others on a longer-term basis.
The non-profit company now has a team of four. Each team member runs their own business, explains Apata. They also secured Exxaro Resources as a sponsor. “We are going to push through with what we want to create, we’re not going to stop.”
The plan for this year is to double the foundation’s impact, says Apata, as well as to strengthen stakeholder relations and increase access to grant funding for startup entrepreneurs.
Apata adds: “We hope to implement an online and mobile technology platform into our mentorship, coaching and enterprise development programmes. Entrepreneurs will have access to low data consumption, high quality educational content 24/7 through our e-learning platform.”