SCHOLARPRENEURS #1

What does it mean to be a “Scholarpreneur” and why the need?

The quarterly labour force survey released by Statistics South Africa in July 2016 saw a decline in 129 000 jobs in the second quarter of the year. As it stands, the unemployment rate has increased to 26.7% since 2015 and these employment levels have declined quarter-to-quarter in all industries. This means that more than a quarter of the country’s workforce (ages 16 to 65) that are eligible to work are not working – and without a strong workforce, government has less tax revenue coming from income and businesses have a smaller market for their products and services. All this in turn constitutes a stagnant economy.

Finding a job remains a daunting prospect for thousands of young graduates in the country; and as more and more businesses downsize, as labour becomes automated and even outsourced, the prospects for unemployed youth become even less.

However, this does not have to be the reality for the youth who chose to take matters into their own hands and make their own destiny. The greatest challenge facing South Africa (at least from a young graduate’s point of view) is job creation.  Many youngsters have figured it out there is no guarantee for employment after they graduate and so choose to take the risk of enterprising. Starting a business, to many, is just as daunting a task (if not more) than seeking employment. Given the demanding nature of it, by starting a business one is essentially throwing themselves in the deep end with very little security – infact, most businesses fail in their infant stages – and so with playing against those odds it does take extraordinary courage and certainty in what one is enterprising into.

Even with the odds stacked against you, you’ll find some who are resilient enough to see their idea through until the end. This is most extraordinary in students who, on top of being full-time scholars, run their own businesses. For many, the idea of even starting a business while in university is inconceivable, given the intense workload of academics as it is. Despite such adversity, you still have your “scholarpreneurs” who are out there hustling and grinding to turn their ideas into reality. It is often said that “starting small” is key, but at the same time someone looking to go into enterprising has to have a cause larger than themselves if they are to navigate their way to success in this socio-economic labyrinth filled with more issues and opportunities than ability. Entrepreneurship, I believe, is key to unlocking the socio-economic issues that have our society chained.

A scholarpreneur is a breed of student that our education system and institutions need to breed – one who is self-reliant and financial savvy. Being a scholarpreneur is a mindset, one that understands that there is no freedom without financial freedom, and no true knowledge without financial intelligence. Here follows a profile (the first of more to come) of such a student who has taken the leap of faith to chase a cause big enough to keep him awake at night and still given enough energy to work at it during the day.

Profile

Scholarpreneur: Emile McLennan

Date of birth: 14 August 1995

Academic pursuit: Bachelor of Business Science (Finance and Accounting) (3rd Year)

Current business: eShip (Pty) Ltd. (www.eship.co.za)

emile
Emile. Image by Jembe Moran.

From a young age, Emile has always been intrigued by the business world, finding inspiration in the many biographies he read growing up, being personally inspired by fellow South Africans Elon Musk and Mark Shuttleworth – not your traditional 7-year old’s heroes. His knack for entrepreneurship was evident from a tender age, always finding himself involved in business, in some way or another.

He is a self-taught developer by the age of 16, citing the need for everybody living in the 21st century to possess these skills, believing that programming not only teaches one how to think, but equips one with the skills necessary to solve many of the modern challenges we face through computation. It was in his grade 10 year that he developed an online health store, the first of its kind in the country. The site was supplement central which sold health products online, much like a pharmacy with the focus being on health, sports and wellbeing. What started out as a personal project soon grew into a profitable business, which he later sold in his matric year for R250 000.

Subsequent to this, he wasted very little time moving onto his latest venture, eShip, after noting the massive inefficiencies that plagued the transport sector. Transporting goods across South Africa is not an easy undertaking, something Emile learned when he needed to transport his motorbike from Durban to Cape Town. Emile spotted an opportunity and poured in most of the money made from his previous venture into this new one, and eShip was born. eShip is a revolutionary online transport marketplace and delivery aggregation engine that connects people looking to ship items with transport companies who have available capacity in their vehicles. The idea is to fill up additional space on the transporter’s existing routes. By leveraging the power of the internet as well as capitalising off the reverse auction format, eShip is able to pass the cost savings onto the consignor whilst at the same time increasing the operational efficiency and bottom line profit of transport companies. It mirrors the business model of Uber, but instead of linking private cars to people needing a ride, it links freighters with people who need to move items that are too large for the post office and regular courier companies across varying distances. More recently, eShip has begun offering an ecommerce solution to online merchants, providing real-time courier delivery capabilities to online stores, giving them access to preferential rates, live tracking and booking functionality, all automated of course.

eShip first grabbed the attention of the public when Emile pitched the idea to a group of investors on the South African version of the television show, Dragon’s Den, asking for R5 million and successfully securing investment from investors Vinny Lingham and Gil Oved, the largest deal of its kind. Whilst securing the funding was a major milestone for the business, it has not all been plain sailing. Due to the nature of the business, there are many challenges which needed to be overcome. Building a two-sided marketplace is inherently difficult as a ‘critical mass’ of consignors and transporters are required at any one point in time in order for the benefit of the platform to be fully realised. Furthermore, the rate adoption is hindered by the public’s lack of knowledge about the existence of such a solution, Emile citing the drawbacks of the novelty concept, noting the limited resources available with which to capture the market. Emile does conclude that these are short-term in nature, with the problem of critical mass quickly being solved through the Pareto Principle, at least initially, and the problem being made advantageous through the upside of the Network Effect that is a feature of such systems. Looking forward, Emile hopes to position eShip as the “go-to” place for all shipping needs, whether private or commercial, with the current focus being on building up a community of owner-driver entrepreneurs around the platform and further expanding upon the technology. The end goal is a seamless integration into daily life, where Emile believes, “The most effective solution is when technology gets out of the way, when you don’t have to think about it, it just works.”

There are many challenges that still lie ahead but Emile is determined on building a world-class service that he hopes will change the way Africa ships and disrupts the status-quo. A year shy from his graduation, his future and that of the integration of people with transport and technology is in clear vision…a true scholarpreneur indeed.

Papama Nyati.

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