A crowd of 300 people were left speechless after ex-offender Sihle Tshabalala shared his turnaround story to success during the SMME Opportunity Roadshow at the Cape Town International Convention Centre yesterday.

Tshabalala, from Langa, was previously sentenced to 12 years for committing business robbery.

He told the audience yesterday that, while he was imprisoned, he educated himself by reading books such as Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist.

Tshabalala said some of the best risk-takers, innovators and thinkers are in prison.

“If you are looking for the best entrepreneurs, go and source them in prison. There are three important qualities that makes a successful entrepreneur, and prisoners possess those qualities naturally. 

"One: if you want to become the best entrepreneur, you have to know how to hustle, and in prisons we have the best hustlers. Two: you have to have courage as an entrepreneur, and in prison you will find people with the best courage. 

"Three: you have to know how to take risks, and in prisons we have the best risk takers. The only reason they're jailed is they choose to use these qualities on the wrong thing.”

The roadshow, created to empower growth in small sustainable businesses, is in support of the government's drive to create job opportunities and to boost the economy.

Industry experts in finance, strategic management, tendering and marketing yesterday shared their knowledge at the event.

Tshabalala said he did not need to go to the best university or college to learn how to code, instead, he learnt using books and a computer.

“In this country we are blessed with amazing people with great intellect. I never went to university or college and I'm grateful I never went.

"Because today I am able to share authentic and original experiences. Experiences that I have come to learn and that have surfaced in my own journey and learning.”

His life experience and his lifestyle influenced him immensely in bringing change.

After Tshabalala was released from prison he realised that fast cars, expensive gear and alcohol were never important, so he co-founded Brothers For All - a non-profit organisation that helps teach prisoners, school drop-outs and teenage kids from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, in the field of IT, how to code and how to use technology.

Tshabalala has co-founded and is currently the chief executive at Quirky 30 NPC, Quirky Innovations (Pty) Ltd.

Other speakers at the roadshow included head of stakeholder relations at the Competition Commission, Mziwodumo Rubushe; deputy director of strategic planning and evaluation at Sheltered Employment Factories, Dennis Matsepe; ecosystem manager at Thomson Reuters, Vuyolwethu Dubese; wealth strategist at Old Mutual, Henry van Deventer; and founder and director of MOS Wear, Nhlanganiso Nkunzi.

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