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Lester Philander

The Rise Of The ‘Covid-preneur’

By: Robyn Maxine Oliver

Starting a business during a global pandemic

– The Covid-19 Pandemic has evidently had an impact on the world-wide economy and has certainly contributed to South Africa’s economic downturn. Job security and income stability have become the talk of the town, and has resulted in gutsy entrepreneurs taking risks to thrive during this period of Covid-19, leading them to become what you could call ‘Covid-preneurs’.

Starting a business during a recession, let alone a global pandemic may not seem like a great idea, however, it’s actually completely the opposite. There are ways to adapt to this ‘new normal’.

Empire 629 is the sister company to PHL International Consulting (Pty) Ltd and was established by business coach, serial entrepreneur and radio host of the Business Show on CCFM, Lester Philander. The purpose of the company is to help everyday employees start their own business without the risk of them leaving their jobs. To date, PHL Consulting has created just over 2000 jobs in the Western Cape over the past 3 years.

Create opportunities. “Employees may often feel undervalued and underutilised within their job function. They might have exceptional business ideas and potential but cannot risk giving up their stable income,” says Philander.  Empire 629 was established to address factors such as these. They also have a program called Ingalozi Mali (Angel Money). Here employees can buy shares into small businesses for a stake in the company. This might suit employees that has the money but no desire to start a new business. The pandemic has led to a rapid increase in the unemployment rate, with skilled workers now willing to settle for less than what they usually would. By starting a business not only are you creating an income for yourself, but you are also contributing to job creation in the economy.

Find your gap. Ask yourself if you are serious about starting or growing this business or if it is simply a dream. Once you have a great idea, know how you can make it work and know what your strengths are. Talk to a business coach to help you identify these strengths, and also assist you in identifying opportunities in the market. Philander explains that it is important to know what your goals are, and set your objectives to achieve them from the get-go.

Take advantage of the weak economy. “The status of the economy will naturally affect the costs of goods and services. Take advantage of discounted services during this time. If you are needing to invest in some office furniture to start-up with, now would be the best time to shop around and try to negotiate good deals,” says Melvina Phillips, Student Development Facilitator at the Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurial Development.  A weakened economy may also lead to fewer risk takers, resulting in less competition in the start-up industry.

Re-evaluate your business model. The Covd-19 Pandemic has brought about and excessive amount of challenges, some of which no one could have prepared for. “Businesses and individuals are seeking solutions to problems brought about by the economic downturn. Relook at your business model and figure out a way to adapt it to suit the current demand,” says Philander. For example, can your business be altered to target an online audience? More people are working from home and spending more time online.

Establish a healthy routine. Starting a business during tough times and following through with the necessary perseverance can only make you stronger in the long run.  Build a good consumer base now to reap the rewards later. 

Seize opportunities and take advantage of our current ‘new normal’. It may not make it any easier, but there really is no time like the present.

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Empire 629 is a Business Development Program that not only prepares and educates you on the integral parts of running a business, but also makes valuable resources available to assist you in operating successfully.

It also stimulates partnerships through entrepreneurs and employees to ensure that “employee-ed entrepreneurs” do not saturate the market. One of the ways this is done is through their program called Ingalozi Mali (Angel Money). This is a platform where employees can buy shares into small businesses for a stake in the company. This might suit employees that has the money but no interest in starting a new business. This also helps the entrepreneur with cash flow to ensure growth and sustainability.

Lester Philander

Born on the Cape Flats and coming from a working-class family, Lester attended government schools where he excelled in commercial subjects, and was the top achiever in Business Economics and Economics. He was nominated by the school to attend the Junior Achievement Course where he learnt how to start a business at an early age. He then proceeded to write the international Cambridge Exam thereafter.

His outstanding results also secured him the Yvonne Parfitt Bursary (only given to 20 people in the country) and then went on to complete his degree in Management.

After graduation, he started working for corporate where he was promoted to management within his first year. 3 years later, he saw that there was more to conquer and decided to start his own business. Candles Manufacturing (  

Philander started excelling in the business world, won a number of awards, was named one of the top black youth entrepreneurs in SA in the SAB Kick Start Program. He was a finalist in the Sage One business of the year awards and won some pitching competitions as well. He also authored a book called “What to expect when going self-employed” (

He plays in the construction and media space, sits on the board of Western Cape Business Opportunities Forum (WECBOF) and Black CEO and has a heart for the youth and unemployed.

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