Being unemployed for more than two years with four children to feed, Manuel resorted to growing vegetable in her own garden to make ends meet. The struggle for survival eventually produced the business idea, which today has turned a small garden into a profitable enterprise.

“I then had the idea of starting a wholesale plant nursery in Hanover Park, Cape Town. At this point, I entered Cape Town’s youth entrepreneurship challenge #YouthStartCT, which offered weekly workshops,” she says.

Manuel took third position in the competition and won R5 000, which she then used to register her company. “I registered as a vendor with the City of Cape Town and the Department of Agriculture and bought my first stock, including pots and compost, to start my company Growbox in my backyard,” she says.

Growbox is primarily a social enterprise, which grows seedlings for farms, NGOs and the government. It also supplies people who have limited space with the opportunity to grow vegetables in their own wooden Growbox. The boxes are customised to meet their clients’ needs and come with the growth medium and seedlings.

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“We also offer corporate-sponsored food-gardening workshops in disadvantaged communities and teach households how to grow food in limited spaces.”

The mother of four shares her entrepreneurial journey:

The beginning: I knew I needed support with technical knowledge and administration. It’s one thing to have a boss – it’s a different story if you have a dream and having to work towards making that dream a reality. I have had great mentors along this journey who have kept me focused and supported me during tough times.

This journey has given me opportunities to fly across the country to attend various programmes, events and speaking engagements. In the past, this would have been a vague dream – now it’s my reality and I’m thankful for all the opportunities presented to me.

Start-up capital: My start-up capital was the R5 000 I won for finishing in third place in the youth entrepreneurship competition. My turn-over is still pre-revenue, but I’m confident that it will change soon, as we are busy expanding and moving the nursery from my backyard to a bigger premise.

Sustaining business: I submitted my business idea to start a wholesale nursery that would grow vegetable seedlings wholesale when I saw an advert in the paper about youth entrepreneurship competition. During the programme, they (facilitators) kept emphasising the need to “find your niche and what makes you unique”. I thought about how a wholesale nursery could empower disadvantaged communities when most households had no space available. That is when GrowBox was born.

Challenges: Firstly, it was the funding. It’s all good and well to have an idea, but everything costs money – data, airtime, travelling expenses – and that is all before you have submitted your first proposal.

After taking third place in the youth entrepreneurship competition I used the winnings to do all the due diligence needed, bought myself a second-hand computer and my first startup stock. I then entered programmes in order to gain more knowledge, but worked from my home.

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Entrepreneurial competition: The Engen Pitch and Polish competition is intense. It pushes you to your limit and starts you on a path of self-discovery and reflection. I have grown as a public speaker and entrepreneur and expanded on my endurance within this entrepreneurship landscape.

Manuel’s tips on starting a business in the agricultural sector:

  • Tenacity is a “wow” factor. If people, see that you are tenacious about something, they will sit up and take note.
  • Doubt may come in various forms and maybe you will succumb to them, but if you surround yourself with a great support structure, with mentors or fellow entrepreneurs, it will give you that extra boost you needed in order to overcome those hurdles.
  • You are never too old to learn – I am 36 now and still learning and hope to complete a degree in agriculture by age 40.