Lindelwa Mahlalela, a final-year student in the Sustainable Development Diploma programme in the School of Public Leadership, has been selected as the overall winner in the Stellenbosch University (SU) round of the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) Intervarsity Competition for 2021.
SU's internal round of the EDHE Competition, presented by the LaunchLab and the SU Office of the Vice-Rector for Research from 17 May to 19 June, required studentpreneurs to pitch their businesses or ideas.
Mahlalela entered her business, LeeConnect, under the Existing Business – Social Impact category. LeeConnect aims to give disadvantaged learners the opportunity to further their studies, and the necessary support structure when they get to tertiary institutions. It offers services that assist young people with university, college and bursary applications, as well as career guidance and mentorship. The company also offers extra classes where they assist learners to improve their marks.
Mahlalela says she entered the EDHE competition because it was a great opportunity for her to showcase her passion.
“I am passionate about education. It is my goal to educate people worldwide to believe in themselves, follow their dreams and further their studies. LeeConnect was established in 2018 after I met a young girl who passed her matric with outstanding results but had no idea what an email address was. I saw the need to educate and assist young people in rural areas to apply for tertiary institutions because they are not exposed to information and technological advancements.
“Starting LeeConnect has made me realise that I want to be the change that I want to see in my community. The experience has helped me polish my leadership and communication skills. I am good at working with people, to empower and inspire them. I take a great deal of pride and joy in guiding others to work together to improve themselves and their communities. I believe that knowledge is useless when we keep it to ourselves, but knowledge becomes powerful when we share it with others."
LeeConnect recently partnered with 24-year-old information technology software development final-year student at Tshwane University of Technology, Dingaan Letjane, the founder and creator of an app called UniAPS.
“The app allows learners to check which courses they qualify for and in which universities, and they receive more information about our services to assist them with the application processes," explains Mahlalela.
She says studying the Sustainable Development programme has sharpened her entrepreneurial abilities and given her the confidence to start LeeConnect.
“In my first year, I learnt a lot about the importance of self-reflection. I had an amazing experience when we were given a task to brainstorm business ideas that were related to one or more of the sustainable development goals. Teamwork was mandatory and I believe that forced me out of my comfort zone and helped me to adjust and adapt to different situations. All the practical learning has given me the necessary qualities of being an entrepreneur.
“The Diploma in Sustainable Development is an exceptional opportunity for aspiring social entrepreneurs because it challenges you to unlearn and relearn and be committed to life-long learning."
Mahlalela credits her mother, Thobile Hlatshwayo, for being her strength and the inspiration for LeeConnect.
“My mother has always supported every dream I have. Venture capitalist and serial entrepreneur Vusi Thembekwayo once said, 'Find someone who speaks greatness into you when you can't speak greatness into yourself'. That someone in my life is my mom."
Prof Ingrid Woolard, Dean of the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, congratulated Mahlalela on her achievement.
“This is a very exciting project. It is incredibly difficult for learners to navigate the higher education sector and to find the information they need. Lindelwa's app will go a long way in helping to bridge that information gap. We wish her every success in the next round."
Mahlalela will now represent SU in the regional round of the competition in August where she will be competing with winners from other universities.
Should she emerge as a regional winner, she will then pitch her business in the national finals in November where she stands a chance to walk away with prize money to the value of R100 000 as the overall winner.