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Foundhers Circle: How one woman creates countless opportunities for others

Keitumetse Pule shares the story of Foundhers, a community of business builders that helps female entrepreneurs in all stages of their business journeys.

Entrepreneurship is a goal many people strive for but often lack the courage to pursue. According to Stellenbosch Business School, one in every eight South Africans want to start a business within the next three years but haven’t yet taken the first step.

What’s holding them back?

Keitumetse Pule, entrepreneur and founder of Foundhers Circle, feels there is a significant gap in entrepreneurial education – especially for women.

According to research by Mastercard, women comprise only 19.4% of business owners and yet, women-owned businesses established between 2018 and 2022 may generate R175 billion a year and create 972,000 jobs.

“That’s the first thing we’re trying to solve at Foundhers Circle,” says Keitumetse.

“We want women to see entrepreneurship as a viable career option and equip them with the tools and resources they need.”

Destined to empower

It all started ten years ago when Keitumetse joined the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, where she learned what it takes to be a responsible, high-impact entrepreneurial leader. She received a scholarship to attend St. Mary’s School, an all-girls high school in Waverley, where she started her journey of inspiring girls and women to become entrepreneurs.

“While completing my scholarship in high school, I was already starting to think entrepreneurially and was exposed to critical thinking. I noticed that my peers weren’t thinking along the same lines and were contemplating conventional career prospects.”

That didn’t deter Keitumetse; she still wanted to introduce other girls to the possibilities of starting their businesses after high school, so she launched the school’s first Entrepreneurship Club in her matric year in 2017.

The girls met every two weeks to discuss societal problems in South Africa and globally, how they could fix those problems, and how to translate their passions into profitable businesses that create value for other women.

“I knew women were being underrepresented in entrepreneurship, which is why I wanted to get more girls to understand it and how they could make an impact,” she says.

Later in her matric year, Keitumetse had to put her extracurricular activities on the backburner to focus on her final exams. However, her hunger for empowering girls and women lingered.

Age is just a number, but South African women are not

Keitumetse’s urge to empower women came to fruition on International Women’s Day 2021, when she officially launched Foundhers Circle at the age of 21.

“I wanted to start a network that would help women entrepreneurs in all stages of their business journeys,” she says. “So I decided to channel that into Foundhers Circle.”

With Foundhers Circle, women from around the country are plugged into a community of business builders who can ask questions, get advice, and feel inspired.

Keitumetse understands just how lonely entrepreneurship can be, but through her network, these women can evolve with like-minded business owners who understand what it takes to build something and to make a real difference in entrepreneurial gender equality in South Africa.

Foundhers Circle is a social enterprise working to advance gender equality by increasing women’s economic participation through entrepreneurship.

“I know everyone in the network, and we’re constantly working to discover what resources the network can bring to make a tangible difference in each member’s business,” says Keitumetse.

The community also has a WhatsApp group to share funding and learning opportunities. The group serves as a motivating platform where members can share their latest achievements and support others.

Keitumetse is constantly searching for funding opportunities to help her community members grow and learn. She also believes that personal relationships are what makes her community thrive.

“We’re creating a space where people interact and reach out when they need help or feel isolated. That’s what makes us different,” she says.

When it comes to helping individual businesses, Foundhers Circle has a no-cookie-cutting mindset. Her approach is diverse, just like her community. She believes that what works for one industry isn’t going to work for another, so she approaches every problem with a tailored solution for each entrepreneur in the network.

“What works for the artist won’t necessarily work for an entrepreneur building a non-profit. Different sectors need different approaches,” she adds.

Adapting to COVID-19

“The upside of starting Foundhers Circle in 2021 is that we were in the middle of COVID-19, so people had already started adapting to a COVID-friendly business model.”

Many businesses suffered immensely during pandemic lockdowns, but Keitumetse seemingly chose the right time to start her network. With most South Africans working from home, the pandemic accelerated digitisation, and Foundhers Circle could focus on helping women digitise their businesses from the get-go.

Although COVID-19 didn’t adversely impact Keitumetse’s business, it did affect some of her plans. “We wanted to have networking events, market days, and the like, but we couldn’t have it in-person because of the restrictions. Other than that, we were still able to communicate and have our monthly meetings.”

However, COVID-19 did accelerate an already big problem that Keitumetse is passionate about: “I wrote an article for our blog about the intangible hurdles that women entrepreneurs have to overcome in South Africa, and gender-based violence was one of them,” she says.

She also wrote an article on policy-level neuro-gender responsive budgeting regarding funding for female entrepreneurs. She believes that policy sets the tone for how everything else falls into place.

A past destined for a future

Keitumetse has featured in several media articles and is building her network on the public and policy levels so that she can stretch her passion for empowering women entrepreneurs beyond simply raising awareness. She also plans on educating schoolgirls about the prospects of being entrepreneurs.

“I went to an all-girls private school where I had many resources at my disposal, and still there was little awareness about entrepreneurship. When you think about girls in townships and urban areas, they have little to no resources and information about entrepreneurship.”

She adds: “There’s a huge gap in driving entrepreneurial education, so we’re going to look into helping girls in high school think about turning their passions into businesses.”

Top tips for aspiring women entrepreneurs

“If I could advise myself five years ago, I would tell myself not to overthink starting my business because I delayed a bit between the Entrepreneurship Club and Foundhers Circle. Launch as soon as you can and work with what you have –start and be open-minded.”

Some of her tips include:

  • Test your solution: “Ask yourself, ‘What is the fastest and cheapest way to test my solution against the problem? And how can I use what I have right now to get there?’ Avoid spending too much money unnecessarily without validating your solution first.”
  • No one had it all figured out right away: “Don’t be ashamed when you hit a stumbling block, and you’re not sure where to go next. It’s all part of the process.”
  • Join a community of like-minded business owners: “Align yourself with people who are also building businesses to consult with when you’re stuck.”
  • Be structured: “Have some structure in place so that you don’t get inundated with too many options. Be open-minded and let the journey guide you.”
  • Keep on keeping on: “Stay on the path and continue building.”
  • Have the proper systems in place: “Make sure you have a content calendar, accounting software, and a proper scheduling system for your daily business operations.”
  • Prioritise your mental and physical health: “I think one of the positive aspects to come out of COVID-19 was to help everyone see just how much we’ve been on overdrive. I realised that you can’t work at your optimum if you’re running on reserve.”

Keep an eye on your finances: “Have a clear overview of your finances at any given time to understand when money is leaving your account, where it’s going, and if the expense is necessary.”

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