BCom management student Bianca Hansen almost faced academic exclusion in her first year of study, but she persevered. Three years later, she now runs two successful businesses.
After matriculating in 2010, Hansen was excited to leave home and explore the world. She spent her December holiday completing a TEFL course to teach English abroad. Soon after, she found a Swiss family who hired her to teach their three-year-old son to speak English.
“Europe, in general, is beautiful. However, things just seem to work too well … like clockwork. People understand English; transportation is efficient; life was too easy,” she says.
Europe became too familiar and, looking for a new challenge, she moved to Turkey.
“I moved to Istanbul and was really faced with all the challenges and barriers I had imagined would come with a country with a culture so different to what I was used to,” she says.
The move sparked her interest in entrepreneurship. While chatting to a friend who enjoyed baking, they started planning to open a bakery, a catering service and a café.
“Oh it excited me so much! Such a fire started inside of me. I wanted more than to design brands, or just manage a business; I wanted to do both – build an idea from the ground up. I was thrilled at the prospect of using this newly learnt word, 'entrepreneur', and connecting it to my future,” says Hansen.
Learning the ropes
Having no business background, she did some research and decided that UCT would be the best place to equip herself with the necessary skills to make this dream a reality. But Hansen admits that her first year was a challenge.
“I was shell-shocked to say the least, and ended up failing most of the year. It wasn't first-year syndrome, it was that my brain had been out of action for two years,” she explains.
Going into a business degree without having done any business subjects at school pushed Hansen out of her comfort zone. She was almost academically excluded, but she prevailed and will graduate in December this year with a BCom management degree in marketing.
She says that her life experiences at UCT have shaped her and helped her grow as a social entrepreneur. Her first experience of social entrepreneurship was when she took part in Socionext, a social innovation challenge run through the UCT Entrepreneurs Society.
“That was my first exposure to starting a business, and where my love for inclusive innovation began,” says Hansen.
Her Socionext experience sparked her business idea for ReplicART, which also won that year's challenge. ReplicART is a mobile art gallery that brings famous works of art to schools in the form of an exhibition. An interactive presentation and art activity then takes place for learners to participate in.
“Being an entrepreneur and a student has meant that I've been able to directly apply what I've learnt in the real world,” says Hansen.
Understanding sustainable entrepreneurship
In 2015 Hansen entered ReplicART into the first UCT Upstarts. She joined quite late in the year, which was allowed only because ReplicART was already an established business.
“It was a huge success and really opened my eyes to the goodness that so many people possess, and the difference people are willing to help you make,” says Hansen.
She says that Upstarts has assisted her in understanding sustainable entrepreneurship.
“I learnt the importance of the responsibility that all people have to their communities, to do what is possible to help other people who have [had] restricted opportunit[ies] to reach their full potential, while enabling my idea or innovation to come into light,” she says.
She rejoined Upstarts again this year with Lebo Notoane on her team. Their concept, FeedBack, aims to create an evaluation and professional development platform for teachers.
“Teachers are the face of learning for most learners in the world, and most South African teachers struggle with a lack of motivation, content knowledge and support,” explains Hansen.
FeedBack is an accountability reward system that encourages teachers to improve professionally while catering to their individual capabilities and needs. The team plans to do this by assessing collected data to work out the individual teacher's strengths and weaknesses.
“We've named our concept FeedBack because we feed off information and data collected by learners, teachers and external teachers, and we give it back in the form of professional development advice and guidance,” explains Hansen.
The process has taught Hansen to be open to different approaches to concept development and teamwork.
“What is sleep? I am busy 24/7 and my brain never stops working,” she chuckles. “My academic marks are not dean's list worthy, but I couldn't imagine only studying.”
'I'm going to be unstoppable'
Afrigarde is a range of wearable art pieces in handmade felt that was inspired by Ndebele culture.
“Afrigarde was a four-month-old business when I joined forces with my now partner Maria Uys,” says Hansen. “What attracted me to it is that it's a creative enterprise with a mission to educate, skill and employ women.”
To date they have trained four and employed three women to handcraft the wearable felt art. The duo have recently obtained their export license and have started exporting to Italy, Turkey and Kenya.
“We're trying to crack into Australia. We've had a lot of interest in the global market, and I'm excited to be the one who takes our brand to different countries with trade shows,” says Hansen.
Hansen attributes her success to her mother, “a fiercely strong woman who has always worked incredibly hard.”
Going forward, she hopes to pass her last four courses for the year.
“Once I graduate, though, I'm going to be unstoppable. Many of my friends have said I'm somewhat of a hustler; not in a bad way,” she chuckles.
Learn to make mistakes
Hansen advises students and aspiring entrepreneurs to look on notice boards, attend presentations, visit the Careers Service often and join the Entrepreneurs Society.
“Do not be afraid of making mistakes. Take advantage of the wonderful opportunities presented to students, especially at UCT.
She concludes: “Being at university means that you're able to expand your knowledge of the world and the problems we face. These problems need to be solved right? Right. Entrepreneur, meet problem. Problem, meet solution.”
Story Chido Mbambe. Photo Michael Hammond.
Watch a Top Billing feature video that shows how the women make the Afrigarde pieces:
Shining the spotlight on the women behind Afrigarde
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