Life-long learning key to entrepreneurial success

Delia Cupido
As a small business owner, it is vital to continually learn in order to ensure steady business growth. Cape Town based entrepreneur, Delia Cupido, owner of Chameleon Schools, is living proof of the power of life-long education in business.

According to the recently released Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report for 2017/2018, South Africa ranks 45 out of 54 countries in terms of perceived entrepreneurial capabilities. Gugu Mjadu, Executive General Manager: Marketing at Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS) says that it is therefore crucial for both aspiring and veteran entrepreneurs to tap into their entrepreneurial traits.

“Entrepreneurs should explore out-the-box ways to learn new skills and strengthen their capabilities in order to start and grow their businesses. This can be done by learning from part-time jobs, short courses, by networking or investing in a business mentor who is able to teach the skills that the entrepreneur is lacking.”

Cupido’s passion for continuous education is perhaps not surprising given her background. “At the age of 13, I left school to help put food on my family’s table, and began work in a meat factory, and then moved on to a clothing factory,” she says.

Cupido, however, had a burning desire to get ahead and attended night school, and leapt at any training opportunity that came her way. “I always had a restless entrepreneurial spirit, selling sandwiches when I worked at the meat factory, snacks whilst attending night school and opened a confectionary shop while still working as an administrator,” she adds.

Despite this, she found that her lack of formal education disqualified her from advancing further up the management ladder, despite her talents. As a result, she received her matric qualification at the age of 39 and immediately started studying law on a part-time basis.

“I was captivated by property law, and the new knowledge gained from studying empowered me to launch of my own estate agency,” she explains.

One day she came across an advertisement for the sale of the Chameleon Preschool in Sybrand Park, Cape Town. She bought it and discovered that her passion for education extended beyond her own.

“In the years that followed, I bought two more preschools and started a junior school linked to my first preschool in Sybrand Park, growing the school by adding a grade each year. Today the Chameleon Junior School has six grades, and the Chameleon group as a whole has close to 300 learners and 54 staff members.”

Despite her years of experience in management and business, Cupido still embraces every learning opportunity. “The most recent one was a “mini MBA” that I completed through the enterprise development programme of a local corporate. The programme also gave me access to a mentor, which was particularly helpful.”

She adds that the course helped her to benchmark the practices and performance of her business to the rest of the business world. “It opened up my mind and gave me the confidence to take my business to the next level.”

If nothing else, Cupido finds that a good course can also be a great networking opportunity. Her latest course, particularly her interaction with her mentor, has opened her up to the possibilities of undertaking property development projects in joint-venture partnerships, something that she has always regarded as fraught with challenges ranging from fraud to personality clashes.

The course and her mentor has given her the insights necessary to evaluate and manage such deals, and suddenly a whole new world of property development at a much larger scale is within her reach.