Emerging entrepreneur

June 27th, 2011, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

by Hans van de Groenendaal, EngineerIT

In this new feature of EngineerIT we aim to explore what it takes to be an emerging entrepreneur. We will interview young people, generally from a challenging background, who are making a name for themselves in the business world. In this issue we meet Collen Mashawana, CEO of Khwinisa, and entrepreneur extraordinaire. 

At the age of 29 Collen Mashawana owns a number of companies, ranging from construction to IT.

He started his schooling in a typical township school in Venda, where he was born and grew up. As a young boy, he realised that to get somewhere in life he would need to get a good basic education. He explored opportunities to attend a high school that would provide him with the education he believed would prepare him for his future, and was accepted at the Liivha private school in Thohoyandou, Limpopo from where he matriculated.

Collen’s mother, a single parent, worked at a local hotel to keep Collen at the school and to take care of his two siblings. “One of the things I enjoyed most at Liivha was the multi-cultural environment, and the opportunity to interact with people from other cultural backgrounds. I believe that what I experienced and learned at Liivha was a major contributor to my success. My mother’s sacrifices were not in vain and I am happy that I am now able to provide her with a better and comfortable life-style.”

Collen developed an early passion for computers, so what to do after matriculating was an easy decision: he studied and graduated with a diploma in IT. During his tertiary studies, his mother continued to support him. This was was not easy as she could not afford to pay all his expenses, on her bar-lady salary from the hotel. “I had to find a way to pay for accommodation, food and transport, so I took a part-time job as a salesperson at a Levi store in Johannesburg to supplement the little my mother was able to afford.”

After graduating, Collen began his career at a Microsoft SA call centre, where he learned the soft skills of communication. He became the team leader at the Microsoft partner Business Desk, a department that dealt with managing relationships with Microsoft partners. Collen has an inborn entrepreneurial passion for business – at age 22 he had already started several ventures, including two car washes, a cleaning service company and a restaurant, to mention only some, in Sandton. These he ran in parallel with his IT career, thus empowering others to run the businesses under his eagle eye, and with the assistance of his brother.

He joined Dimension Data in 2005 as senior account executive (customer advocate) responsible for local government business and the South African Local Government Association (SALGA). In 2008, while with Dimension Data, he received the Esprit du Corp Award for “the best person representing the organisation‘s culture and vision.” In the same year, he was appointed public sector executive at Internet Solutions, a division of Dimension Data. This enabled him to contribute his experience in IT and wealth of knowledge in public sector operations. He was promoted to director level within the organisation and held the position of National Public Sector director for South Africa, making him the youngest director ever in the organisation. In this position he built strong relationships with all spheres of the government, devoting a lot of time to understanding government’s service delivery mandate. This resulted in a more strategically-focused approach of aligning his business interests and ideas to build his own business empire with different organisations, focusing on working with government.

Collen is now a shareholder and CEO of Khwinisa. In this role, he still focuses on assisting government to meet its service delivery promises by providing IT tools, systems and services.

He is also a shareholder, non-executive director and board member of various other organisations – in industries such as property investments, construction (general building), road construction, civil engineering and tourism, amongst others.

Aside from his businesses, Collen is committed to corporate social investment by giving back to the underprivileged, and has been involved in many programmes that aim to empower others. He has recently invested substantially in a local empowerment magazine called Loocha. This is an inspirational youth publication that prides itself on providing relevant content with the objective of being informative, educational, inspirational, entertaining, interactive and empowering. Among the magazine’s primary objectives is to provide access to information relating to government and industry programmes and opportunities available to the youth.

The selection of persons interviewed will be driven by you, our readers. We invite you to put forward names of young emerging entrepreneurs, together with a short motivation, to: hans.vandegroenendaal@ee.co.za