Jason Woolf and Sinesipho Klaas are the co-founders of SidebySide Township Development, a new online marketplace designed to connect township entrepreneurs with opportunities in tourism and related industries.

The company’s mission, says Woolf, is to ensure that tour operators and corporates looking to collaborate with township entrepreneurs are matched with the right people.

“We believe that we’re creating the market access that township entrepreneurs so need and deserve by brokering and facilitating experiences with these entrepreneurs,” says Woolf. “So many of these entrepreneurs have amazing talent and innovative offerings – products, services and stories. Currently the tourism industry here offers tours that don’t do the townships much justice. We are trying to change that equation when it comes to township touring. The tourism industry also has a vibrant conferencing component, and we’re saying why not enable these entrepreneurs to go into these spaces to demo their products, show off their talent, supply their cooking and tell their stories?”

Woolf, 25, who spent a year living in Khayelitsha in 2015, was born and raised in Massachusetts, in the US, but holds dual South African and American citizenship. His parents are South African. In 2013, during a visit to Cape Town as a student, Woolf founded the Umbiyozo Foundation, which means “celebration” in isiXhosa, a non-profit offering platforms for growth to township-based traditional song-and-dance groups. After graduating from New York University, Woolf decided to move to Cape Town and in August 2018 started the SidebySide Township Development Group with Klaas, 22, who lives in Khayelitsha.

The two met earlier in 2018 while Klaas was fundraising to study social entrepreneurship at Watson University in the US.

“I found Jason as an alumni on the university website and decided to connect with him to help me crowdfund,” says Klaas. “I couldn’t fundraise the whole amount, but through the engagement, we’ve developed a friendship and now SidebySide.”

Klaas was born and raised in Khayelitsha. “My business teacher saw the potential in me. I was interested in starting my own business and in entrepreneurship from a very young age.”

Klaas holds a diploma in entrepreneurship from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and in 2018 collaborated with the SA Innovation Summit to create the Social Innovation Summit.

“Basically, it’s a mini summit within the SA Innovation Summit,” she says. “We brought in 100 young people from all over SA to showcase their innovations. The initiative was focused around the use of tech for social good. As part of the summit and linking to Side by Side, we did an innovation tour, which included site visits to the township after the conference.”

Klaas says SidebySide Township Development is more than just getting people to tour the townships, “it’s about developing these entrepreneurs, upskilling them, and then linking them to corporates via our platform”.

SidebySide currently has 12 township entrepreneurs listed on their website ranging from the Likhwezi Arts Project, spearheaded by Pamela Mtati, to the 4Roomed eKasi Culture, run by Abigail Mbalo, and the Spinach King Health Foods Café & Bakery, owned and operated by Lufefe Nomjana.

“We are a B2B enterprise primarily,” says Woolf. “We go to tour operators, conference organisers and innovation institutions, such as the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business, and offer them and their clients these experiences. We have a database and relationships with these township entrepreneurs, so we enable them access, whether providing a guide or handling their travel and logistics or briefing the entrepreneur in advance so that they are aware who they are about to meet.”

SidebySide’s stakeholders are the community of entrepreneurs on the ground, says Klaas.  “We are trying to partner with organisations that are also trying to bridge the gap in terms of upscaling these entrepreneurs. Most fascinating for me, coming from the township, was the realisation that it’s very hard to find township entrepreneurs. If you do a Google search, you’ll find the few who have been written about in the media, but there are so many more, and so much talented individuals and small businesses in the townships.”

SidebySide currently focuses primarily on entrepreneurs in Khayelitsha and Langa, Cape Town’s biggest and oldest townships, respectively, but will continue to branch out to other areas as the number of clients increase. For more information and to get in touch with Woolf and Klaas, visit the SidebySide website.

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