Wiehan and three others in his profession applied for the MBA programme. As animal nutritionists, at first they didn’t believe they would be accepted into the Business School programme, but to their delight they were. One of those other three was Werné Kritzinger who went on to become Wiehan’s business partner. Wiehan and Werner continued practicing as animal nutritionists, but early on in their studies they started a business called Noobswitch, which they run on a part-time basis.
“The relevance and practicality of the MBA programme meant that they could apply what they were learning to empower others.”
In the first week of their MBA classes, Wiehan and Werné both felt inspired to explore their entrepreneurial side. The meeting of minds came when it occurred to them that most young university graduates find the time between graduation and their first encounter with the work environment difficult, as they did. The transition from being a student to a professional is decidedly daunting. The idea for their business came from this realisation – and so followed the birth of Noobswitch in 2014.
The relevance and practicality of the MBA programme meant that they could apply what they were learning to empower others. Noobswitch offers their participants, who are undergraduates, a scaled-down version of the MBA in one week. The two owners created a short course incorporating some of the learning that they were experiencing on the MBA programme. Sessions on their programme include leadership, financial planning and business communication.
A wide variety of people have offered their time to lecture or mentor the students. In the first year, several of the 17 speakers were fellow classmates from the MBA programme at USB. Additionally, after that first week, some of these volunteers from the MBA class employed some of the students in their businesses.
Wiehan and Werné found the experience of having diverse lecturers and guest speakers in class enriching as they received content from different perspectives. The exposure to these different people on the USB MBA encouraged them to think more broadly and they created a new business model with Noobswitch. It is evident that the network the two owners created in the MBA class has been useful to them and the Noobswitch students.
The value commitments of USB are demonstrated by Wiehan and Werné:
- Innovation is evidenced through Noobswitch’s imaginative inception.
- Engagement with the business community is encouraged and rewarded by interaction with the wider society to promote public good.
- Sustainability is seen through the ongoing support of the well-being of their students, to help them with their transition and become better members of the corporate community.
The MBA taught them to have patience and discipline in the world of business. In the first two years of running Noobswitch they were unable to generate any profits, but had the grit and patience to keep running the business as well as maintain their full-time jobs. In the first two years, the business was run solely by Werné and Wiehan. Recently, they appointed their first full-time employee – an alumnus of the 2016 Noobswitch week. The first staff member is in charge of Business Development. As a business Noobswitch is starting to create employment, which means past students are the beneficiaries of this growth. They have also started to generate profit in 2017.
They found that the USB MBA modules were versatile and could be used in most situations. For example they apply the skills from the leadership module both in Noobswitch as well as in their full-time jobs in the farming industry.
Thanks to his studies, Wiehan is able to contribute to strategy and marketing plans, and he has implemented some cost management processes within the organisation he works for full-time. He feels that before embarking on the MBA he used to work with a silo mentality. Nowadays, he is able to understand the interconnectedness of functional areas and works at a broader level. He has moved upwards and joined the operations committee, where his input is valued. The organisation currently manages two main streams within the business. One constitutes about 75% of the business, the other the remaining 25%. There is a need to grow the latter to estimates of about 40 to 50% of the total business within the next four or five years. Wiehan is part of the team drawing up the strategy for this strategic growth and implementation plan, while also bearing in mind the effects of change among staff in the organisation. To this end, he is able to help people to manage the change better and where appropriate, call on other providers for assistance.
On the entrepreneurial side, their knowledge and skills are advantageous because both have been doing the marketing and finances as well as the sales function of their business. The impact of this is that during the first two years they incurred none of the overhead costs of paying service providers, but used their knowledge gained from the MBA.
The network of friends and acquaintances made on the programme has been of great benefit. Their network has extended beyond just engineering – again stretching their thinking and knowledge, something that wasn’t the case before.
Wiehan sees in himself significant growth in confidence, belief in his capabilities and leading differently because now he understands the language of business better and applies it. The MBA has given him a voice in his organisation.
Wiehan further reports that by being on the MBA at the USB, he has developed a different perspective on community. The strong focus and perspective on South Africa and that everyone has a part to play in the direction of the economy, social issues and transformation was remarkable in the programme and it compelled one to act. Instead of thinking that he would do something for the community one day when he has the money, he now believes in starting small. He does small acts – cleaning people’s gardens or looking after children. Furthermore, at Noobswitch, they highlight this aspect and encourage students to pay it forward by helping out in their local communities.
Noobswitch is a story of application, of multidisciplinary use of learning and passion fueled not only by content but by every person the two founders encountered on the MBA programme.