A studentpreneur offers advice to other students thinking of starting a business

Published On: 22 September 2021|

Chad Lucas (right), a third-year BCom student at Sol Plaatje University (SPU) in Kimberley, and Deputy-Chair of the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE)Studentpreneurs Community of Practice, is honest enough to admit he does not always practise his own advice precisely. 

But when he follows his five tips (below) diligently, “I am focused, I am dedicated and I’ve got what it takes,” he said.

Lucas was speaking at EDHE’s fifth Student Entrepreneurship Week (SEW). EDHE is a programme of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) being implemented in partnership with and administered by Universities South Africa (USAf). The annual SEW event, hosted by SPU in Kimberley this year, aims to raise awareness in students, of entrepreneurship as an alternative to formal employment.

Lucas’s first tip is to put religion foremost. “Spiritually align yourself,” he said, because it leads to a balance in all aspects of your life, even physically.

Then he advocates self discipline and respect. This will ensure that nobody needs to reprimand you and tell you when to get up and work; you will tell yourself that. “There will be days where you won’t be motivated. There’ll be days when you don’t want to get out of bed. But you need that discipline to say: ‘now is the time to work, now’s the time to work on my dream’,” he said.

Lucas believes in mentors. So much so, he says they work even if you don’t know them personally. Or they are deceased. If you are in tech and need a mentor, he suggests following the likes of Elon Musk of SpaceX and Tesla, or the late Steve Jobs of Apple. Look at their achievements, Google their interviews, and “learn from them; you need a mentor”, said Lucas.

He suggests developing tunnel vision to focus on the task at hand. “There will always be time to party, there’ll always be time to socialise, to have that relationship. You need to have tunnel vision, find your why, your purpose. Don’t worry about who’s doing what, or that someone posted a pic or video of themselves popping bottles in the club. Focus on that tunnel vision,” he said.

His final tip is to manage your time. He says he is often doing ‘’a million different things at once” and runs late and looks unreliable, but the aim is to allocate time to your business.

Being an entrepreneur has value

Lucas, who runs a company called Potokela Utilities that sources and distributes sanitiser and disinfectant, said he knows many students have ideas for a business but don’t know where to start, or are too afraid. He outlined why he thought it was important to be entrepreneurial.

Professor Andrew Crouch, Vice-Chancellor of SPU, had mentioned the high unemployment in the Northern Cape during his welcome address on the first day of #SEW2021. Lucas had googled it for more details and discovered that unemployment in the province stood at 46% as of June. For graduates, it was 10%. “For 100 graduates, that’s 10 unemployed people,” said Lucas. “How many families does that affect?” Entrepreneurship, starting your own enterprise, can be a solution and help people make a difference in society.

Lucas believes entrepreneurship can also lead to greater personal freedoms, as you are your own boss and so have more control of your time.

And it generates money and so helps one make a living.  

How to start a business 

Lucas said there are seven steps in how to become an entrepreneur. The first was to identify a problem that you can solve, which then becomes the core function of your business. 

One way to identify a problem was to think about one you have faced in the past. Maybe you were always losing your keys. “Why don’t you create something that helps you to keep track of where you have placed your keys? You’re creating a solution to the problem,” he said.

You don’t need to go to university or even be an entrepreneurship student, but you need to learn and read books. According to Lucas, the average CEO reads 52 books in a year, which is one a week. “Read guys, we need to educate our minds. That is our greatest asset,” he said.

His third tip is to network. Directing this comment to those physically present at #SEW2021, he advised them to talk to others there, and engage with them. And to take it a step further: “Go to government organisations, go to your bank and speak to people that are really influential”.

He said he had always told himself that he needed to align himself with certain types of people “to make it big”.  “I need a lawyer friend. I need an accountant friend. I need somebody who understands economics. I need somebody who understands marketing. I need somebody who understands business management,” he said.

He also advised testing the idea or product. “Don’t just say, ‘Oh, this is my idea I think it’s brilliant, this is going to work. Test your product, make sure it is really going to work,” he said.

The second-last tip about creating a business is to raise funds. Easier said than done, he advised approaching organisations, family members and friends.

The final step is to develop your ideas on paper. Not using a complex business plan but in a one-page shortcut version, what Dr Johann van der Spuy, Entrepreneurship Lecturer at SPU, had spoken about in a previous #SEW2021 session: the business model canvas

Jot down ideas on a one-page business model canvas

This consists of a series of blocks or columns. In the middle of your page write your value proposition, that is, the value you’re creating by solving the problem for your customers. 

Then write down the key activities related to solving this problem, and the key resources needed – an office space, an online platform? Identify the key partners you need, such as suppliers, and those you need to solve this problem and create the value.

For the cost structure section, you don’t need accounting knowledge. You just need to identify what it is going to cost to realise your solution to the problem, and your revenue streams, that is, how you are going to make money. 

Add the channels you are going to use to reach your customers. Think about how you are reaching them now, which ones work best, and which are most cost-efficient. 

Under customer relationships, consider what type of relationships each of your customer segments expects you to establish and maintain with them. Also write down which ones you have already established, how they are integrated with the rest of your business model, and how costly they are.

The target market section of your business model canvas is your customers. These are 

the most important people for your company. Is it mass market or a niche one?

About 400 participants registered for #SEW2021, which was held from 14 to 16 September 2021. 

Gillian Anstey is a contract writer for Universities South Africa