It’s all systems go as the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) three regional Entrepreneurship Intervarsity competition winners gear up for the national final later this month. And Ndabenhle Ntshangase – a final-year BCom Economics student and the co-founder of the student-centred travel business AirStudent – is polishing his pitching skills in preparation for the big day.
The AirStudent business model is centred entirely on students. The business identifies students who study outside of their home province and travel to and from campus at the start and end of each term. The start-up groups students together based on their travel similarities to capitalise on certain cost-effective commercial bulk-buying booking principles.
The Entrepreneurship Intervarsity competition aims to identify the top student entrepreneurs at South Africa’s public universities, showcase their businesses and attract investors to their enterprises. AirStudent topped the existing business – general category in the competition’s regional round in July.
Ahead of the national final, UCT News caught up with Ntshangase for more information on his business.
“Studying at UCT meant that I was always travelling between campus and home at the end of each term. This travelling cost escalates fast and gets very expensive.”
Niémah Davids (ND): Tell us about your business, and where the idea originated?
Ndabenhle Ntshangase (NN): I am from Vryheid in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), and studying at UCT meant that I was always travelling between campus and home at the end of each term. This travelling cost escalates fast and gets very expensive. I realised that I wasn’t the only one going through this process – approximately 60% of students study outside of their hometown.
I put pen to paper and came up with the idea to start AirStudent – and plug a huge gap. AirStudent’s role is to group travelling students like myself together in order to leverage on the bulk-buying principles that exist, and to provide students with more affordable travelling-fare options.
ND: How did you kick-start your business initially?
NN: My co-founder, Lwanda Shabalala, and I are both UCT students from KZN, and travelling home from campus is a reality for both of us. Coincidentally, we always travelled with other students we knew. And those who we didn’t know personally, we definitely recognised them from around campus.
One day Lwanda and I were chatting, and I just decided to create a WhatsApp group. I added a number of students I knew who travelled often interprovincially. The aim of this was to see if we’d get better bulk deals – and we did. As they say, the rest is history.
ND: How many students are currently in your network?
NN: Right now we have 300 students who use our platform religiously, and there’s always room for growth. Our group booking platform has saved students and their families thousands of rands in travel costs. As an added service, we offer travellers an extra 20 kg of luggage space, absolutely free.
We’ve also used our network and successfully added a shuttle service to our offering. A few student drivers who own cars have signed up to transport our travellers from campus to the airport and vice versa. This is a great opportunity for cash-strapped students to earn a bit of extra cash. (Students who would like to be part of our driver network can apply online.)
ND: Has AirStudent collaborated with travel-industry partners to help streamline its service offering?
NN: The same way it takes a village to raise a child, I am a firm believer that it takes a village to grow a business too. And our village has stepped up for us. AirStudent has established a partnership with Comair (British Airways and Kulula), which allows us to get affordable flight prices, as well as the 20 kg free luggage. When COVID-19 hit our shores and Comair was negatively affected, they assisted us to build a solid partnership with FlyMango in order for our business to continue servicing students.
“We’ve also recently collaborated with Greyhound bus service to cater for those students who prefer to travel by bus.”
We’ve also recently collaborated with Greyhound bus service to cater for those students who prefer to travel by bus. Working with these leading industry partners is testament to our growth, and we could not be happier.
ND: What would you like to achieve with AirStudent?
NN: Our aim is to build smart, comprehensive, empowering end-to-end networks, and to use our platform to give students the opportunity to move forward. Inter-provincial travelling is very expensive; our aim is to trim that cost significantly.
Moreover, we want to create as many jobs as we can. With the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment in the country has taken a further knock. It’s naive of us to think that AirStudent will be able to hire all those unemployed youth, but all we want to do is contribute to boosting employment figures, and a start-up like ours is the best way to [get going].
With programmes like our driver network programme, and other affiliation programmes in the pipeline, we hope to give students the tools they need to empower themselves. We want to give our peers wings to fly.
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