Entrepreneur and founder of Anonaya Gardens (Pty) Ltd, Mr Mongezi Dlamini recently won the Durban leg of the ninth annual ENGEN Pitch & Polish business competition.

Winning the Durban round of the competition, saw Dlamini walking away with R6 000 prize money and a week of training at Raizcorp in Johannesburg. The training is worth R150 000. He also has the opportunity to progress to the semi-finals where all regional winners will receive further training.

Dlamini had entered his hydroponic farming business, Anonaya gardens, into the competition.

He co-owns the business with Mr Sihlosokuhle Mfeka, an MSc Biological Science candidate.

Sponsored by Engen Petroleum Ltd, the Engen Pitch & Polish business competition is a workshop and a pitching den platform for aspiring entrepreneurs and those already in business.

‘The competition brings beautiful ideas and business to life by teaching what and how to communicate succinctly, effectively and with confidence,’ said Unathi Njokweni-Magida, the Head of Transformation and Stakeholder Engagement at Engen.

Dlamini’s win was unexpected following his not so promising start.

‘I had applied to be part of the contest but I did not make it to the top four in the pre-selection. However, I attended the event anyway as part of the audience. They then opened a wild card, where they wanted to fill the fifth seat. I won the fifth seat against seven entrepreneurs then competed with the preselected competitors and came out in first place at last.’

Anonaya Gardens (pty) Ltd is a small company that uses hydroponic farming methods to produce premium vegetables. The crops are planted vertically using no soil and very little water.

‘The best part with our farm is that we nullify the need for tractors, by doing that we are environmentally friendly are not directly affected by the fluctuation of fuel prices. We have already started selling and have been overwhelmed by the demand for our produce especially within the University community,’ said Dlamini.

Dlamini is a final-year Bachelor of Science student majoring in Cell Biology and Microbiology in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science. His love for agriculture started while he was growing up in Ixopo in KwaZulu-Natal, where his grandfather owned a farm. ‘We would always wake up very early during the weekends to work in this farm whether we were ploughing, spraying herbicides (weed killing chemical) or pesticides on the crops. There was no time to rest, I always asked myself if there’s no better way to this, because to a 13-year-old boy it was too hard to carry those chemical sprays, manually pumping them to hectares and hectares of land,’ Dlamini reminisced.

Dlamini believes that his experiences on the farm played a vital role in him choosing what course to undertake at UKZN and that it was no surprise the research he undertook culminated in him developing better agricultural methods that are efficient, environmentally friendly and less labour intensive. He is no stranger to entrepreneurship as he is a member of a campus-based organisation called Enactus and is currently in incubation with UKZN inQubate ENSPIRE programme. ‘Enactus is a global non-profit organisation that brings together a community of student, academic and business leaders committed to using the power of entrepreneurial action to transform lives,’ Dlamini explained. Anonaya Gardens (Pty) Ltd was awarded funds under the UKZN InQubate Student Entrepreneurship Programme ENSPIRE,’ said Simphiwe Mntambo Innovation Officer at InQubate.

Enspire is a developmental programme initiated by UKZN InQubate. The programme, explains Mntambo, aims to advance personal growth, develop entrepreneurial skills and ultimately contribute towards solving South Africa’s socio-economic problems of poverty and unemployment by shifting the students’ focus from being job seekers to becoming innovative job creators. The programme is designed to cultivate skills by leveraging support from practicing and experienced entrepreneurs.

Words: Christian Ishimwe

Photograph: Engen Pitch and Polish