Some say you are born with an entrepreneurial gene; a passion which is as much a part of you as your DNA. For Khaya Cokoto, the Co-Founder and Managing Director of X Spark, this is definitely the case. Khaya has been an entrepreneur most of her adult life, give or take a nine-month period of employment before starting X Spark with a partner.
X Spark is an information and communications technology (ICT) business, specialising in graphic design, software development and licensing. Based in Centurion and Port Elizabeth, the company has been in operation for close to a decade.
Over almost ten highly successful years, one might also add that X Spark has won the SAB KickStart Programme within their first year of business, taking overall spot in the 2014 Technology for Women in Business Awards, and is currently selected as one of only 40 candidates in the National Gazelles flagship SME support programme.
Having crossed many hurdles associated with not only starting a business, but ensuring its probability and sustainability, Cokoto has strong opinions regarding how to drive youth innovation and entrepreneurship. A not so obvious one is to encourage curiosity among young people.
“Curiosity enables young minds to think beyond what is possible, and to seek solutions beyond what is known,” she notes.
And it is these solutions to problems that she emphasises when the conversation turns to skills development. It’s Cokoto’s belief that there is a huge shortage of technical skills in South Africa, which is often overlooked at school.
“Technical skills require a problem-solving mindset, and young people must have the ability to think on their feet to come up with solutions to everyday problems,” Cokoto states. “Problem-solving will equip the youth to learn far quicker and help them adapt to the fast-paced world of work.”
Regarding youth development, Cokoto’s company took the decision to only employ young people, also offering internships and training opportunities within IT. Furthermore, in an effort to empower young women, they have a gender equity policy in place regarding the employment of females in the company. This, while she also runs workshops for female micro-entrepreneurs in the rural Eastern Cape on how to optimise technology for business.
Cokoto believes technology can be a significant element that fuels entrepreneurship and innovation in South Africa.
“Technology for the sake of technology is a waste of resources. But, when used correctly, it speeds up the research and development process, allowing for better conditions for innovation and for entrepreneurs to learn fast and fail fast,” she says.
Cokoto notes that through technology, entrepreneurs are able to reach out and build connections with other entrepreneurs across borders. In fact, thinking big and focusing on the global market is one of the things she believes young entrepreneurs must always keep in mind.
“Traditionally, SA entrepreneurs often innovate for the local market with no real plan of going global. Young entrepreneurs need to see the entire world as their stage, not only their little corner,” she insists.
It is a passion shared by The Innovator Trust, which was formed to grow small black-owned businesses in the ICT sector. According to The Innovator Trust’s Chief Executive Officer, Tashline Jooste, it is Khaya’s entrepreneurial spirit that the Innovator Trust would like to foster, to inspire the youth of South Africa who aspire to become entrepreneurs.
“Not only is Khaya Cokoto a part of the Innovator Trust Enterprise Development Program but she was also chosen to be part of a 13-month Programme for Management Development, a scholarship opportunity we present at the Gordon Institute of Business Science. She thinks globally, while also managing to uplift locally, and this is definitely the type of entrepreneurial leadership we want to see more of,” concludes Jooste.