TWO remarkable South African business women have been chosen to receive awards from the International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge in Brussels in November this year. They were nominated by the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry and both have built up multi-million dollar businesses.
*Debbie Merdjan who started and runs the Camelot Group of spas and health and wellness schools.
*Gail Downing who runs the Acorn Group which manufactures and distributes cleaning products and insect repellents.
Both women have been in business for more than 20 years and both are still growing their businesses and planning export ventures. Both businesses are headquartered in Gauteng but also operate in the Western Cape market.
Ms Janine Myburgh, President of the Chamber, said they were outstanding examples of modern women who had built up substantial businesses and were making important contributions to the economy. “South Africa needs more entrepreneurs and Gail and Debbie are showing the way.”
Mrs Merdjan started her business with just R1 700 and has never looked back.
Her spas serve the top end of the market and are located in the major centres and resorts. Her spas employ 194 people around the country.
Mrs Downing founded a small business named Acorn Products in 1996. Acorn acquired various FMCG brands when Shell South Africa decided to dispose of them to concentrate on its core activities. She grew the business and some years later set up a pharmaceutical plant and laboratory together with her late husband, rather than contract out the manufacturing.
The awards will be presented at the annual IWEC conference which takes place in Brussels, Belgium, in November this year.
In addition there will be a special award for two Cape Town women, Susan Louw and Magda Malan who started and run the highly successful clothing business, Choc’late Lace CC. Their award will take the form of a year’s mentorship to help their business grow and push the turnover over the $1.5m threshold for the IWEC awards.
“It is particularly satisfying to this this kind of performance in the clothing industry which is beginning to recover after years in the doldrums,” Ms Myburgh said.