This Inspiring South African Female Entrepreneur Wants to Change How Business is Done

When Yashmita Bhana was three months pregnant, she scaled Mount Kilimanjaro, raising R500 000 for charity. It’s the kind of challenge Yashmita, the founder of the Nihka Technology Group, has always moved towards.

Statistics show women make up 34% of South African entrepreneurs.  And research finds these women business owners experience unique challenges.

Yashmita has been an entrepreneur for almost 20 years. Like many business owners, her journey is filled with achievements and setbacks. There is one recurring theme throughout her story, and it’s a trait she shares with many entrepreneurs: the determination to recover no matter the setback.

She studied Civil Engineering at Wits University, where she was the only woman in her class.

After obtaining her Masters in engineering, Yashmita started a company with a friend. The business was a success.

In 2007, Yashmita gave birth to her second son. She had severe postnatal depression and stepped away from the company to recover. When she returned, the business was falling apart.

“When I got back a couple of months after having the baby, all our money was gone. Millions. The business was in debt.”

But things were about to get worse.

“The very same day I found this out, my husband gets retrenched from work. There was no money to pay salaries. I sold my car to pay my people. Months passed and our savings got used up. My husband couldn’t find work. I was still too depressed. We were almost out on the street.”

Then, one day, Yashmita had a moment. She walked in the kitchen, emptied the contents of her second last tin of baked beans and started counting.

“One by one. Do you know that there’s approximately 350 beans in a tin of baked beans?”

That moment triggered a change in her mindset.

“We don’t only have one bean, we have 350 beans to eat. And my world changed. I started to think about abundance. And because I started feeling and talking about abundance, I started opening up opportunities for myself.

“It all came down to a choice, a decision. A decision to change my thoughts from lack to abundance. You know you don’t change when you fall down, you change when you decide to get back up. I decided.”

What keeps her going even when things are tough?

“My ability to help others. I have a real passion for education.”

She’s built libraries and computer labs in KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State. Through her work with the Michael and Susan Dell foundation, she’s partnered with the Department of Education to improve children’s learning in schools.

This desire to help saw her deciding to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

She was going to raise R250,000 for an orphanage and R300,000 to send three learners to university. But days before leaving for Tanzania, she discovered she was almost three months pregnant with her third child.

“I couldn’t back down. I had these kids relying on me. So, I climbed and sumitted Kili pregnant, the first woman in Africa to do so. It was a choice, a decision.”

A few months later, Yashmita welcomed her baby daughter into the world.

“We were gifted an incredible being of light. My little girl, Dhiya, was diagnosed with a heart defect and has Down Syndrome. I knew she did; I made a decision not to abort. And it was the right decision. Dhiya has brought a love to our lives that can’t be described, it’s so pure. But we’ve been lucky, her heart is almost fully healed and she is developing like any other little girl.”

After two decades in business, Yashmita has this advice:

“It doesn’t matter where you are today, you can change yourself. I want you to realise that you can reinvent yourself at any point in your life.”

Her biggest source of strength is her community of fellow women entrepreneurs.

“Throughout my journey, there is one really important lesson I’ve learnt. I didn’t do it alone. I was supported by some incredible women. Women are so powerful when we stand together. We are invincible together.

“A woman that trusts her path in this world does not need to prove that the other woman’s path is wrong. You follow your path and help others follow theirs. It will only enhance your own journey. I promise you this.You don’t have to be a ruthless man to succeed in business.”

She hopes to build a “conscious business” movement.

“Business based on compassion and values and sisterhood. It works, I’ve proven it.”

And what about her legacy?

“My legacy is not the libraries or computer labs I’ve built and will be building. It’s a legacy of choice, a legacy of having the freedom to make a decision. It’s a legacy of kindness and compassion.”

Trevor Gosling, the co-founder and CEO of Lulalend, said Yashmita’s story shows the unique challenges women in business face. But, more importantly, Yashmita’s story shows the special power of women in business.

“Studies have shown that when you empower women, you create a multiplier effect. You give them what they need to succeed and they grow and they take entire communities along with them. That’s why we are proud to back women business owners like Yashmita.”

For more stories and advice about entrepreneurship and business funding in South Africa, visit Lulalend.

How SA’s Successful Female Entrepreneurs Overcome Obstacles

South African women are cracking the glass ceiling: more than 60% of the country’s SMEs have women in leadership teams.

That’s according to the Future of Business survey, a joint research effort by Facebook, the World Bank, and the OECD. 

And that’s not the only indicator that women are making powerful contributions to the South African economy. 

Another study found 47% of SMEs are owned by women.

These are women like Mondisa Goduka, the owner of the Kids Cooking Club. Goduka’s business offers cooking and baking classes for children. But it doesn’t stop there; The Kids Cooking Club focuses on using the activity to improve the young chefs development. By creating such a compelling service, Goduka’s business grew so fast she had to turn away business until she could move into a larger premises.

Like most entrepreneurs, Goduka spotted an opportunity when others did not, and it’s the kind of foresight that will drive South Africa’s job growth. 

Trevor Gosling, CEO and co-founder of Lulalend, said 2020 is a big year for SMEs. 

“South African SMEs are the engine room of our economy. We have a lot riding on their success: the National Development Plan has set ambitious targets for SMEs, forecasting that 90 percent of new jobs will be created by “small and expanding firms.”

Yet, as much as they want to make a contribution to economic growth, entrepreneurs grapple with risk and uncertainty every day. Studies into SME sustainability show businesses close mainly because they struggle to gain access to finance and become profitable.

Still, most businesses tell us they don’t believe the future is bleak, said Gosling.

“Preliminary findings from our survey show an overwhelming vote of confidence, over 80% of businesses surveyed tell us they’re positive about the year ahead.” 

What else does it take to be a successful entrepreneur?

We’ve asked women entrepreneurs how they built thriving businesses:

  • Tell your brand story in your marketing – it will make customers (and investors) love what you do
  • Network as much as possible 
  • Define your values and let them drive your business 
  • Connect and engage with your customers; build a community around your business
  • Embrace technology
  • Never sell yourself short: you work hard. Be proud of what you have achieved
  • Pay it forward and mentor other women entrepreneurs 

For more information on how Lulalend can help you access the funding you need to grow your business visit www.lulalend.co.za