Friends Nelisa Ngqulana (left) and Elisja van Niekerk (right) are the co-founders of Coding Mamas. Their company hosts workshops for women that teach website and app development skills. The pair decided to start Coding Mamas after struggling to find coding workshops where they felt comfortable.
Through these workshops, Nelisa and Elisja plan to bridge the technology skills gap in SA. We sat down with Nelisa to talk about the duo’s startup story. Nelisa also runs PR Trends ZA, a public relations and media agency.
w&h speaks to Nelisa about Coding Mamas, a business geared at teaching moms how to code in a safe and empowering environment…
“I started my PR company in 2013, so my background is mostly in journalism and marketing. Throughout my career, I’ve often had to work with web developers when brainstorming new marketing strategies for clients. Over time, I learnt how to do some basic coding myself. Later, in 2017, I decided to enrol in coding bootcamps to develop my skills. I was so excited to improve my knowledge, but I was always the oldest person in the class. This knocked my confidence, and I didn’t feel brave enough to ask questions.
The next year, after struggling to find a different bootcamp where I’d feel more comfortable, I decided to start a coding school for women who felt the same as me. That’s when I met Elisja who has a background in IT and project management. Funnily enough, she was also planning a coding startup – but for kids. After realising we were both starting similar ventures, we opted to join forces and create one coding school where moms and kids would be welcome.”
Coding Mamas creates a space of learning where mothers can bring their kids along
“I first set up our social media pages to see if there would be some organic interest in a coding school for moms. Elisja and I have full-time jobs, so we dedicated late nights and weekends to crafting our business plan. We reached out to our peers in the tech and media industry and asked if anyone would volunteer to host our first workshops on subjects like coding, app development, and website design. After finding volunteer teachers, we needed to find child-friendly venues where there would be a boardroom and projector, a play area, and enough power supply for at least 10 laptops.
Knowing our first workshops would be small, we relied on our own savings to fund the data some mothers would need to download the programmes we’d teach, as well as caretakers for the kids, and snacks. After gaining some traction online, we were finally able to host our first workshop in March last year at a sponsored venue in Kyalami. Sixteen women attended and it was such a blast.”
Nelisa and Elisja hope to make Coding Mamas workshops as accessible as possible
“All of the workshops we host are free, but every participant is expected to bring their own laptop to work on. Before a workshop, we’ll send out information on what programmes to download, but not every mom has enough data or Internet access to download these programmes. Most of the laptops are different makes and models, too, so it takes a lot of time to get everyone set up. We now dedicate an hour before every class just to ensure everyone is fully prepared.”
The business duo were handpicked to participate in an online course
“Last year in June, we graduated from a free three-month online course hosted by the Future Females UK-SA tech hub. The course taught us how to define our brand and maximise our online presence. We were two of 50 entrepreneurs that were hand selected for the programme, so it felt really special.”
Coding Mamas’ journey going forward
“We’ve decided to rely on sponsorships to help grow our business. We plan on helping the Coding Mamas pupils find work in website development and design, so our hope is to eventually run a coding school that also doubles as a recruitment agency. In this way, we’ll be able to contract the moms we teach for various tech-related jobs.
We’ve hosted five physical workshops and five online workshops over the last year and our online following has grown to 900 moms. All of our classes are run by an amazing group of volunteer moms, as well as four caretakers to help keep an eye on the kids. Although Coding Mamas is my and Elisja’s part-time project, we intend on turning it into a much bigger enterprise. Starting a business together as new friends was daunting at the beginning, but it’s only made us closer. It has shown us how women who work together can accomplish great things. The lockdown has halted our physical workshops for now, but we’ve been keeping up online with virtual meetings.”
A top tip for aspiring entrepreneurs
“In the current climate, being able to work from home is an advantage – not a disadvantage. This is a great selling point when marketing our business to moms. If you’re in a similar position, remember to find a relatable and intriguing selling point for your venture.”
Photos by Hema Patel and words by Marike Watson
Features writer by trade, music lover and fine-line illustrator by nature. As an expert on the ’70s era, Marike will happily introduce you to her record collection. She’s passionate about African art and culture. And if she’s not off on an adventure, you’ll most likely find her making coffee.