THE man behind South Africa's first mobile ATM service has
been named Entrepreneur of the Year by small and medium enterprise financier
Business Partners and Sanlam.
Marc Sternberg, the founder of Spark ATM Systems, received
the accolade for his innovative Cape Town-based business that deploys ATMs to
merchants around the country.
"I'm absolutely thrilled (to have won this award). I'm
proud of my achievements and those of my team. We view ourselves as an
innovative entrepreneurial company and we thought it would be good to benchmark
ourselves," says a jubilant Sternberg.
He says he started the business so that any merchant, large
or small, could host an ATM and not have to go through the process of
approaching a bank. So far, the company has deployed 1 500 ATMs across the
country and it continues to install 40 to 50 machines per month. The ATMs are
imported fully assembled from a supplier in Korea and then customised as soon
as they arrive in South Africa.
The success of his business came in him spotting a gap in
the market and capitalising on it. "In the case of Sparks ATM Systems it's
really a win-win situation for retailers, himself and the community. He started
a new business model that benefits everyone," says executive head of
Sanlam Segment Solutions Jan Steenkamp.
The 36-year-old and his business partner Russell Birman started the venture in 2005 by pooling their life savings. They managed to hold on to all the business' equity, something Sternberg encourages other entrepreneurs to do as well. Today the company has a staff contingent of 80, while its revenue has grown 70% in the last three years.
To other aspiring entrepreneurs, Sternberg says: "Go
out there and do it. The long-term benefits are worthwhile. It's wonderfully
rewarding - also to be able to create jobs in SA is rewarding."
They were winners too
Winners in the various other categories were equally inspiring.
- The Innovator of the Year award went to Elian Weiner of
Epic Communications, who also took home the Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year
award for his PR firm, which posted a turnover of more than R10m after only
- Job Creator of the Year was awarded to Pierre Conradie of
Alpha Group, a security firm which now employs 1 200 people in rural
- The winner of the Medium Entrepreneur was Troy Carelse of
Foaming Concepts, whose company supplies foam to other companies and has a
turnover of over R60m.
- In the category of Small Entrepreneur, Lennin Marule was
the winner for his firm Marule Family Trust.
These entrepreneurs were selected not only for their
business acumen, but also for their passion for their businesses. The
overarching impression of the winners was their energy, will to succeed and
inner belief, says Steenkamp.
"Entrepreneurs are so crucial for our country - they employ 60% to 70% of the labour force. We want to celebrate them and put them on a pedestal, but also for them to act as encouragement to other entrepreneurs and help them take that step into the industry," Steenkamp says.
Every year hundreds of businesses apply for the competition,
but only a select few are chosen for the finals. Since its inception, the
awards have attracted a wide range of applicants of an impressive calibre and
this year was no exception.
"Despite depressed economic conditions, there's still a
vibe out there and entrepreneurs are making it. Having spoken to the judges
they feel the quality of this year's entrants was higher and there was a
diversity of people from all walks of life," says executive director of
Business Partners Christo Botes, who has been involved in the awards for 23
Says Botes: "We welcome anyone who would like to enter.
It's good for your business to reflect on what you've done and your impact on
the market. It's a good tool to measure yourself against, and also to measure
yourself against other entrepreneurs."