Increasing Health and Wellness through Entrepreneurship and Technology

Access to health and wellness programs and facilities is vital for a healthy individual and a healthy society. Yet for the majority of South Africans, health resources are limited, resulting in approximately 40% of deaths being related to non-communicable diseases. South African entrepreneur Itumeleng Phake seeks to change that through his venture Zenzele Fitness, which provides gym management and wellness services at an affordable price point, and utilizes technology in order to track the progress.

“My career vision is to build the largest fitness and wellness company in Africa.”

Maximizing Health and Wellness

THE CHALLENGE. With roughly 70% of South Africans classified as below middle-class, based on income, health and wellness continue to be luxuries only afforded by a small percentage of the population. Compounding this is the double burden of infectious diseases like HIV, TB, and malaria and the increase of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, which places incredible stress on government health and wellness resources. The challenge of this double burden is unique to countries like South Africa compared to countries where the rates of infectious diseases are low. Without access to a baseline of health and wellness options, and with limited government resources, a wide gap for healthy living exists between South Africa’s upper class and the rest of the population. This gap affects more than just the personal lives of individuals; the World Health Organization concludes that the economic burden of disease affects everything from profit margins for African businesses to a country’s overall gross domestic product (GDP).

THE PROCESS. After 7 years in finance, South African entrepreneur Itumeleng Phake first noticed an opportunity when he was working with wealthy clients at RMB Private Bank. The company was upgrading their inhouse exercise facility, and Phake realized that there would be substantial benefits if the company could outsource this project, except that no option for outsourcing existed. He also became acutely aware that health and wellness facilities were primarily offered in spaces that were not accessible to anyone below the middle class. Phake’s idea was two-fold: using his knowledge of finance and business, he set out to create a company that would provide gym management services to businesses, universities, and government institutions while simultaneously providing access for South Africa’s lower-income classes by making the facilities affordable. He knew, too, that this venture could address the challenge of health and wellness for South Africa as a whole, by using technology to digitally plan and track the exercise plans of the individuals using the facilities. With these ideas in mind, Phake set to work, securing funding from Awethu Project and other investors, and launched Zenzele Fitness in 2014. His intention is to bolster the health of societies so that people are at their most productive and can increase their meaningful contributions to economic activity, leveraging their societies as a whole.

THE RESULT. By using top of the line equipment and working with medical experts, Zenzele Fitness is able to develop personalised programs for each of its members, manage their progress against their goals and report back to them and their employers, providing the ability to track real results within the workforce. Zenzele Fitness clients have seen a 32% increase in member efficiency and productivity at work or school. With 13 facilities and more in the works, the company has over 10,000 members and its profit margins have shown substantial growth year-over-year. The success of Zenzele Fitness for this South African entrepreneur won Phake a spot in the Obama Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) in 2016. He also won the Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year award, held by Business Partners and Sanlam. Phake’s vision for Zenzele Fitness is to create at least 200 jobs over the next couple years and to expand outside of South Africa in order to build the largest fitness and wellness company on the continent.



Founded in 2014, Zenzele Fitness offers turnkey wellness solutions and gym management services to African businesses, organizations, government establishments, and educational institutions. With high quality equipment, management, and technology, Zenzele Fitness provides premium low-cost services for its members, increasing the accessibility of health and wellness options for South Africans.

Healthy Aspirations


A South African Entrepreneur with Healthy Aspirations

Itumeleng Phake graduated from the University of South Africa with a Bachelor of Commerce Degree in Financial Management. As a South African entrepreneur, his dreams extended beyond investment and banking. After 7 years in the financial sector, Phake had the vision to build Zenzele Fitness as a way to address the health and wellness challenges in South Africa. Phake also launched a mentorship program in 2014, geared towards helping aspirant young entrepreneurs, as a way to address South Africa’s youth unemployment crisis. He is a South African ambassador for YALI, made Mail&Guardian’s Top 200 Young South Africans list, and won the Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year award.

Zenzele Fitness focuses on the low-end marketing in South Africa, offering premium low cost services and making health and wellness more accessible to the general population. The members are typically a blue collar workforce employed at a specific company. Zenzele Fitness first targets the clients, such as corporations, universities or government institutions, and creates the gym facilities. After setup, the services are marketed to the end users, such as employees, students and/or Zenzele Fitness members to join the gym facility, through pre-marketing, ongoing sales and acquisition campaigns. The value proposition is a gym experience that is similar to a large commercial world class health club at their place of work or study, but at a much lower price point.

“My vision is to have a positive impact on the burgeoning Chronic Disease Burden facing Africa using the power of physical activity as both a prevention and treatment modality.”

Zenzele Fitness has brought a new form of competition into the health and wellness industry that will ultimately drive change across the industry. Phake plans to expand Zenzele Fitness into the rest of the African continent as a publicly listed company. He envisions that the technology utilized by Zenzele Fitness will change the African industries that it will reach, by realising the goals of numerous under-developed countries to bolster the health of their societies.


Itumeleng Phake believes that Harambe helps him reach a broader audience and provides access to more resources:

“I am hoping to build strong networks that will allow me to connect with fellow African entrepreneurs in order to collaborate and find ways to penetrate to the rest of the continent. Participation in the alliance enhances my personal development growth and how I add sustainable value to the African continent.”
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