Africa is the global leader in women entrepreneurship. According to The World Bank, 50% of all enterprises in Africa are owned by women and 25% of African women have grown businesses from the ground up – the highest rate globally.

The growing community of women entrepreneurs has been described by the Organisation for Economic
Cooperation and Development (OECD) as ‘one of the most significant economic and social developments
in the world’. It is estimated that women entrepreneurs account for approximately one quarter to a third of
all business in the global economy.

The number of women entrepreneurs has grown significantly in rec ent years, breaking down barriers and
entering previously male-dominated sectors, such as manufacturi ng and construction.

Three sectors with growth and value-adding potential have been identified by the SME Growth Index: business services, tourism and manufacturing. We also look at what is happening in construction and

Business Support Services and Consulting

The Business Support Services (BSS) sector provides a multitude of diverse opportunities for entrepreneurial endeavours.

Renee Kebble: Founder & MD, SA Commercial
Founder and managing director of award-winning SA Commercial, Renee Keeble is a leader in the BSS industry. SA Commercial is an outsource contact centre and business processing operation founded in 2007. The company focuses on improving customer experience by means of strong customer engagement programmes, including back-office processing and telephony capabilities. Keeble started the company with her personal savings, and within six months, the company expanded significantly, and was awarded the accolade of ‘Best Outsource Contact Centre’ in 2013.

Yashmita Bhana: Managing Director, Nihka Consulting
“Work-life design” is how businesswoman Yashmita Bhana describes what it takes to be a successful business woman and mother to three children. Nihka Consulting manages projects in excess of R300-million in a highly complex environment, making work-life design an everyday reality for Bhana. Nihka Consulting was founded as a Black Women-Owned (BWO) enterprise. The company provides focused business improvement strategies through customised services and multifaceted expertise and is recognised as a leading ICT solutions, business-consulting firm in South Africa.


According to one of StatsSA’s Quarterly Labour Force surveys, women-owned enterprises are burgeoning in the tourism sector. “We’re seeing a growing number of entrepreneurs, a large proportion of them women, attracted to the industry – it is a vibrant and exciting field to work in”, says Laura Vercueil, PR and communications manager at Johannesburg Tourism Company.

Julie-May Ellingson: CEO, CTICC
Head-hunted by the Cape Town International Convention Centre, Ellingson joined the team in September 2014 as CEO, where she is currently heading up the CTICC’s expansion project. With over 20 years’ experience, she serves on the boards of Cape Town Tourism and the International Association of Convention Centres (AIPC).

In her previous role as head of Durban’s strategic projects unit, Ellingson successfully transformed Durban’s International Convention Centre into a profitable business. She spearheaded the construction for the Moses Mabhida Stadium and the Durban beachfront, which was done within budget and on time.

Mariette du Toit-Helmbold: Former award-winning CEO of Cape Town Tourism & founder of Destinate
Mariëtte du Toit-Helmbold was the CEO of Cape Town Tourism for approximately 10 years, and has 18 years’ practical experience in the tourism and marketing industry. Under her leadership, Cape Town Tourism won a number of awards, including an acclaim as a Destination Marketing Organisation, and was recognised by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation for its ‘world best-practice tourism organisational model and innovative initiatives in destination marketing’.

Today, Du Toit-Helmbold heads up Destinate – a specialised destination and marketing agency. She is regarded as an international destination marketing and tourism thought leader and is regularly invited to speak on topics such as responsible tourism, destination marketing, digital strategy and brand innovation. Her passion lies with helping other companies and brands across the globe to pursue people-centred tourism by analysing market trends, toursim dynamics and consumer trends.


The manufacturing sector continues to be a male-dominated industry. It contributes approximately 12% to South Africa’s GDP and creates in the region of 1.6-million jobs, and approximately one-third (34%) of the employees in the sector are women. According to the executive director for the Manufacturing Circle, Philippa Rodseth at the first Women in Manufacturing, Textiles and Leather Conference held in Johannesburg, it is imperative to ensure the growth of the numbers of women in this industry: “Women should be in the manufacturing sector, because we are good at multi-tasking. We are resilient and have tenacity”.

Mayleen Kayster: Managing Director, RSC Avelo
RSC Avelo, established in 2015, is South Africa’s first and only black women- and youth-owned steel manufacturer. The company supplies steel civil, building and construction projects. “We are a young business, and we have done well. We moved from exempted micro-enterprise, a business with a turnover of below R10-million, to qualifying small enterprise, an entity with a turnover less than R50-million, within a year of our existence”, Kyster said. “This was because while the company operated in a depressed market, it was involved in various projects including projects in the renewable energy space.” The company is 54% black women-owned and 34% black youth-owned.

Susan ‘Santie’ Botha: Director, Tiger Brands Limited & Imperial Holdings
Regarded as one of Africa’s wealthiest women, Susan ‘Santie’ Botha has done it all. She’s the chairperson of Curro and Famous Brands and serves on the boards of Telkom and as independent non-executive director of Tiger Brands and Imperial Holdings Limited. She first rose to prominence when, at the age of 34, she became Absa’s youngest ever board member. She was also South Africa’s youngest ever university chancellor when, at 48, she headed up the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.


There are major opportunities for women in the male-dominated construction industry – despite the increase in numbers of women being employed in the sector, they still account for only 10% of the workforce.

Theresa Cupido: CEO, ATN Group
Theresa Cupido is an entrepreneur operating within the road construction industry. Founded in 2006, Cupido is the owner and CEO of a road marking and civil engineering company, ATN Group. Last year, she won the Sanlam/Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the Job Creator of the Year category. The award is given to enterprises that not only employ a significant number of people, but also those that play a key role in uplifting, up-skilling and training people.

Thandi Ndlovu: CEO, Motheo Construction Group
Thandi Ndlovu is a real African success story. Forced to abandon her BSc degree as a result of oppression, she spent several years in training within the ranks of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) – the ANC’s miliary wing – and later became senior political commissioner and medical officer. Upon her return from exile, she ran a private medical practice and delivered medical services to a population of 200 000 people in informal settlements. In 2007 she established Motheo Construction – one of South Africa’s leading black female-owned construction companies and leading provider of social housing in the country. Ndlovu is the 2013 winner of the Business Women of the Year Award, and, apart from reaching pinnacles in her career, she’s also summited the highest peak in Africa – Mount Kilimanjaro.


Kurisani Maswanganyi: Founder & Managing Director, Kulani EC Group
Kurisani Maswanganyi is the founder and managing director of Kulani EC Group. She started the company with the vision of supporting and driving the South African economy by means of impactful, home-grown engineering projects. Maswanganyi founded the company without any seed capital, and yet has succeeded in forming lucrative partnerships with international firms, local government departments, and state-owned entities.

For a woman at the helm of a company in a sector that is male-dominated is not without its challenges. That is why one of her goals is to create an environment where women can develop and grow their technical skills.

“Confidence comes with time. As a leader I spend a lot of time encouraging young female engineering graduates who are intimidated and undermined by older male peers. Many of these people are clients so you need to learn to deal with them gently but effectively, keeping both your sense of self-worth and your client relationship intact. It’s tough, but then this business is tough, and you learn in time to overcome these challenges.”

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