From a crooked business partner who single-handedly bankrupted their company, to almost being homeless, entrepreneur Yashmita Bhana has beat many odds to become a crucial player in the male-dominated tech industry.
The award-winning businesswoman, 47, from the south of Johannesburg, is the founder and chief executive of Nhika Technology Group, which she started in 2008.
Prior to that, Bhana ran a flourishing information technology (IT) consultancy firm with a business partner.
However, when she went back to work from maternity leave in 2007 all the company’s money was gone. With mounting debts, Bhana’s family were almost out on the streets.
“I resigned as a director and left because the partner was dishonest. He stole all the money,” says Bhana, who was announced as the Entrepreneur of the Year by the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa in 2016.
Bhana started her career as a senior project manager and engineer for mining consultancy SRK Consulting but later left to join Eskom as a civil and building manager, where she won numerous awards for excelling at her job.
“The head of Eskom’s IT asked me if I could do to the IT department what I had done for the engineering department. So, I moved to the IT department and started doing IT projects. That’s where I got my passion,” explains Bhana, who left the power utility in 2004.
She was unemployed for a while and struggled financially after her corrupt business partner had run their company into the ground in 2007.
“We had lots of debts. My husband and I were almost out on the streets with our two kids,” she remembers.
Bhana notes, however, that she was “quite sellable” and had received numerous job offers because of her impressive educational qualifications.
She holds a Master of Business Administration degree from GIBS Business School. She also has a masters degree in engineering from Wits University and a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering from the same institution, and a project management certificate from Unisa.
“I turned down the offers because I’m too much of an entrepreneur and a risk taker as well. In 2008, I started my current company as a consulting firm but it has now grown into a fully fledged IT firm,” says Bhana, who recently returned from a technology conference in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Their long list of clients includes Eskom, City Power, Standard Bank, Absa, Hollard, Department of Basic Education, and the Airports Company of SA, among others.
The Nihka Technology Group recently signed a R16 million deal with a South African financial institution.
Bhana says they are currently in talks with the Mauritian government. “We want to use that country as a base to expand to the rest of the world. Mauritius has very good trade relations with the rest of the world,” she says.
“The government have invited us to come and set base in Mauritius because they mostly focus on tourism and hospital and now want to grow their IT sector.”
The businesswoman says they have partnered with leading technology solutions company Huawei. “They have a Smart City project that they are looking to take to that country,” she guardedly reveals.
When asked what her future plans are for the company, Bhana says: “We have got what we call the Disney Target which is valued at R200m. We call it the Disney Target because should we reach it we are taking our families to Disney World.”
Bhana says she is driven by the need to empower women and that 68 percent of her staff complement are black women.
“I aggressively go out and look for black women. I want to show that women can also do well in this male-dominated tech industry,” says the entrepreneur, who summited Mount Kilimanjaro while pregnant in 2011 and raised over R500 000 for a children’s home and to send three pupils to study engineering at university.
“As a black woman you still need to prove yourself in this male-dominated industry,” she says Bhana. She is the chairperson of the Quant Education Fund helping women in engineering, and also runs the Dhiya Development Foundation which facilitates the training of youth in the tech industry.
“When I wake up in the morning my mantra in the shower is the greater my success, the greater my ability to help others. I’m keen on making a difference in unemployment in this country.”