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#StartupStory: Trustlink Africa helps SMEs to grow

Trustlink Africa is a platform that aims to build more sustainable and bankable small/medium enterprises that are ready for access to funding and business opportunities made available by the government, corporates, and financial institutions.
Cheslin Denman, head of business development at Trustlink Africa Hub
Cheslin Denman, head of business development at Trustlink Africa Hub

I chat to Cheslin Denman, head of business development at Trustlink Africa Hub, to find out how the company is helping small/medium enterprises.

Can you tell us a bit about Trustlink Africa Hub?

The Trustlink Africa platform addresses a challenge all SMMES face, how to remain business/industry and financial compliant without the need of hiring expensive consultants that are not focused on guiding and educating the business owner focused on a specific goal. Business/Industry and Financial Compliance enables SMMES to get access to banks, supply chains, funders and tender opportunities.

When, how and why did you get started?

While I was working at a large corporate company servicing the similar market sector, many business owners paid to get access to opportunities but never saw great results. Many buyers and procurement departments would agree that 65% of businesses applying for opportunities would not make it to the first stage as they did not meet the business compliance criteria. This was a common barrier with funding, supply chain and tenders. My partners confirmed the mistakes they and many business owners were having thus leading to Trustlink.Africa.

What is the core function of Trustlink Africa Hub?

Trustlink Africa Hub is a digital compliance platform focusing on guiding companies through common challenges faced by small and medium businesses when trying to access greater opportunities within government, private institutions and supply chains. Some of the main challenges are:

  • Cost of compliance
  • Credible guidance
  • Education
  • Time and Trust

We do this by focusing on three aspects of the compliance journey

  • Vetting their current compliance levels against a business goal (Funding/Business/Supply Chain/Tender ready)
  • Keeping them aware of their compliance levels by providing them with a Compliance Report, including compliance related events via notifications
  • Helping them take action on compliance events when they do happen.

Your aim is to grow businesses. Could you share any success stories?

During the early stages of Covid-19 we helped raise over R1.5million for SMES through our partner network (SEFA, DEDAT, NYDA), utilising our platform. We also helped over 200 business become business ready to access funding and business opportunities.

What are some of the obstacles you've had to overcome since starting out? How did you get through it?

One of our main challenges has been the impact of Covid-19 on the business we serve as many businesses went from growth to focus to survival, thus led to many customers wanting the service but putting it on hold due to budget constraints.

The hustle is real and almost everyone wants to start a business these days. What advice do you have for someone starting out?

Starting a business is the easy part, running a successful business is the challenging part. You need to have grit, perseverance and handle all the challenges that comes your way whether it be financially or mentally. “Strongest lives the longest” is the saying that truly applies to business. I think you have to believe in your vision and have a purpose.

With all the doom and gloom around us, we need to hear more success stories. What has been your proudest achievement thus far?

Our startup assisted in securing over 30 jobs that were about to be cut due to businesses being closed during lockdown, thus was done in partnership with our funding partners.

Almost every business had to change how they operate because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Did this have an impact on Trustlink Africa Hub? If so, how?

Covid was a challenge for us as we had a subscription service and many businesses couldn’t keep up the payments. We therefore changed our pricing structure to month-to-month payments and this kept us moving forward.

As an entrepreneur, what would you like to see changed in the South African startup landscape?

Greater access/awareness of angel investors, as South Africa still lacks in early stage funding and more collaboration between everyone in the startup space, instead of each region being isolated.

Lastly, what sort of trends will we see in the entrepreneurship ecosystem in 2021?

There is definitely a rise in more businesses needing to adopt a digital business model or at least have a digital strategy to facilitate their future aspirations. Customers have become used to doing more digitally due to Covid-19 forcing all of us to remain indoors.

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