New Kids In the Block: HEI Café

donors Entrepreneurship sustainability youth empowerment
Wednesday, 7 August, 2013 - 12:22

In this article the author discusses the Hillbrow Entrepreneurship Initiative’s decision to open a café in order to remain financially sustainable and to enable members of the organisation to learn entrepreneurship skills

Youth-driven and inspired ‘Hillbrow Entrepreneurship Initiative’ (HEI) has decided to walk the talk, and are taking their own spat in the innovative entrepreneurial space they advocate.
The nonprofit organisation, which is focused on encouraging and supporting the entrepreneurial spirit in the 21st Century African socio-economic climate, has taken the plunge itself and opened the ‘HEI Partnership Café (HPC).
Situated in a tucked away crevice of Braamfontein, the HPC is at the heart of the five-year old on-going regeneration project taking over the neighbourhood. A strong relationship with the property owners and South Point managers has seen HPC benefit from the reclamation and refurbishment of the alley-way parallel between Jorisson and De Korte Street, and between Melle and Reserve Street, in the heart of the neighbourhood.
The reclamation of such public space is crucial to the nonprofit and the city at large if headway is to be made in encouraging refreshed views of the City, and the role all stakeholders play in local economic development through collaboration and entrepreneurship.
The HPC was born when the members realised a need to change their operating strategy. Instead of constantly seeking grants to meet the monthly costs of running the organisation and supporting their six entrepreneurs, the team saw an opportunity in running a café and creating strong symbiotic relationships.
The importance of partnerships is of paramount importance in creating this paradigm shift of how stakeholders can collaborate for a greater cause. There are four classifications of partners the café has identified and are found to be interlinked of the success of the café.
They are:

  • Corporate / strategic partners;
  • Pro-poor entrepreneurial partners;
  • Artistic partners; and
  • Patron partners.

The interplay between these partners has developed the unique character of the café, in a neighbourhood where coffee shops and day-time cafés are quickly springing up.
The café’s library service is supported by a special partnership with Hospice Wits. The wide selection on display in the café is hand-picked from their overflowing depot. The café then serves not only as a library service but a Hospice sales point as well.
This relationship is also responsible for the furnishing charm of the space. The fine and totally unique pieces in the café space and boardroom, have been hand selected from the Hospice vintage store. This relationship has created a space that is not homogeneous but rather eclectic in charm, as monthly auctions see the highest bidder get their favourite piece, and an inflow of new furniture.
The private boardroom in the café is the ideal space to host medium-sized meetings of up to eight people. The cafés strong relationship and close proximity to the Branson Centre and French Institute is leveraged on creating semi-public space for entrepreneurial energy to thrive.
In terms of selection of artworks displayed in the café, great thought was taken, and the results have been portraits of great leaders insync with the menu theme. Pieces of canvas made by prophetic but greatly under marketed and under-valued street artists are displayed side-by-side by up-coming young artists in the young neighbourhood.
The crepe menu theme is ‘great leaders’ therefore be no surprise to see a contrast black and white painting of Che Guevara or Nelson Mandela.

One of the mandates of the café is to improve the skills of members belonging to the organisations as much as possible. A partnership with Caffe Minuchi who have provided HPC with their coffee machine have also conducted training for the team in being barista’s.
‘Coffee for a Cause,’ a partnership between Caffe Minnuchi and HPC has resulted in three coffee products; a corporate product, a retail product, and an organic coffee product. The partnership has seen design students from various art and design schools battle it out in designing logo designs.
With this intense mix of partners and activity, it seems HPC intends to change things from the inside.
- Theko Moteane is marketing manager at Hillbrow Entrepreneurship Initiative. 

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