Entrepreneurial to the core, he was quick to spot gaps in the Vaal Triangle Campus’s student life and to fill them whenever he could.
“I started the Young Entrepreneurs Business Organisation (YEBO) and was its first president. I also founded two radio shows on River FM (the campus radio station) as a platform to push the entrepreneurial spirit,” he says.
One radio highlight that Olivier treasures was the campus’s first-ever international interview. This saw Dr Susan Amat, founder of the VentureHive Incubator in the United States, talking to Vaal Triangle Campus students live from Miami, Florida.
Olivier was also an enthusiastic supporter of the campus’s Enterprise Development Centre (EDC) and won its first business competition – despite having been seriously injured in a car accident six days before the finals.
“Six days after winning Mr SA Campus, I was hospitalised after a car accident in which I broke my right arm. I had a metal plate and seven screws in my arm and more than 40 stitches. In hospital, I mastered how to use my left hand in order to prepare my final presentation and negotiated with the doctor to discharge me in time for my final presentation at the EDC,” he says. “When I won, I was so overtaken with emotion that I cried.”
Black sheep of the world, unite! While others might look down on us for being different, Vaal Triangle Campus alumnus Olivier Tshimbidi wants us to stand tall and stand together – and he’s leading by example.
While Black Sheep is the name of a clothing business that Olivier created as a student entrepreneur, it’s much, much more than that. “It’s an ideology, a way of life that I wanted to embed, to show people how our differences can bring us together and how we are actually not so very different after all.”
One of the factors that inspired this thinking was the xenophobic attacks that swept South Africa in 2008. Olivier himself originally hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo and arrived in South Africa at the age of six.
So serious was he as a student about getting his Black Sheep community off the ground that he took a calculated business decision: to enter the 2012/13 Mr and Miss Oryx and Acacia competition hosted by those residences.
Having won the title of Mr Oryx, Olivier went on to enter the 2012/13 Mr NWU Vaal Triangle Campus pageant. He won.
Next, he set his sights on the Mr SA Campus pageant, where he competed against the winners of virtually every university campus pageant in the country – including Mr NWU Potchefstroom Campus. Olivier won the Mr SA Campus title too, alongside Mudinda Denga from the University of Pretoria.
“It was all a business move. The first prize in the Mr NWU Vaal Triangle Campus competition was R10 000 cash, and I needed the cash injection to put into my business and use the platform to build my own personal brand. I was very fortunate that I won,” says Olivier who, by the way, was not just a pretty face.
At the time, he was completing his BCom degree in business management, entrepreneurship and marketing (earning five distinctions in his final year), which he then followed up with his honours, receiving three distinctions in the process.
Anyway, R10 000 richer, he put his winnings into his clothing business, named Black Sheep, of course. “I used the money for design concepts, activations and manufacturing, which are very expensive, and taught myself how to design. I also learnt how to use Photoshop and Corel Draw from a 13-year-old girl on YouTube.”
As if studying and starting a business weren’t enough to keep him busy, Olivier was an active member of the campus's Student Representative Council (SRC), where he founded a student entertainment organisation on the campus. He was also the projects and sports officer of the Institutional SRC.
While in his honours year in 2014, Olivier decided he needed a career that would blend the best of two worlds, entrepreneurship and corporate experience.
To satisfy his entrepreneurial streak, Olivier joined fellow alumnus, Mike Lysko who had just founded a tech start-up, App your Event.
This events software company specialises in corporate events registration software, mobile apps and live polling. Today, App Your Event’s clients include Facebook, MTN, Oracle and Sage Pastel.
At the same time, to gain corporate experience, Olivier joined Ernst & Young Sandton as an advisory associate consultant at the beginning of his first-semester honours exams, and is now an oil and gas sector focus advisory consultant still with Ernst & Young based in Cape Town.
He remains closely involved with the NWU, and especially the Vaal Triangle Campus, as a judge of residence and campus pageants and business pitching competitions, and as a mentor to undergraduates working on student business projects, as well as to economics honours students doing their final presentations.
Black Sheep is not forgotten, however. Although the clothing business is in mothballs temporarily, while Olivier considers possible new directions, he puts the Black Sheep ideology into practice daily.
“It’s a way of life. It’s about being open-minded and giving people the space to express themselves and treating everyone with the same level of respect – regardless of what you do or where you come from. We are truly not so different after all.”
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