Siyabonga Ndlela wins the 2022 Firstwatch Whisky, Entrepreneurs Challenge

Wednesday, 8 June 2022

First place winner, Siyabonga Ndlela is the founder of the Ndlela Agri Group. Hailing from rural Impendle near Pietermaritzburg in KZN, Siyabonga (31) is an engineer turned farmer, following his grandfather’s advice that people should follow their passions.

“Being the first prize winner is such an honour for me,” he says. “I am truly grateful. The main reason I entered the Firstwatch Entrepreneur’s Challenge is that I wanted to get my name out there so that people could get to know about me and my business.”

With the prize money, Siyabonga is going to buy machinery for his business and put up fencing where he plants his vegetables.

“I give back some of my vegetables to those who need them in my community, so I am happy that I will get to do more of that,” Siyabonga says, following his big win.

Talking of his fellow budding entrepreneurs, Siyabonga had this to say: “My advice to all the entrepreneurs out there is to choose what you love and go for it. Waking up for work becomes so much easier when you do what you love.”

From all the entries received for the Challenge, candidates were shortlisted to attend two-day workshops in Cape Town and Johannesburg.  These workshops encompassed robust, hands-on experiential learning with some of the country’s leading business experts.

At these workshops, entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to pitch their business or business idea to a panel of regional judges. The Top Eleven candidates then pitched at a grand finale at Disoufeng Pub, to a panel of celebrity judges, shark-tank style, where the winners were chosen.

First, second and third place winners were awarded R 100 000, R 50 000 and R 25 000 in cash and business support respectively, plus business mentorship from social development enterprise Over the Rainbow for six months.

Zethu Nyali, second place winner and founder of Zee Organics founded her business for very personal reasons, hoping to help cancer sufferers overcome some of the immense personal challenges they face. Zethu was also battling unemployment at the time. Zethu, a microbiology and biochemistry major at university, combined traditional remedies and sound scientific formulas to create her range of all-natural hair and skincare products.

‘’Winning the second prize is so exciting for me,” says Zethu. “I started my business because of my sister, who has cancer. Seeing her getting bullied and losing her self-esteem due to hair loss broke my heart, so I decided to do something about it. Working with the mentors in the competition helped me become more financially aware. It was an incredible networking opportunity that has opened up a world of contacts and resources for me. The network is so valuable”.

“Winning the cash and business support means that I can produce more products as they are currently in demand. I can now buy more equipment and grow the business. I aim to use social media to get more exposure in the market and also to leverage word of mouth. I have opened a store in Durban and hope to expand, opening more branches in the near future.”

Phumzile Mthembu, Founder of Ingcweti Pty Ltd, had this to say about the challenge, after coming in third place: “The R 25 000 prize money is going to help me scale up my business and employ more people. I am so glad that I moved out of my comfort zone and started this business. It was a process of trial and error that really worked in the end. My advice to other entrepreneurs out there is that you can do anything you put your mind to. Effort leads to results, and giving up should never be an option.”

Ingcweti Ingcweti Pty Ltd  is a responsible manufacturer of natural skincare products, formulated entirely by Phumzile herself, who was inspired to create the brand to deal with her baby’s skin irritation.

“When I started this business, I did it all for my son. It was the product of a lot of research and experimentation with organic materials and natural remedies. It turned into a business venture through word of mouth, beginning with people I know who tried out the remedy for themselves, with great results. Mothers began to enquire about the ointment and it grew organically from there. I was able to help my son and am now able to help other people too. I believe we will eventually go international.”

Phumzile began her career manufacturing perfumes but now works fulltime on Ingcweti.

With sustainable products emerging as the true leaders in the Firstwatch Entrepreneurs Challenge, these three business owners are set to follow through on their newfound success with more hard work as they continue to grow their businesses responsibly, in the spirit of South African entrepreneurship. Congratulations to all the winners.

To find out more about the Firstwatch Entrepreneurs Challenge, visit

About Firstwatch Whisky:

Firstwatch Imported Whisky is an award-winning 100% blend of imported rye and cereal grain whiskies. The base whisky in the blend has been matured for at least three years and is exceptionally easy mixing, with a full rye taste.

Firstwatch has an intense golden glowing amber colour, a floral aroma with sweet fruitiness and a rich, complex wooded rye flavour. Perfectly blended to deliver reward in every sip. Firstwatch. First for Reward.

Edward Snell | Siyabonga Ndlela wins the 2022 Firstwatch Whisky, Entrepreneurs Challenge