Female entrepreneurship to be bolstered this International Women’s Day

Erica Miller started her Meyerton-based business, GEM Plastics, in 1997 out of her home with just two machines printing polyethylene bags. Today, her business has grown into a thriving family business operating out of a factory, employing 25 staff members, and manufacturing plain and printed polyethylene bags, tubing and sheeting to customer specifications.

“I initially considered starting my own business to be in control of my own working schedule so I can also look after my young daughter,” says Miller. “While I was thinking about possible business ideas, one night my husband and I went out with a friend who had a business making plastic bags. That night our conversation sparked an idea for us to enhance his business by purchasing a printing machine to be able to customise his offering to print on the bags. We then bought our first two machines the very next day and GEM Plastics was born.”

When the business started, we produced a very small turnover of R10 000 from about three to four tons of work, says Miller. “To give you an idea of the scale, we are now producing up to 64 tons of work servicing clients in Mozambique, Namibia and Gauteng,” she adds.

Explaining how her family got involved in the business, Miller says that in order to assist her in growing the company to its maximum potential and to be able to take advantage of further opportunities it had to offer, her husband left his job as a banker to become her business partner. “Today, my daughter is also working at the company and I am excited to provide her with the opportunity to grow in a family-owned business, as this will allow her to be the master of her own destiny.”

“This is testament to the importance of bolstering female entrepreneurship in South Africa, as it not only provides women with the opportunity to take control of their own life, but it has a knock-on effect by creating more jobs,” says Arnold February, regional investment manager at Business Partners Limited who explains that the company started working with Miller to grow her business in 2006.

Although there has been a gradual increase in female entrepreneurial representation in recent years, according to the 2018 Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs, a mere 18,8 percent of South Africa’s business owners are female. “This figure still holds much room for improvement,” comments February.

To encourage other women to start their own businesses this International Women’s Day, Miller explains that although her business forms part of a male-dominated industry, she has managed to grow it from strength to strength, breaking the stigma that women don’t know enough in her specific industry. “Instead of letting myself be undermined, I used my confidence to cement myself as a knowledgeable and trustworthy supplier.

“However, not every industry is male-dominated, and the perception around gender roles is constantly shifting and women are increasingly seen as being providers for their families,” she says. “Nowadays women are stronger, more self-confident, determined and dominant which holds them in good stead for entrepreneurship.”

When asked to give advice to local aspiring female entrepreneurs, Miller says: “Once you have made up your mind that you want to work for yourself, decide what type of business you would like to start. Following this, ensure that you have a good support system and a business plan in place. If you’re not sure how to draft a business plan or if you need any other technical assistance, there are many mentors or companies in the country that are able to assist.

“Most of all, the secret to success is to believe in yourself and to just do it,” concludes Miller.