Theo Baloyi is one of the finalists in the 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS, in the Emerging Business Category.
With a bold vision to build an African-centric footwear brand that can compete with big names on a global scale, Baloyi is the entrepreneur behind the inspiring township success story of Bathu Swag. From a room in Alexandra Township, Bathu (which is township slang for “shoes”) has grown into a successful business that employs 36 permanent staff, occupies four retail stores and has a thriving e-commerce site.
“South Africa is a very diverse country with 11 official languages and multiple cultures, but across any local township, you don’t have to speak a specific language to understand what ‘Bathu’ means. Bathu has a true South African sense of meaning within township history and it is commonly used across all 11 languages; it’s the word that unifies all cultures and backgrounds,” says Baloyi on the brand name.
An Accountant by profession, Baloyi worked for PwC for 5 years before creating and launching the sneaker brand that is like no other. “Our flagship design mesh edition is a sneaker manufactured 100% out of mesh material. While most sneaker brands use mesh material as a component of the shoe, Bathu manufactures fully mesh edition sneakers, with the idea to create a sneaker that blows air onto your feet as you walk, while showing off your colourful socks.”
On a deeper level, however, Baloyi’s vision is to build a business that will empower his community by creating sustainable jobs, and give hope to the youth. “I would drive back home in Alexandra and always see unemployed youth. I want to personally be part of a story that not only contributes to sustainable employment, but will also be inspiring to everyone and reignite hope for the youth in my community.”
Turning this vision into a reality, Baloyi proudly proclaims that from the 36 current employees, 25 are originally from Alexandra Township. “We have excelled in creating employment for people in our community, and building a value chain with good corporate governance.
“This business was founded on the principles of sacrifice, focus, hard work and commitment, and we actively look for these values when recruiting new employees. As a result, all Bathu employees embody these characteristics, and this plays a major role in our business’ success.”
Now in its 31st year, the Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and Business/Partners has built up a solid reputation of attracting and celebrating excellence in entrepreneurship. Following a gruelling preliminary round, a shortlist of 15 standout entrants has made it through to the final round of the competition’s 2019 edition.
Gugu Mjadu, the competition’s spokesperson, says that it was encouraging to see an increase in the number of entries in a year that has been particularly challenging from an economic perspective. “With the economy having shrunk by 3.2% in the first three months of the year, we were thrilled to see the overall number of entrants increase by 14% from last year.
“Considering the already significant contribution that Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) make towards our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and job creation, this uptick in entrepreneurial entrants provides a glimmer of hope that some business owners are still managing to steer their businesses to success in spite of South Africa’s slow economic recovery,” she says.
Mjadu highlights that the 15 finalists operate across various different sectors throughout South Africa. “This year’s finalists – the majority of which originate from Gauteng (60%) and the Western Cape (33%) – represent a widespread range of industries, from finance and accounting, to fashion and viticulture.”
In alphabetical order, the finalists for the 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS are:
Andrew Weinberg and John Shaw – Retail Engage; Anne-Marie Pretorius, Seugnet van den Berg and Jessica Tandy – Bizmod Consulting; Carmen Stevens – Carmen Stevens Wines; Cikizwa Nekile – Indima Hr Consulting; Lyle Malander – Malander; Mario Roos and Hayley Roos – LighTec (Pty) Ltd; Mike Sharman and Shaka Sisulu – Retroviral Online Branding; Ouma Tema – Plus Fab; Perri King and Taryn Sharman – Faith and Fear; Shantelle Booysen – Elim Spa Products International; Siyabulela Mandla – Rhino Plastic; Theo Baloyi – Bathu Swag; Uzair Essack – F And E Distributors; Wynand Geldenhuys – Vectra Business Technologies; and Yana Vergie – Wired Earth Technologies.
Following an independent judging process, one of these deserving finalists will be named the overall 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year® winner, says Mjadu. “We will also announce winners for each of the five categories, namely emerging, small business, medium business, job creator and innovator of the year. By running the evaluation process through three different filtering stages, we are able to ensure that every finalist is put under the microscope to avoid any human error or bias from tainting the results.”
In addition to the prestigious titles, Mjadu says that prizes worth R2 million are up for grabs at the awards ceremony. “Each of the five category winners will walk away with R70 000, and the overall winner will get R200 000.
“Beyond monetary prizes, however, previous finalists have benefitted greatly from the mentorship, various networking opportunities and associated media exposure that the competition offers. Past winners have also gone on to win international awards and form valuable partnerships as a result of their success in the competition.”
Winners will be announced on 4 September 2019 at the official awards event in Johannesburg.
“We look forward to watching this year’s competition play out and would like to thank all finalists, as they are the resilient individuals who the country can count on to bring about positive economic change at a time when the country needs it most,” concludes Mjadu.