The launch of Chani’s Cafe marked the end of a succession of Student-Run Business (SRB) launches. Realizing that students needed a place to hang out and enjoy a variety of snacks and beverages, Cynthia Charchi, Nonhlanhla Khumalo, Marie Shabaya, Ngozi Cole, Ifedolapo Omiwole and Beryl Obiero conceptualized Chani’s CafÃ© in January 2009. After several months of intensive planning, market research, and a kickoff meeting with their Board of Directors, the team formally launched the CafÃ© to the ALA community on the 13th of June 2009.
For those students that choose to start a business, the SRB program gives students practical and hands-on insight into the business world as they build and implement real models for production and trade within the confines of the ALA campus. The program includes several phases during which students learn that building successful businesses takes time, detailed planning and structures. This rigorous process takes students from the conceptualization of an idea to its implementation and monitoring. In Phase One, students submit a business concept summary of their business idea. The next step entails presentation of the business idea to a panel of ‘investors’, after which the feasibility and implementation requirements of the project can be assessed. In Phase Two, students are trained through a series of workshops and seminars on building business models and implementation planning. They conduct extensive market research, tackle entrepreneurial finance and gain an understanding of operations, product development and management & organization. Students also build prototypes and test their product/service in this stage, as they transition from business idea to venture.
In Phase Three, the businesses go live! Students experience the rewards and challenges of day to day business management. All of the businesses are governed by a SRB Advisory Board that provides mentoring, expertise and a medium of accountability to the SRB teams. The Advisory Board consists of an Ernst & Young accountant, an attorney from Bowman Gilfillan Attorneys and industry experts, all of whom meet with the students once a term to ensure accountability and serve as advisors on a range of business related issues.
This program would not mimic a real life situation if the teams didn’t have to think seriously about how to finance their projects. Financing for all SRBs is provided by ALA in the form of debt and equity. Teams must assess their business needs to determine the mix of debt and equity they require. Students retain most of their profit, which can be distributed as the team sees fit. But much of the profits are channeled into the SRB Initiatives Fund, a Corporate Social Responsibility program that invests in community service projects.
Beyond Chani’s CafÃ©, SRBs that have been successfully launched in the 2008 — 2009 academic year include Pretty Peacocks (an affordable female beauty salon), Midas Touch (a barber shop), Duka Bora tuck shop, Rub-a-dub-dub laundry services, SMART sewing services, ALA Bank, Agro Experts & Co (a school farm), and Footprints Limited (which sells ALA branded goods).
As our inaugural class returns for their second year, they will enlist the help of first years who will assist them in their business ventures. When they leave the Academy, the new recruits will be responsible for the running of the businesses and will have the latitude to expand the business into other areas or consolidate and strengthen its core functions. The incoming class is as exceptional as our inaugural class, and we expect the successful continuation of established businesses and a slew of new companies to service the growing needs of both students and faculty on campus.