The Hive ... A creative refuge

The J&B Hive.
The J&B Hive.

Half of SA’s young people are unemployed, and that number is growing. With so many bright minds and so few jobs, idea incubators are creating an opportunity for the youth to turn their concepts into viable businesses. Phumlani S Langa finds out about Joburg’s latest idea hub, the J&B Hive.

Three friends who love fashion wanted to launch a street range, but didn’t know how to. Two Soweto coffee fundis wondered if there were any commercial hopes for their passion. A young musician dreamt of starting a music academy. The question was: How do you achieve a dream that big?

Their answer came in the form of a new space in Braamfontein that’s giving support to young creatives – a place to imagine, brainstorm and gain the business skills needed to transform an idea into an actual thing.

Step into my hive...

When you step into the regular old building at 100 Juta Street, you do a double take. Everywhere you look you see chilled young people at work on computers at long tables in the open-plan industrial space.

The J&B Hive is open for business six days a week, offering resources and infrastructure. Members can make use of phones, the free Wi-Fi, video and camera equipment, as well as gain access to industry-specific mentors for peer-to-peer sessions three times a week in a programme for skill sharing. All of this is free and potentially life-changing if your dream business plan makes the cut.

We young South Africans know the problems. What we don’t get enough of is the solutions. Recent Stats SA figures show that about 48% of South Africans between 15 and 34 were unemployed in the third quarter of 2016. With over 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 in Africa, our continent houses the youngest population in the world.

The obvious solution to the lack of jobs is to create your own. But being an entrepreneur isn’t easy, and you still need a ton of support to take an idea from concept to reality. This is why an incubator from the private sector, such as the J&B Hive on Juta Street, is so important.

The project goes further than training. It also gives financial investment to selected projects. So who’s behind all this? The J&B Hive was founded by, and is now run by, innovation specialists Independents United, Creative Nestlings (a network of young African creatives), digital media and content strategists Black Nation Media Group, and J&B whisky.

#Trending chatted with three beneficiaries of the hub:

The first coffee shop in the kasi

One of the Hive’s successful start-ups is the Kofi Afrika Coffee Company. This black-owned specialist premium coffee company was established by Mpumelelo Zulu and Lawrence Murothela (pictured) in April 2015, with their first shop situated at 7166 Vilakazi Street, Orlando West, Soweto. They launched their Braamfontein store, located at the J&B Hive, after an open call in November 2016, challenging entrepreneurs to either turn their revolutionary idea into a reality or to take their existing businesses to the next level. Over 400 applications were received, and after a rigorous selection process, the Kofi Afrika Coffee Company was among 14 of the region’s young business ideas chosen.

“We opened our first store in 2015. It was more owing to the lack of coffee in the township than spotting an opportunity. There aren’t a lot of black-owned coffee companies, so you can imagine this was exciting for us. After our first shop opened, we grew through word of mouth,” Zulu tells me. I’m chatting with them in the upstairs area of the Hive – a minimalist space with couches and tables with that Braam hipster cool. Zulu is streetwise and smart, a music lover dedicated to his shop. While I’m interviewing him, other creatives are working on their laptops at tables all around us.

“This is a revolutionary offering, a workspace and café area ... Who better than Soweto’s first coffee shop to be the ones involved? The Hive has become our partner. Through this they made space available and our rent is free – they cover the major costs, they organise the equipment, it’s one of the sweetest deals you can come across. We had to bring our time and work, though.”

Zulu is supportive of other Hive entrepreneurs. “Guys use Wi-Fi, the phone, the address without having to pay. The people I have met here, the products I have seen take form here, it’s amazing.”

I ask Zulu whether he thinks Kofi would have been successful if they’d done it on their own. Is this kind of support vital for young entrepreneurs to really be successful?

“We already had a store before the Hive. But they gave us this opportunity to increase and expand. Without the Hive, things would have been slower. They helped us accelerate our ideas and learn about the next step.”

But Zulu also faced difficulties in setting up his business: “The main challenge has been our location. Its tricky being in a mainly student area and our voice wasn’t really directed at that market. There are cooperates and young professionals as well as the students. The challenge is trying to aim at one particular market, but which one?”

Kofi Afrika aims to give back to the community it was formed in. “Since we started, we have created about five permanent jobs. We would love to do more, but these things go according to demand. We still have plans to give back by offering youngsters in the township the opportunity to learn about coffee, be baristas and possibly develop a small franchise model that they could use to share the wonders of this beverage.”

I ask him whether he thinks government is doing its job in providing employment for the youth.

“It’s easy to say ‘government must’, but as entrepreneurs, we should also start thinking more, have discussions with trade unions, discussions about minimal wage. Maybe involve the Setas [the state’s Sector Education and Training Authorities] more and give more skills to the workforce.”

They make better music than you

The production house behind critically acclaimed albums such as KO’s Skhanda Republic, Khuli Chana’s Lost In Time and AKA’s Alter Ego is looking for five talented producer or composers to form part of the We Make Better Music Than You pop-up academy. They’re looking for five interns who will work on a special album to celebrate the studio’s 10 years in the industry. The album will feature rising as well as established hip-hop stars.

Tom Nkuna (pictured) is heading this project on behalf of Raw X Studios.

“I came into this music thing through my brother, he’s a critically acclaimed and award-winning producer. I only found out later, around high school, that I was into it too. I never knew how I would do it but I knew business and music could be one thing to me.”

The idea is to teach new producers the ropes, both behind the boards and in the boardroom. “When J&B Hive jumped on, they polished the whole idea and now we’re doing interviews and people are seeing the promo online, we’re getting thousands of submissions, its dope.”

Raw X Studios on the whole focuses on hip-hop, but with this initiative they’re looking to 
broaden their musical horizons.

“We said in our submissions that it isn’t limited to hip-hop, we aren’t looking for another PH. A little variation never hurts.”

I take the opportunity to talk on hip-hop for a moment with this cat. “The culture is at a weird place right now,” he says. “Older heads have to make decisions to save themselves as the soundscape is being dictated by the young kids. The young kids need the older heads because they have all the plugs, the networks and money connections.”

This academy uses this delicate balancing act to its advantage by introducing the old to the new. “We’re a production house, in the background for the most part.

“The Hive has helped us expand our reach so that people know more about what we do and what we’ve done, it’s boosted our profile.

“Through this partnership, we’ve received hundreds more submissions for the academy than we would have had alone.”

The aim is clear, to provide skills and a creative refuge for undiscovered talents that would otherwise go to waste. Be sure to pay the J&B Hive a visit and support the local brands it houses.

Can’t afford the clothes? Make them

Another successful J&B Hive outfit is sports clothing store Favelo, which stands for functional, active, versatility, equity, locomotion and optimism. These young brothers (pictured) – Sipho Phakathi, Thuba Nxumalo and Tshepo Mosesane  – all dressed in black when I meet them, have an understated confidence about them. It had to be clothing for these homies, because “from a young age, we loved fashion. We grew up not being able to afford certain things we saw out there. So, if you have a passion for something you can’t afford, why don’t you create it?”

But let’s be real, there are lots of fashion brands around...

“As saturated as the industry is, we, Favelo, are different, unique. We offer street wear that infuses high-performance fabrics such as waterproof and ventilated materials. Our windbreakers, for example, are light, but they also stop the wind.” They draw inspiration from brands like Diadora and Champion. “A fusion of the past, the 90s, and the future, new-aged fonts and extras to make the present.”

Life before getting involved with the Hive was a struggle. “We didn’t know how to run a business. The Hive helped by investing not just resources and money, but knowledge too. We’ve also been able to meet a lot of people who exist in the same continuum, like other fashion designers, which can help us collaborate and penetrate other markets.”

Favelo also rents out lights and cameras for shoots. They come up with concepts for all their own shoots. I asked them if they ever received support from government to grow Favelo.

“We’ve always wanted to sponsor a soccer team or even a national team. Unfortunately, our interaction with government has been shaky. The problem is a lot of government entities don’t see art as a means to build a career; it’s a hobby to them. To us it pays the bills, it inspires people who see us doing our thing.”

Just as Mpumelelo of Kofi Afrika, these guys want to give back and empower, “You can’t wait for the government to do things. A friend of mine came to Jozi and saw a black man driving a Lambo. That inspired and changed him. This place, the city has a lot to offer.”

They’re now looking to recruit and incubate young creatives, much like the Hive did with them. “As brands, we should all come up with something. Activations in the kasi, taking the knowledge to the people who don’t have it. We grew up poor, we didn’t graduate from anywhere, man, we’re self-taught. People need to be taught that they can wake themselves up; the richest place on the continent is the hood, not the burbs. So many dreams lie there, but so many die there too because they don’t get the chance. A culture of sharing ideas and skills needs to happen.”

Written in partnership with the J&B Hive. J&B is not for sale to persons under the age of 18. Drink responsibly.

Read: There are way too many inspiring projects from the J&B Hive Community to mention here, but these are a few of the standout projects on our radar.

Get involved
  • To apply for acceptance to the We Make Better Music Than You academy, go to The Hive or send your original productions/links to But do it fast. The search and selection process is only open until June 19. Applications are not limited to hip-hop, any genre is welcome

    Creative Nestlings and the J&B Hive are hosting the Young African Creatives Conference at the J&B Hive on June 24, from 9am to 10pm. This is a free event and a perfect space to join creatives from across the continent and diaspora for debates, talks and workshops over a day ending with a networking session over coffee, cocktails and live music

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