I’ve learned to be more assertive and that I really need to stick to my goals

Renshia Manual | Growbox

“I’ve learned to be more assertive and that I really need to stick to my goals.”

I grew up in Eerste River and, after high school, I studied motor mechanics for two years. (My mom was a single working parent and her car wasn’t very reliable so I thought this would a great way to help her.) After getting married, I moved to Hanover Park and worked as a librarian at a primary school for some years. Unfortunately, the school experienced financial problems and could no longer afford me.

Being unemployed, I was struggling to feed my four children and the only solution was to grow vegetables in my own garden. I then had the idea of starting a wholesale plant nursery within Hanover Park. At this point I entered Cape Town’s youth entrepreneurship challenge #YouthStartCT which offered weekly workshops. I started in the top 100 and made it all the way to third place, and received a prize of R5 000. I used this money to register my company and sort out all the tax and government requirements. 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 back yard.

Growbox is primarily a social enterprise; we grow seedlings for farms, NGOs and the government. We also supply people who have limited space the opportunity to grow vegetables in our wooden Growbox. Our Growboxes are customised to meet our clients’ needs and come with the growth medium, as well as seedlings. We also offer corporate-sponsored food-gardening workshops in disadvantaged communities, and teach households how to grow food in limited spaces.

What sets us apart as a company is that we offer the complete package. It’s a hassle-free vegetable box. Our customers tell us what vegetable or herb plants they want and what size the box must be, then we deliver the fully-stocked box. This eliminates the need for customers to run around finding plants and compost. Our holistic programme starts households on the path to food growing, and teaches people how to grow vegetables sustainably and how to use food waste.

I believe that entrepreneurs need steadfastness, perseverance and the ability to work hard. Without these qualities, you won’t be able to overcome the inevitable setbacks and failures. For me, the biggest challenge when I started out was the lack of technical know-how. I thought it would be easy but it turns out that Google can’t teach you everything. I gained most of my technical knowledge through trial and error. (It would have been very helpful if I’d had a go-to person to give me advice.) Access to finance was also a challenge. I was very fortunate to receive funding from Netafim who also gave me support and linked me to farmers for technical support and mentorship.

In 2017 I entered ENGEN Pitch & Polish with the goal of boosting my confidence. Public speaking is one of my worst fears and is an area my mentor has encouraged me to work on. The programme was a great help in my pitching confidence and also taught me how to take rejection really well. Having to keep a straight face in front of an intimidating panel of judges taught me a lot. I’ve learned to be more assertive and that I really need to stick to my goals. (I applied much of what I learned when I did a funding proposal to Netafim.)

Since the competition, business has been going well. People tell me I have good problems because I have a high demand for my seedlings but don’t have the capacity to meet the demand. I’m very happy to say that on Mandela Day, we are moving into great new premises which will allow us to expand and meet the increased demand.

To the Pitch & Polish sponsors, Nedbank and Engen Petroleum, I would like to say thank you, thank you and thank you!