An unlikely champion of beer lovers

2012-09-15 00:00

WHAT do human resources and a society of exceptional craft beer lovers have in common?

The answer is an inspirational young woman who hails from KwaZulu-Natal, has a knack for doing things differently and is involved in two business fields that she felt she was not cut out for only a few years ago.

From wine-making to human resources to marketing craft beer, her career and entrepreneurial ambitions have come full circle at the tender age of just 24.

However, the ambitious Nzeka Biyela told Weekend Witness that she has much to achieve before she can toast her success.

The Richards Bay-born entrepreneur is now settled in Cape Town and involved in an unusual new business — a craft beer e-commerce website and blog www.leagueofbeers.com.

The website has been described as a first for South Africa, offering top local and international craft beers to beer connoisseurs across South Africa.

Her partners in the venture are Rob Heyns and Manie Potgieter.

Personal triumph

Biyela’s achievements are remarkable given the fact that both her parents died before she turned 18. The second youngest of six children, Biyela grew up in a middle-class family. Her father was a businessman and her mother was a headmistress.

She has been supported by a range of family members — particularly her siblings — following the death of her father in 2001 and her mother in 2005.

She said: “I have a great family who have been supportive of me and all my endeavours. My siblings were my main support system. The whole experience just made me a stronger person and way more independent.”

From Wine to HR

While this has played a role in her professional development, Biyela has always been in search of new opportunities.

She has struggled to shake off two areas of her professional life — human resources and the alcohol industry.

“In school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do … but I knew I wanted to do something out of the box,” she said.

She eventually chose a BSC Agriculture, majoring in viticulture and oenology at Stellenbosch University, setting herself up to work in the wine industry.

However, she realised that this was not up her alley in the first year of study. The following year, she started a Bcom degree majoring in HR in Stellenbosch — completing this a few years later and following it up with an honours degree in entrepreneurship at the University of Cape Town.

“Studying HR killed my buzz — I didn’t enjoy the theory … and by the end of the degree I felt I was not interested in a job in HR.”

It is something of a surprise then, to find Biyela working in HR of a major clothing retailer.

“It’s very different from studying HR,” said Biyela.

Breaking into the business world

She described her studies in entrepreneurship as “the most effective learning” she has ever undertaken.

“It [her honours year] was a most satisfying year. There was a real balance between practical and theory. Rob [Heyns] was in my group … and we decided that we would work together …”

A few months after her honours year, she decided to take Heyns up on his offer to be part of The League of Beers.

The allure of

a pint of beer

“It is a community of craft beer lovers, and the appeal for me came in being in the centre of people who have a love and passion for what they do and of those who are at the receiving end of their products,” she said.

“My ambitions for the business would be for it to grow, reach more people and more breweries — putting more small breweries on the map and introducing more people to their beers.

“And not only that, but putting a face to their beers … Making it more common for beers to be paired with all sorts of different and wonderful foods rather than just boerewors rolls and chips.”

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