When Ms Mashoto Mphahlele (left), final year media studies student at the University of Limpopo, walked onto stage to present her thriving cosmetics business, she was shaking so badly she couldn’t breathe.
But the Programme Director and National Coordinator of the EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity 2021, Ms Linda Lindani, eased her out of her nerves. Mphahlele, founder of Mash Organics, which makes 100% handmade organic skin and hair care products, stood head and shoulders over the other entrants.
Explaining that her company specialises in African black soap and unrefined shea butter products — known to treat skin and hair problems like acne, hyperpigmentation, and hair loss, won her the R20 000 prize. It was no mean feat considering that 18 of the 26 South African public universities this year submitted a record 4000 entries that were whittled down to 150 at regional level, leaving just 28 finalists.
A total of 16 of the 28 were women, and Mashoto was one of the five (out of six categories) winning women who swept the boards clean. The entrepreneur from GaMphahlele, who was raised by a single mother, described her business.
Raw materials: tree bark and leaves
“Mash Organics is just that: organic. Interestingly, our raw materials come from leaves and the bark of various trees and plants. Our products are suitable for all skin types and gentle enough to be used even on baby’s skin.”
Mash Organics is a registered, compliant company, approved by the Allergy Foundation of South Africa (AFSA). Mphahlele further narrated: “With help from both the National Youth Development Agency and Small Enterprise Development Agency we received the necessary resources to have our products tested. This was done to ensure that they meet all health and safety requirements.”
A snapshot of their products features shea butters and soaps in different sizes: 135g soap costs R50; 200g soap costs R100. Our shea butters: 50g shea butter costs R50, 125g costs R75 and 250g costs R150. “We also have a R100 combo pack.”
She says they make money by adding a mark-up on their production costs.
Mash Organics recently appointed four sales representatives in Johannesburg and Limpopo. She said their products are now available at Ladies Delight stores.
“We market our products using social media, print media, word of mouth and digital media.
“Our products are completely eco-friendly and are not tested on animals. According to Global Consumer (a market testing and positioning tool) the demand for organic skincare products has increased by 20%. Also, demand is expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 5% in the next 10 years. More people are conscious of what they put on their skin and the demand for natural products that are proven to do no harm, is high. The increase in demand creates room for growth in our business,” she said.
She said the R20 000 she won would be put to use in the business. “I definitely need start-up capital. I started my business in 2019 with the allowance I got from home. It wasn’t easy, but with persistence and discipline I’ve managed to make it this far. Emotionally it has been an interesting journey of ups and downs but the support we got from the university (of Limpopo) student entrepreneur coordinators has been helpful.”
Shop where you live
Mphahlele said she was aware of just how much buying power there is in the townships. That explained why so many corporate businesses – like Shoprite Usave – chose to start businesses in townships and villages. “I believe it is important for our people – those who live in townships and small villages – to spend where they live for small businesses to grow.”
She added that consumer engagement was also important. “You have to engage with people in your area to give them an idea of what your products and specialties are. That way you build trust, and it gives your ‘neighbours’ a reason to buy your product.”
The media student-turned beautician said her entrepreneurial journey had not been a rollercoaster ride. “As everyone knows, entrepreneurship is not easy. One day it can be amazing and the next day it might be the opposite, but I believe in what I am doing so I learn to take it one day at a time, to be flexible and learn to deal with different challenges.”
She said that she has learnt to open herself up to the possibility of not knowing. “That way I get to learn from other young entrepreneurs in the ecosystem.”
This is how she summed up the Intervarsity experience: “Oh man, the journey with Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education has been intellectually rewarding, from internal rounds to getting up on that stage to accept the award, and the R20 000 cheque.”
Charmain Naidoo is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.