Conversations with a Founder: Olwam Mnqwazi

Conversations with a Founder: Olwam Mnqwazi

We’re continuing with our interview series. The fourth week of every month we’ll feature an interview with a different startup founder to give you all a peak into their lives, inspiration, and routines.

Today we’re featuring the Managing Director of Black Hat Leadership Academy, Mr. Olwam Mnqwazi.

StartupGuy: Welcome Olwam, it’s great to have you here. Can you give us a brief background of who you are and what your company does…
Black Hat Leadership Academy is a Leadership Development Company that also engages in Research, Writing, Consultancy and Events. Our core mandate is to produce transformative leaders who contribute to addressing inequality, informs policy and influences positive social change. The different functions of the academy are complementary to each other for leadership development, necessary for the 21st century leaders.

StartupGuy: What services do you offer at Black Hat Leadership Academy?
Some of the services that we provide include the following: Leadership Training, Ethical and Accountable Leadership, Leadership Materials Development, Strategic Planning Workshops, Team Building Exercises, Communication Skills, Presentation Skills Writing Skills, Report Writing Skills, Community Development Strategies, Organisational Skills Development, Student Leadership Training and Support, Student Support Services.

Our Research and Writing unit can help with Proposal Writing, Company profiles, Youth Development (Empowerment, Career and Talent Management), Policy Development and Reviews, Market Research, Academic Research Seminars, Data collections and field work.

StartupGuy: Where did it all start? What sparked your interest to become an entrepreneur?
I have been involved in leadership for 14 years and felt that I could contribute the lessons that I have learnt over this period in this discourse. I knew that as an individual, I had secured a good paying jobs and could feed my family without having to worry about basic needs of life, but these would not be enjoyed in peace if we still see our friends and neighbors struggling to get by. I had to look at myself as a potential employer as opposed to going from job to job hoping that I will one day be a wealthy person. So I did not really thought about entrepreneurship per se, I thought about jobs and I looked at what I have to contribute. Admittedly, I also felt that I could make my monthly salary within 3 working days if I started a business.

StartupGuy: Impressive. It really does look like you have accumulated some years of experience. How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
I have always wanted to start an academy or a school. Previously I established Fundisa Primary Fund, an NPO that raised funds to assist primary school learners with school fees, career talks, academic awards and Saturday classes. I trained student leaders and helped TVET Colleges with their Student Support needs as well. I have also been part of other non-profit organisations, social movements, youth & Student activism as well as many other activities that were not solving the youth unemployment challenge that we are faced with as a country.

As part of the current debates around decolonization, we wanted to add our voice through the leadership development space because most of leadership material that is used at higher institutions is still very Eurocentric. These gave birth to this idea of starting a leadership development academy which we want to grow to be an accredited institution where all leaders aspire to enroll at. We want an academy that recognizes the knowledge and wisdom of the African people which can be used in running and developing businesses and any other space where people function.

StartupGuy: Wow! What was your mission at the outset?
Our mission was to flag our these leadership principles that emanate from an African perspective, collate them into a workbook and courses that can be used to develop leaders without feeling that they needed to be the ‘other’ in order to be the best leaders they can be.

StartupGuy: When did you “charter” the business?
October 2016

StartupGuy: How do you advertise your business?
I have used direct emails, social media and word of mouth.

StartupGuy: Do you use the services of a professional accountant or attorney?
Not at the moment but I do have an internal accountant and we are looking for legal support from a local firm.

StartupGuy: Have you ever used any Coworking Spaces?We have used The Athenaeum Art Gallery and have made use of the local University and the libraries to do our work.

StartupGuy: What made you choose your current location for your business?
I stay here.

StartupGuy: What’s your company’s goals?
To develop a Leadership Manual for beginners, accredited course for small team and entrepreneus as well as managers.

StartupGuy: What made you choose this type of business?
I know something that I want to share.

StartupGuy: How did you make your first sale?
A university campus needed some strategic documents developed and we were ready to report for duty.

StartupGuy: Have you ever turned down a client?
We have not had need to do that so far.

StartupGuy: How did you get credibility?
We are still working on credibility. It takes time but we are here to stay.

StartupGuy: How did you develop key partnerships?
We are still working on these partnerships. We can’t count any key partnerships at the moment but there are promising leads.

StartupGuy: How did you get funded or what creative strategies did you use to execute on minimal cash flow?
We run prefects trainings, develop school policies and do consultation work to raise funds.

StartupGuy: What assistance do you need for your startup?
We need capital injection to rent office space and to sustain the company through off-peak seasons. We also need credible companies that can help us to finish our accreditation processes with the SETAs.

StartupGuy: Have you ever approached any Public Institutions (Government Agencies) for assistance? Have any of them been helpful?
We have been assisted by NYDA, SEDA and ECDC with some of the vouchers to establish a company. These have been helpful.

StartupGuy: To what do you attribute your success? What are the habits that helped make you successful?
We would not say that we are successful at all. We have not started yet. We are approaching one year of existence but the future has lots of promises for us. The habits we need to keep up is to keep waking up every morning and grind.

StartupGuy: How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
We are putting a lot of research into what we do. We are training people on the basis of their needs. We take time and study the needs of the clients and provide relevant support.

StartupGuy: What would you have done differently?
We understand that things take time to grow. We are aware that Rome was not built in a single day and that we are still young enough to learn as we go.

StartupGuy: How can you minimize the unknowns?
We minimize the unknowns by seeking counsel from those who have gone before us in the world of business. We speak to other small business owners and managers to test our ideas. This helps to navigate around some of the challenges.

StartupGuy: If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
Start early and persevere.

That’s it folks! Thanks for sharing your inspiration with us, Olwam. All the best with your startup endeavors.

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