Charlotte Luzuka is an East African born in Lesotho and raised in South Africa. At 35 years old, she has worked in a wide variety of industries, ranging from land transportation, public health, development finance and telematics. She has always had a desire to be her own boss and took a leap of faith to join a new startup which sadly closed down in a few months. This however gave her the push she needed to co-found Oya Venture, a business that is looking to build an ecosystem that supports and nurtures female entrepreneurs on the African continent by creating physical and virtual spaces to enable a community of support, as well as sourcing funding for early-stage entrepreneurs. With over 14 years of work experience in Innovation, Strategy and Financial Management, as well as an MBA; she has honed an ability to identify potential solutions and business models for complex problems.
1.Tell us about your background and your journey as an entrepreneur.
I studied a Bachelor of Commerce, majoring in management, accounting and taxation. I then completed my accounting articles and was well on a way to remaining in the corporate space as a Coporate Governance manager, when I decided that I wanted to see the world. I moved to South Korea where I taught English as a second language for 3 years. I then decided it was time for me to come back home and make a difference here. I was too scared to take the entrepreneurial leap and so went back into corporate. I wasn’t satisfied, so I did my MBA, in the hopes that it would spurn me into entrepreneurship. It didn’t. Not initially at least. It did however, spurn me into creating my own podcast, The Hustle Flow, where I would interview African entrepreneurs at various stages, to learn how they were progressing, what their fears were and garner any lessons for other budding entrepreneurs to learn from. This podcast lasted about 20 episodes, before the strain (financially and time) took over and I took a break from it. I then joined a startup so that I could step closer into the entrepreneurial journey, but that startup failed soon after I joined and so I started my own company with my friends, Oya Venture, which is a business that seeks to build or support businesses that empower women on the African continent.
2. Your current venture is a hybrid fund which aims to help businesses’ across the continent with technical more so than financial support. Why this kind of business?
I wouldn’t say it’s a hybrid fund per say. One of our businesses is a hybrid fund. Oya Venture is a holding company of many businesses and one is a fund. We have noticed that women led / owned businesses don’t have as much access to funding as male ones globally. And we wanted to offer women led / run business access to financial / technical support in a manner that encourages success for that business and isn’t just lead by the returns that the fund can get. Hence the hybrid sense to it. We believe that at times, what a business may need isn’t necessary cash injection but could just be operational optimisation or a business model innovation to get revenues flowing or expenses reduced. And that is why we are looking at a hybrid version. This is still theory and so time will tell how far off the mark we were.
3. What is the biggest challenge facing startups in South Africa today?
4. What role do you think women will play in developing the entrepreneurial ecosystem long term in South Africa?
A massive one. It’s no secret that women have such a huge knock-on effect through the communities that they naturally support. By building up female owned / run businesses it will empower other women as well as children, both girl and boy child, to look at entrepreneurship as a career – which South Africa is lagging in, in comparison to other African nations. Women are also 50% of the population, so as more women become entrepreneurial, the better our economy will grow, the more options women will have and that may also impact women in terms of their personal circumstances beyond just putting food on the table, but maybe even leaving toxic relationships behind. Building stronger, safer communities for children to grow up in etc.
5. What words of encouragement do you have for the early stage female entrepreneur who is struggling to firm up their business model?
To use cliches, slowly and steadily wins the race. Sometimes it can be disheartening when your model just keeps changing or isn’t quite where you want it to be; but if you take the time in the beginning to really test it out before jumping all in; you will reap the rewards in the end. Every successful entrepreneur seems like an overnight success until you dig deeper and see that struggle for years, sometimes decades to get to where they are now. The beauty of the struggle is what will build you up to weather whatever storms will certainly come in the future. So find a community to help you get through the tough times; and to celebrate with you the fantastic ones. And always pay it forward, because as is said in South Africa, I am because we are