Global entrepreneur and founder of Pranary business school Sandras Phiri says it’s time to fix how entrepreneurship is taught

Named one of the 15 tech people to follow in South Africa in 2018 and 2019, Sandras Phiri has worked with entrepreneurs from over fifty countries, helping them launch, grow customer numbers and revenue, and get investorready. He’s a director at Africa Trust Group, the fund manager for the R100 million Enygma Ventures Fund, and an entrepreneur in residence for Jasiri, an Allan & Gill Gray Philanthropy Venture Builder.

An expert on entrepreneurship and innovation, he’s founded successful IT, entertainment and education companies. Since moving to Cape Town 15 years ago and completing his MBA at the »

University of Cape Town (UCT), he’s travelled the world, interviewed over 100 founders and investors, and lectured at 20 universities.

In 2021, he founded Pranary, a practical business school for entrepreneurs. Since its inception, Pranary has engaged with 50 000 entrepreneurs globally, helping them raise over $1.5 million (around R23.8 million) in investment.

He reveals Pranary was born out of his frustration with the way traditional business schools taught entrepreneurship. He found a discrepancy between what they were teaching and the practical skills required for a start-up.

‘The way traditional business schools teach entrepreneurship is like teaching a child to ride a bicycle using SMSS – it doesn’t work. Entrepreneurship is practical, so I started Pranary,’ says Sandras.

‘Pranary is for the modern entrepreneur, who isn’t starting from “what is entrepreneurship?” – they already know the answer to that. They’re looking for efficient answers to specific challenges.’

‘Nowadays, there isn’t a shortage of information; there’s too much. So, entrepreneurs aren’t looking for more of it. What they’re looking for is guidance. Having an overwhelming amount of information is like holding a book of maps. I remember getting lost in Joburg for two hours with a map. Pranary is like a GPS, in that we find out where you are, we help you get to where you want to be by giving you just-intime, straight-to-the-point advice about what to do next,’ he says.

‘It’s time to fix how business schools teach entrepreneurship. It’s sad to see education hasn’t evolved. It’s time for people to be brave, confront existing systems and change the game.

‘At Pranary, we’re leading the movement of game changers – entrepreneurs and innovators who’re changing the way things are done, questioning the status quo and believing their contribution matters. They’re saying, let’s make things work. Let’s make things work for Africa. And so, we’re always looking for partners, organisations, leaders and volunteers that want to create a new Africa and join the movement.’

He explains what makes Pranary stand out from the rest is it’s a business school for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs – all its educators are entrepreneurs and investors.

‘Pranary is a school where you learn to launch and grow your business with the possibility of getting funding. Imagine going to business school, and if you get an A+, that secures you an investment. We’re proud our early-stage startups raised over $1.5 million (R22 million),’ says Sandras. ‘We’re successful because we’re practical, we get straight to the point and don’t waste busy entrepreneurs’ time and money.’

Pranary offers numerous programmes detailing how to secure investors, including an intensive two-day boot camp teaching students how to pitch to them in three minutes without a business plan.

‘This boot camp is a game changer for busy entrepreneurs who want to perfect their pitch quickly,’ says Sandras. ‘A pitch deck entails slides that communicate what your business is about, what you’ve done and what you aim to do. It gets straight to the point, and you can pitch even with just 10 slides and raise millions of Rands. Pitch decks are good because they’re easy to read for investors and founders.

‘Early-stage start-ups shouldn’t write business plans. Often, entrepreneurs pay somebody to write these, but investors don’t actually read them because, for the most part, business plans are a work of fiction. Anybody can make money in Excel. You change a two, make it a three and make a profit. But the reality is different. Customers don’t follow the script. But that isn’t to say you shouldn’t plan; you must, but use a pitch deck. What’s

most important is your traction – what you’ve achieved. Investors can extrapolate potential revenue by looking at your market size, traction and margins.’

Describing working culture, he says the Pranary community is formidable, powerful and helpful, comprising global entrepreneurs who are always willing to share information, network and help each other.

‘We showcase entrepreneurs who’ve attended our school and share our Ignition Programme alumni’s pitch decks with potential investors. Another thing we do is share information with society. We host many public seminars and make those available to the public. Over 50 000 people have consumed our content for free. We believe a rising tide lifts all ships. We want to give access to world-class mentors and to capital to as many entrepreneurs as possible,’ says Sandras.

His vision is to impact one million entrepreneurs in Africa, highlighting the continent’s robust entrepreneurship ecosystem. Many of its countries have set up start-up funds and small business support structures, making it easier for people to do business.

‘More people are setting up scalable businesses across Africa, and more investment is coming into the a certain degree, it’s become easier to get resources and access to world-class talent and mentorship,’ says Sandras. ‘South Africa, in particular, receives plenty of support for entrepreneurship. However, we need to ensure that translates to tangible business growth. To achieve that, government and corporations need to look at outcomes beyond registering a company.’

Sandras has worked with entrepreneurs globally and is knowledgeable about various entrepreneurship ecosystems. How does Africa compare to those? He likens African systems more to India and Brazil than Silicon Valley, as they’re countries that face similar population and infrastructure challenges.

‘The number one reason start-ups fail is that there’s no market need. Globally, startups need to build things people need and provide services that people want to pay for. The difference, however, is that in places such as Silicon Valley, more money is invested in futuristic start-ups that may seem a little more speculative. Whereas, in Africa, startups have to solve more immediate challenges,’ explains Sandras.

‘But that’s changing. For instance, one organisation I’m working with in East Africa, Jasiri, a program by Allan & Gill Gray Philanthropies, is making it possible for entrepreneurs in Africa to create start-ups that solve big problems that help generate new markets. These innovations have the power to transform entire economies and can change the landscape across the continent. But it’s not easy for them to acquire funding, especially in Africa.’

The second reason start-ups fail is that they run out of cash because they don’t know the type of funding they need to raise and how. They ask banks for loans to start a new business, but that isn’t a good idea because you have to pay it back regardless of whether your business succeeds or fails.’

His top five tips for entrepreneurs to grow their businesses are to focus on their goal and a high-level strategy, employ a dependable team, have all they need to execute that strategy, and, lastly, hold themselves accountable.

‘Entrepreneurs also need to hang out and spend time with like-minded people and emerging companies. Entrepreneurship can be lonely, but when people with similar interests hang out together, they create a decent cohort of people who start great companies. They must be able to compete and collaborate healthily, so, at Pranary, we’re big on community and encouragement.

‘We need more individuals, corporates and governments to invest in entrepreneurship and independent businesses. It’s because of entrepreneurs’ dreams and visions that major companies exist today. However, we need to encourage people to build scalable businesses that employ thousands of staff, creating more employment than smaller ones, which generally employ their owners and few other people. Entrepreneurship has the power to change people’s lives and economies.’

‘The way Traditional business schools Teach entrepreneurship is like Teaching a child To ride a bicycle using smss – it doesn’t work’