Entrepreneur Helps South Africans Eat Better

TechnoServe’s South African business plan competition has helped Sindi Mbambo jump-start a fresh and frozen foods business which supplies the market with healthy food options.

While working in an office job in Pretoria, South Africa, Sindi Mbambo recognized an opportunity to help her community live a healthier lifestyle. Sindi noticed her colleagues were too busy or too sick to prepare nutritious food, and were settling instead for quick, insalubrious meals. So she started peeling vegetables by hand at night and selling them to her coworkers and neighbors in the morning.

“It started as an idea to help people be healthier and eat better,” she says. “I would do it after work and started to love it more and more.”

Two years after beginning her venture, Sindi began building a new customer base for Owethu Products and Projects in her hometown of Pietermaritzburg. By 2008, she wanted to compete with the leading frozen food manufacturers in South Africa, but needed assistance. So Sindi entered her idea in Believe Begin Become, a national business plan competition (BPC) organized by TechnoServe/South Africa with support from Standard Bank.

Throughout the BPC process, business mentors enabled Sindi to refine and implement her business plan. They also plugged her into a wider BBB network of entrepreneurs and financial institutions.

Sindi went on to become one of 20 winners, entitling Owethu to vouchers for business development services and entry into a one-year aftercare program. With support from TechnoServe advisors, she signed vegetable supply contracts with Boxer Supermarkets in Pietermaritzburg and Ixopo. Her company was also able to secure more than $120,000 in loans and seed capital. The much-needed financing helped Owethu grow – taking on more employees and clients – and diversify.

“The cash that I got helped me to upgrade all of my processes, to use better programs for accounting and to buy equipment,” she says. “Before, some of the things were done manually, but then I got some machines to help me push the volume.”

Having graduated from the BBB aftercare program, Sindi now sustains the success of Owethu independently. The business is grossing nearly $20,000 per month, and Sindi is using her profits to reinvest in infrastructure and workforce.

Operating in a certified-sanitary facility, the Owethu staff peels and packs fresh vegetables for sale to supermarkets, restaurants and other customers. Sindi sources her produce from a network of suppliers comprising vendors at the market, farmer cooperatives and small independent growers.

Aside from the traditional Owethu offerings, Sindi has begun marketing a new line of potato-based products. Two recently released items include hash-browns – made from potatoes that would otherwise be thrown out – and potato pops, which Sindi describes as being like chicken nuggets but with potatoes.

Owethu’s enhanced production capacity has also allowed the business to branch out into selling soup mixes, rice and frozen vegetables.

Even with her mounting accomplishments, Sindi stays true to her original vision. She continues to donate vegetable soups to schools in the surrounding rural areas, “where they are very, very poor.”

“In South Africa,” she says, “there’s no education, there’s no employment. If my business grows, I will be able to hire more people, to feed more families around the community.”