The participants chosen for The Innovation Hub's Maxum Business Incubator empowerment programme have one thing in common: an optimism for the local IT industry.
They know it is not easy sustaining a small IT company in SA, with challenges such as the skills shortage and power cuts. Yet they share a common belief that there are many opportunities for anyone with the necessary drive.
The Maxum Business Incubator's Empowering Women in ICT Programme chose 12 female ICT entrepreneurs from over 60 applicants to participate in a two-year programme.
It begins with an orientation workshop on 28 March where the programme will be explained to the participants and they will have the opportunity to interact with other women in IT. This will be followed by a three-week study tour in Maryland, USA. The group leaves for the States on 29 March.
Women entrepreneurs have never had it better.Shana Kassiem, co-founder, Maxxor Business Solutions
Upon returning to SA, the women will have 24 months of mentoring to help grow their businesses.
To qualify, the women had to be South African citizens under 45, who had started or plan to start an ICT or ICT-enabled enterprise. They also had to be associated with a business incubator in SA.
The successful candidates are: Helene de Ridder, Jo Duxbury, Shana Kassiem, Leslie Maliepaard, Isabelle Rorke, Telezita Dooling, Lebohang Motsohi, Sibongiseni Dakela, Claire Burge, Zelda Poo, Yanesh Ramiah and Jerushah Rangasami.
Jo Duxbury, founder of Freelancecentral.co.za, rediscovered SA three years ago, upon her return from a nine-year stint in the UK. She missed home and is hopeful about SA. "There is a lot of optimism in this country and as long as we can hang onto that, this country can achieve its potential."
Freelancecentral.co.za was founded in late 2005, and provides a database of freelancers in the creative and IT industries in SA. It is based in Cape Town and Duxbury has recently taken on her first employee.
Duxbury hopes to gain an international perspective with the trip to the US, and wants to "meet and network with other women in IT, both locally and in the US".
Telezita Dooling is MD of Computers Direct, a hardware and software company she started eight years ago with one employee - her brother.
Dooling aims to gain knowledge from the programme that she can use to help other women entrepreneurs, and to discover how IT companies in the US are run.
Shana Kassiem, co-founder of Maxxor Business Solutions, believes the South African IT industry will flourish despite the shaky economy. "I think the local [IT services] industry is a thriving and resilient one.
"Women entrepreneurs have never had it better," she says of the local IT climate.
Kassiem started Maxxor in her last year of studying towards her BCom Information Systems degree at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 2005.
After the programme, Kassiem will assume the position of CEO of Maxxor. She is also looking forward to helping other women in IT, and spreading the knowledge she will gain on the course.
Isabelle Rorke, co-creator of Anamazing Workshop, is a believer in computer literacy for future development. She notes how the IT industry in SA is growing at a fast pace, and having increased computer literacy will increase opportunities.
Eight years ago, Rorke left her job to pursue her dream of creating an animation studio. It is still a major ambition of Rorke's, because animation is her passion, and she wants her company to "become the Pixar of Africa".
Like Kassiem, Rorke expresses her gratitude for living in a country with a growing IT sector that has many possibilities for women. "I love the fact that it is an environment of opportunity."
Helene de Ridder, as the director of ETC Human Resources, is also positive about SA despite the challenges.
Starting ETC after 10 years of running a private practice in psychology, De Ridder has strong opinions about human resources, especially training and mentoring.
De Ridder believes this country has a need for black female developers, due to the BEE scorecard requirements.
Lebohang Motsohi is enthusiastic about her role in the IT industry. "I see myself as a catalyst towards economic growth in SA."
Motsohi wants to be remembered as a businesswoman who contributed positively to the economy.
Currently working as a control programmer for the Free State Department of Public Works, Roads and Transport, Motsohi got her BCom IT degree at the University of the Free State.
She also has high expectations for SA's IT industry, and suggests mentoring and learnerships to address the skills shortage.
Leslie Maliepaard, MD of WineWeb, plans to use the knowledge gained through the programme to develop the mindset of "building a successful business to last and empower others".
With a passion for wine, an accounting degree and several wine-related qualifications, Maliepaard decided to use the Internet to dispel the idea of wine as an interest exclusively for the elite.
Maliepaard thinks SA is in a fortunate position at the bottom of Africa. "SA has been saved from technologies which have swept through the US and as quickly as they arrived, they became obsolete."
According to Sibongiseni Dakela, SA epitomises the concept of "Ubuntu" - or togetherness. "I feel that most South Africans tend to be patriotic about our country." She also believes the challenges in the country are overshadowed by the potential and achievements.
Dakela is an aspiring entrepreneur doing her PhD in information systems at UCT while working as a business analyst. She is a firm believer in mentoring, noting that the young members of the IT industry need some form of guidance.