Sanlam and Business Partners launch the anticipated Entrepreneur of the Year® competition in the Nelson Mandela Bay

Budding entrepreneurs from around the Nelson Mandela Bay last week packed into the plush Radisson Blu hotel along the Port Elizabeth beachfront for the launch of the anticipated Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® (EOY) competition.

Announcing the call for entries for 2013 – the closing date is June 16 – head of national consulting services at Business Partners Limited, Lionel Billings said entrepreneurs needed to be optimistic about the future of the country.

“Small and medium businesses are the bedrock of every economy and every society,” said Billings.

Reiterating the importance of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the country, Billings said business and government needed to instil a sense of entrepreneurship in the country’s youth.

It is estimated that there are 1.5 million SMEs in South Africa, of which 1 million are formal micro-businesses employing 5 or less people, he said.

“Government and large businesses need to align their goals to incorporate SMEs,” he said.

The guest speaker was former EOY winner and emerging Eastern Cape powerhouse in business, Mzukisi Stephen Dondolo, chief executive officer of investment firm African Pioneer Ltd. The firm has shareholdng in Coca Cola Fortune, Cerebos and The Boardwalk Casino and Entertainment Complex in Port Elizabeth.

Speaking about the need for entrepreneurs to band together and to lobby the government to better enable the environment for SMEs, Dondolo said: “It is an honour to come and talk at this function, because both Business Partners and Sanlam have contributed to growing small businesses in the country.

“We were once a recipient of this competition and it brings along a lot of recognition and a lot of joy. It was wonderful recognition to have.

“When I started out in the 1980s, I was the first black person in Uitenhage township to receive funding from Business Partners towards growing my business.”

Dondolo said he used his start-up funding to grow a bottle store franchise and then in the 1990s, tired of retail, he decided to enter the unchartered waters of the fishing industry.

“As a black man I had no idea about the fishing industry or how fish ended up on my table,” he joked. Yet Sanlam saw his business potential and invested in his company, he added.

“Sanlam took shares in my business and invested in me. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have been able to start up that business,” he said.

“Building a business starts with entrepreneurs. The government has created a platform for black businessmen to be able to enter the economy.

“Although on the one hand that has created ‘tenderpreneurs’, on the other hand there are hardworking entrepreneurs who take their hard earned money and reinvest it in the community.”

Dondolo said entrepreneurs were “engines of wealth creation and a creator of sustainable jobs”.He also spoke out against widespread corruption.

“The corruption creates an environment where someone will have to increase the price of a service to pay for corrupt tenders. It benefits ‘tenderpreneurs’ who will not invest back in the economy and allow the economy to grow.

“Corruption has also increased the cost of doing business, which prohibits entrepreneurs entering the market, and in the end the pool oftaxpayers remains smaller or even shrinks further while government expenditure continues to grow, leading to taxpayers being squeezed even more. It becomes a vicious circle which has a very negative effect on the economy and benefits only a very few.”

To counter corruption and to bolster the working environment for SMEs, Dondolo said entrepreneurs needed to band together and lobby the government to pay more attention to the need for SMEs in South Africa, to address the high level of unemployment.

“Entrepreneurs must think positively. Let’s look at our province and look for business opportunities. Together we can conquer unemployment. If we can arrest unemployment and change that into employment opportunities, that money will circulate and create wealth in the community,” he said.

“Together we can lobby all the spheres of government to improve their service delivery.”

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