Fidzani Nduna – Balancing Societal Needs With Profit

Not getting a job is not the end of life. It is possible to create jobs by starting a business, believes co-founder and executive director of the South African School of Practical Skills Trading (SASOPSBIZ), Fidzani Nduna.

This inspiring, patient and approachable business leader and mentor is passionate about nurturing businesses so that they can not only tackle the many challenges they face but also grow within a highly competitive environment.

He joined up with business partner & co-founder, Pumla Vilakazi, to create the South African School of Practical Skills Trading (SASOPSBIZ) and the SASOPSBIZ Foundation in 2017/18.

Nduna explains that SASOPSBIZ is socio-entrepreneurial in that it assists small businesses across a variety of different industries whilst also generating its own revenue. As a business incubator, it provides office space, business advisory services and training.

“Our business centre occupies more than 700 square meters and has capacity for more than 20 Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) in closed offices and open space. Our office space is flexible and comes with basic services such as reception, administration and unlimited, fast Wi-Fi,” he says.

SASOPSBIZ’s business advisory services assist SMMEs to not only access finance and markets but also write feasibility and business plans and tackle financial statements and management accounts, valuations, business proposals, deal structuring and more.

The SASOPS Academy offers accredited and short courses which are credited by the Services Seta (New Venture Creation), FP&M Seta and Local Government Seta.

Nduna’s varied career and 30 years of working experience have provided the understanding or complex business dynamics that are essential to succeeding in the business incubation space.

He was born in the small rural area of Plumtree in the western part of Zimbabwe. “I used to walk seven kilometres one way to school. Education for a Black rural boy during the early seventies under the Smith regime was a secondary part of our lives. What was important was looking after my father’s livestock and working in the fields with my mother, he recalls.

Without modern-day luxuries like career guidance, Nduna didn’t have a clue where he’d end up. At Mzingwane High school, one of the best African High Schools in Matabeleland, he completed his Advanced Level Cambridge Certificate, specializing in maths, physics and biology.

With a passion for science, he wanted to be an electrical engineer but he wasn’t accepted into Zimbabwe’s only university in 1983 and, instead, began studying towards a Diploma in Diagnostic Radiography, graduating from the Mpilo School of Radiography in 1986.

Whilst working as a radiographer, he completed a diploma in Electronics Engineering with the Electronics Institute of South Africa. In 1992, he moved to Pietermaritzburg where he worked as a senior radiographer at Edendale Hospital. having worked his way up to chief radiographer in charge of diagnostic sonography, he left the hospital in 2000.

During his time at Edendale, his thirst for knowledge continued and he added a BComm majoring in Accounting and Business management to his CV in 2000.

Nduna joined the Office of the Auditor General in 2000 as a trainee accountant, completing his articles in 2003. In 2004, he joined UKZN as a research finance manager. here, he was given the mandate to establish a new public entity to deal with the commercialization of Intellectual Property in Plant Biotechnology.

“This is what stimulated my passion in governance and establishment of new entities. In 2004, I was appointed CFO of this organization (PlantBio), and subsequently became CFO of the Technology Innovation Agency, KZN Agribusiness Development Agency and, finally, Tourism KZN,” he continues.

As CFO of these entities, he chaired the bid adjudication committees. But it pained him to see most government bids being won by big companies. Instead of raising the standards, government regulations restricted SMMEs from securing bids via the so-called set-asides and some sections of the Procurement Regulations 2017.

Nduna does not believe that these assist small businesses. Instead, what should be evolving businesses remain stagnant.

“What needs to be done is to genuinely raise the standards of SMMEs so that they compete successfully for markets and finance,” he advises.

This sparked the idea for a business incubator and premises where SMMEs could share resources.

“Whilst working, I used to travel to Pretoria once or twice a week. Because I did not have an office there, I used the Innovation Hub Business Incubator which was far more efficient and cost effective than establishing my own office which would have been empty most of the time,” he shares.

He also had firsthand experience of how the technology stations model worked and realized that if this was effective for tech-based businesses, it could also work on the other side of the track.

Today, SASOPSBIZ’s target market is public and private companies that fund SMMEs. These include SEDA, SEFA, and Government Departments. SMMEs themselves remain a second target market as they struggle to pay for SASOPSBIZ services.

“We identify leads in the government and private sector and help write both solicited and unsolicited proposals. Once contracts are signed, we allocate the project to the person with the requisite skill. All of our work is peer-reviewed for quality control purposes. We also do partnerships. Our main role here is as implementing agents,” he says.

Nduna believes that competitors in this arena are essentially landlords and business consultants. What sets SASOPSBIZ apart on the property side of the business is that it doesn’t just offer office space, but creates a commercial environment that comes with administration, cleaning, Wi-Fi and the advantage of working alongside other small businesses.

Although he is proud to see companies grow and move out of the incubation environment, he also realises that SASOPSBIZ still has a long way to go. He’d like to move beyond Durban and Pietermaritzburg and establish more branches in major KZN cities within the next five years.

In ten years’ time, he’d like to establish branches in other provinces, starting with the Eastern Cape and then Mpumalanga.

Nduna is a married and dedicated family man with two adult children. He deals with stress through exercising and spends hours playing table tennis, jogging and doing aerobics. An addict to current affairs, he watches the news regularly.

His motto in life is:

“Always exercise balanced judgement in everything you do. You may dislike some people’s actions, but never dislike the persons themselves.”

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