Venture Recovery Stories: Sibocali

Some of the indigenous root vegetable products made by Sibocali

Sibocali is an agribusiness that manufactures a variety of edible products, such as crisps and porridge, that are made from indigienous South African root vegetables. The business works with rural women, where they teach them how to grow and harvest the vegetables that the venture uses in the production of its products.

Behind Sibocali is Sibongile Mtsabe, a local entrepreneur from a community in the KwaZulu Natal province of South Africa. Sibocali was selected for the 2020 ygap South Africa Re-Accelerator program.

What are some of the challenges you have faced during COVID-19, in general as an entrepreneur and as a business? 

One of the first challenges was that our sales went down. Our usual processing facility was not available to us so we got a temporary one which was locked up later because those who we were sublet to were summoned to pay the rent balances for past months of lockdown, and they weren’t able to. We started looking for a space to install a container and looking for new clients as there were slow sales in retailers where we distribute. We didn’t have online platforms like Ecommerce or a website so we advertised on social media, but without a website people didn’t trust us hence there were barley sales.

We found a potential buyer, but they needed us to upgrade our space with industrial equipment so we could gain confidence with bigger retailers, like Amazon and Take a lot, which requires us to meet national standards in order to grow to international standards to gain a greater market share. We also experienced delays when applying for different types of support in different offices and the excuse was COVID-19. 


How has your business changed or evolved due to COVID-19? 

In the midst of sales slowing down, we got some clients that we did not expect, like the Pick n Pay Berea store. They gave us a chance to supply our crisps. We also got an assurance from our support at ygap to get a functional container that we will use as a mini factory. 

We secured a space to set up our cargo container at KwaMashu Park and we are also getting more promises to get space which gives us an advantage. We have evolved; they say challenges help one to grow, and we have new products that we would have delayed producing if it was not for the COVID-19 challenges. 


What has been the most significant change that has taken place over the past few months?

There are a couple of key changes; getting additional products in our range, support to sell online through ECommerce, getting a new working space, and linking with international potential buyers. 

Another change was that the Kenyan Economic Development Department invited us to become suppliers. Fortunately, we had some of the products they needed and in short there is the potential of new markets opening for us. Despite the challenges, the business has grown all round.  


Why were these particular changes the most significant to you? 

It gave me joy to see the growth of the business, and though it has been challenging, this means more people will be impacted. Our economy will grow because we will soon need more suppliers and as a result there will be more job opportunities opening soon as we expand. Rural and township communities will soon be able to increase their income, especially through growing and supplying new produce to us. 


What role has ygap played in helping your venture through those changes and what are some outcomes your venture has achieved as a result of participating in the ygap South Africa Re-Accelerator Program?

ygap played a great role in supporting us during trying times. We got a small grant that helped us to purchase the instant yam mash or instant stiff pap we needed for manufacturing, and we managed to get the place we temporarily worked in conducive to smooth processing. We will also get a container that will solve our pressing challenge of needing a working factory, and ygap will help us to link with people who will help us to recycle our waste for power generation and this will increase our profits. They are also assisting us to set up an ecommerce website. Sharing with other entrepreneurs through the ygap Re-Accelerator Program is helping us to think and revise the way we do business, and the ygap team is consistently checking up on us which keeps us motivated. ygap has helped us to stay afloat through the advice they shared.

How do you see these outcomes improving your venture over the next 6-12 months? 

The business has made links, meaning that new relationships have been ignited and we will maintain them and grow from them as we become better and bigger. We aim to build and grow a strong database of skilled farmers. As our standards have improved through the challenges of COVID-19, we hope to draw in new customers. 


What does the future of your venture look like post COVID-19? 

It looks bright and promising 


What are the key ingredients for successfully overcoming challenges?

Never give up on your dreams, and when one thing is not working try something new using the same resources or additional resources to make things work. Pivot your business, there is always a way out. 


What is your advice to other entrepreneurs in regards to adapting/coping during a pandemic

Never give up in trying times, when things are getting tough it is a training for one to be innovative and think more on how to improve. Challenge your mind and your spirit to give better solutions. Focus on the prize and close the ears to noise called challenges. Remember that tough times don’t last but tough people do. 


On a scale of 1-10, where 1 is unlikely and 10 is very likely, how likely would you be to recommend other early-stage impact entrepreneurs to look to ygap for support to help grow their ventures? 

10 = very likely. I will recommend other entrepreneurs’ startups to ygap because they will learn how to find the roots of why they are doing their business. The discovery of why they do what they do  will help them to derive a good strategy and move their business forward while impacting their communities.

Sibocali is a ygap South Africa alumni, and recently completed the ygap Re-Accelerator Program, designed to support ventures through the effects of COVID-19.