Thank you for the opportunity, for the trust and the advice

Strawberry Mphore | Littleones Academy

As the ENGEN Pitch & Polish programme celebrates its tenth anniversary, the project is looking back at some of the amazing success stories to come out of the competition. Here, Strawberry Mphore, a finalist in 2015 and owner of Litteones Academy, shares her experiences of ENGEN Pitch & Polish and her entrepreneurial journey so far.

I grew up in Jouberton, close to Klerksdorp in the North West Province. After school I studied film and television production and events management, but the whole idea of running a day care centre has been a lifelong passion. I even had an after-school set up when I was just 13 so I always knew I would open a formal one someday.

Littleones Academy started in 2015 with 15 children and we are now up to over 84 and don’t have the space currently to accommodate more. We take kids from as young as four months to six years old, and offer Grades R to 3 classes. The academy is open from 06:30 to 16:00, and we feed our children two meals a day – breakfast and lunch. We offer an aftercare programme to kids from other schools and run many recreational activities for them. We even offer boarding for children over weekends. We also offer academic programmes from other countries via computer.

One of my biggest challenges when starting out was finding the right place. I ended up in my sister’s old house after she got married and moved in with her husband. I have bought some land and am busy raising the funds to build a new and bigger facility.

I heard about ENGEN Pitch & Polish through a friend at the business chamber. When he found out the programme was coming to Klerksdorp, he called me first. The experience was beautiful. I made it to the semi-finals in Johannesburg and it was the first time I slept in a hotel. I felt so important. Something that has never left my mind are all the motivational quotations that are stuck up in the bathrooms at Raizcorp’s head office. (You are at your most vulnerable when using the bathroom and those quotes really got to me.)

I have applied a lot of what ENGEN Pitch & Polish taught me. I learned that it doesn’t matter how small your enterprise is, you can learn from other businesses and apply that knowledge. I was able to learn which arguments are worth having – with customers and employees. I am able to manage my employees so much better now. Over time, I have learned to separate my emotions from my business. I have learned the hard way that you need to be accommodating and bend over backwards if that is what it takes. I also now manage my money a lot better and value it more. I still talk about the competition on a daily basis.

Since the competition, I have hired more people and have even had enquiries about franchising Littleones Academy. In fact, there are people from town who bring their children to my centre in the township.

My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to trust yourself – trust your instincts regarding what you want to build. You may think you are small at first but you are just as necessary as other businesses (I take care of kids so that people can go out to work). If there is a need in your community, go for it and give it your all.

I would like to say a big thank you to Engen, Nedbank and Raizcorp for opening my eyes, for the opportunity, for the trust and the advice. After winning the first round of the competition, the judge from Engen told me to sell from my heart and that I would make it … and I have.