From day-dreamer to change maker - a short series challenging entrepreneurial stereotypes - Part 126 Mar 2017
The three entrepreneurs featured in this series all have inspirational stories to tell about the entrepreneurial journey in South Africa (you can read Part 2 here). While they reflect very different perspectives and represent diverse sectors, their tales have various threads of commonality. They speak of the hardships, the challenges, and the real sense of isolation that come with being at the forefront of change. Despite the governmental push to support small, micro, and medium enterprises (SMMEs), and efforts to cultivate entrepreneurial spirit and creativity during the school-going years, many entrepreneurs still fall short, even given mentorship, funding, and networking opportunities. The series concludes with a look at how we can move forward.
I’ll never forget the first time I met Simamkele Somerset. The man radiates optimism and enthusiasm, and his confidence originates not from the need to prove that he is right, but rather from the conviction that he is revitalising the educational landscape in South Africa while challenging traditional views about education and pedagogy. His irrepressible optimism is his impetus. He’s a teacher, a latent YouTube celebrity, and a game-changer. Listening to him speak about Mathematics and how he envisions the future of the subject in South Africa, I am struck by how fitting his nickname, “Danny”, is. Like the Biblical figure, Danny is a dreamer – he’s a visionary, and he’s entering the dreamscape in order to make subjects like Mathematics interpretable and accessible to all.
A mathematical technologist, Danny’s journey began when he was a student at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). It was here that he discovered a talent for explaining concepts in a way that made them palatable to every student appealing to him for assistance. As his reputation grew, so did his student following. This eventually crystalised in the establishment of a small, informal operation called SpotOn Tutors.
Danny has recently formalised and registered SpotOn Tutors – and he has set his sights on changing what he diagnoses as the decaying aspects of an educational structure failing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates in this country. His approach is not novel: South African educationalists have been exposed to the notion of ‘blended’ learning – the combination of traditional classroom methods with digital media in an educational programme – since at least the early 2000s. However, Danny’s not just talking about this concept. Armed with his smartphone, a whiteboard and a makeshift-rig to keep the phone steady while he works through solutions, he started the SpotOn Tutors YouTube channel to support students who need difficult concepts explained to them, particularly those who do not have regular contact with teachers/lecturers.
SpotOn Tutors thus focuses on empowering the student and fostering learning freedom through what Danny refers to as a ‘continuous learning experience’. To this end, the company is developing a bank of digital assets students can use to teach themselves and others. As Danny explains, “students use the resources they already have, such as smartphones, tablets and TVs (with DVD/USB players), to create an independent learning experience. Digital content is what both current and past generations need. If we’re successful in creating quality digital content we will not only be a successful academic support institution, but we’ll be among the first educators in South Africa who realised the need to revolutionise traditional teaching methods. We’ll provide meaningful education to thousands of young people, equipping them with the requisite cognitive skills for the 21st-century learning experience. We don't succeed unless our clients succeed.”
Danny is acutely aware of the challenges he faces as an entrepreneur and business owner. He candidly explains to me that despite the lack of interest he’s had from potential stakeholders and funders in the corporate sector he remains unperturbed. He’s currently focusing on expanding operations out of the Cape Metro area and aims to set up centres of learning in several metropoles around South Africa in the coming months. He’s got a vision, he’s got a business plan, and he has plenty of students and educators who are counting on his agility and ingenuity. He will keep going, and so will SpotOn Tutors.