Spotting Opportunity In A Time of Crisis

Entrepreneurship is often about seeing possibility where others see only threats. In April 2020, as businesses across South Africa reeled under the pressures of lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic, Philip Mngadi, the founder of Zinacare – a business that offers accessible, convenient testing for sexually transmitted infections – saw an opportunity.

Philip had launched Zinacare in 2018 in order to democratise access to testing services in sexual health, and specifically women’s health, across Africa. Zinacare uses a digital platform to provide tests for STIs directly to customers.

According to Philip, “Zinacare’s vision was to disrupt the prevailing testing model and expand access to essential health care needs that are under-addressed. We were making progress on this vision, and then the coronavirus struck, and overnight everything changed.”

Zinacare is one of 21 small businesses currently enrolled with FNB’s Social Entrepreneurship Impact Lab (SEIL) programme. SEIL aims to support social entrepreneurs committed to improving lives and creating a real impact, providing meaningful solutions to social and environmental challenges.

The 18-month SEIL programme provides the support solutions that social entrepreneurs need to significantly change their growth pathway and reach the full potential and impact of their social enterprise. SEIL is administered in partnership with Enterprise and Supplier Development experts Fetola.

In April, Philip contacted his mentor at Fetola in order to determine how they could take advantage of the sudden demand for COVID-19 tests.  “It took a few late nights as we brainstormed with our partners at Fetola,” he recalls. “But we eventually saw a way in which we were able to offer convenient COVID-19 tests across Gauteng. And we were able to very quickly make that shift. We partnered with Ampath Laboratories, who have sophisticated laboratories that could handle the demand, and with Redefine Properties, who provided locations for our testing facilities.”

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The pivot to COVID-19 testing has enabled Zinacare to create an additional 12 full-time and three part-time positions. It has also given the business a unique opportunity to generate exposure and grow their brand, to secure additional revenue, and to contribute an acutely needed service with a clear social benefit – which is exactly in line with the objectives of the SEIL programme.

According to Heather Lowe, Enterprise Development Head for FNB Business, Philip’s ability to spot an opportunity and take advantage of it was precisely what made Zinacare an attractive participant in the SEIL programme. “Zinacare was very interesting to us because they had such an awesome opportunity to pivot, very quickly, to take full advantage of that opportunity. We’re very proud of Phillip, and of the employment that he’s been able to create as a result.”

Chantal de Kock, General Manager at Fetola, agrees: “There are two things we look at when identifying suitable businesses to join the SEIL programme. The first is the entrepreneur. Philip is an entrepreneur through and through. He is able to identify opportunities, but also – and more importantly – to act on them. A lot of entrepreneurs hold themselves back because they’re scared. Philip is not bowed by setbacks. His resilience is impressive. The second thing we look at is the business itself. And from that perspective, the service and product he is offering is unique, and holds clear social benefit.”

Beyond the pandemic, Philip’s vision remains to democratise access to testing services across Africa through Zinacare’s digital platform. “The need is still immense,” he explains. ” a significant number of cases of STIs are recorded annually across South Africa. As COVID-19 vaccines are being trialled around the world, and as the case load in South Africa is reduced, we will phase back to our core business. The pandemic has been horrific, but we have been able to draw a lot of positives from it. We’ve learnt a tremendous amount about our business, our customers and what we’re capable of.”

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