SA businesses encouraged to create incubators to develop tomorrow’s entrepreneurs

“If all business owners in South Africa commit to mentoring one young entrepreneur, we have the potential to double entrepreneurship in two to three years.”

This suggestion was made by a local entrepreneur at the inaugural 2015 Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® Alumni Association, an entrepreneurial platform established in an effort to stimulate conversation and action amongst established local entrepreneurs.

During the session the entrepreneurial community – consisting of over 50 past competition title holders and seasoned South African business owners from across various sectors – recognised the urgent need for business incubation in South Africa, and raised valid points about how seasoned business owners can play a vital role facilitating and building entrepreneurship in the country.

Now in its 27th year, the Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® competition holds a database of top entrepreneurs and through the alumni, we seek to harness entrepreneurs’ expertise to remove the barriers they see as hindering entrepreneurship within the country.

Entrepreneurs in attendance agreed that small and medium enterprise (SMEs) owners underestimate the value and the difference they can make by guiding and supporting potential entrepreneurs who need support in starting or growing their business.

Now more than ever the market needs more employers

The recently released GEM Africa’s Young Entrepreneurs report states that by 2040 Africa’s young workforce will be the largest in the world, surpassing both China and India. In South Africa, this potential workforce is largely unemployed with the figure already reading 53% when compared to the adult population figure of 21%.

In South Africa, the formal sector is increasingly feeling the pressure and is unable to serve the current employment demands. This pressure is only set to grow if additional measures to drive youth entrepreneurship are not implemented in the country.

To curb this, youth need to be encouraged to pursue entrepreneurship as a viable career option. More importantly, young entrepreneurs embarking on the journey need to be supported in order to succeed so that they too can develop into successful entrepreneurs who will go on to create additional job opportunities.

South Africa’s youth are being taught to be job seekers, rather than job creators.

Past GEM research shows that only 11% of South Africa’s youth indicate that they intend to start a business in the next 3 years.

As a country, we need to encourage entrepreneurship from a young age. Education institutes can only inspire youth to a certain degree. Families need to groom their kids to become entrepreneurs and young, budding entrepreneurs need to have access to business owners they admire and spend time with them in a working environment where they can experience an entrepreneur’s passion for business first hand.

Leading by example

A Western Cape based alumni member operating in the construction space recently implemented an internal mentorship programme and incubator space within his business as he believes that ‘giving someone an opportunity can lead to great things’. The programme provides a platform for start-ups to make use of his office’s infrastructure, whether it is a desk, access to the printer or use of the boardroom. The entrepreneur also mentors young entrepreneurs by providing advice when needed, as well as introducing them to the business world by allowing them access to business engagements or seminars.

While there are barriers to entry for young entrepreneurs, if the small business community can inspire more youth to consider entrepreneurship, one battle will be won.

In South Africa, there aren’t enough grassroots organisations that equip young entrepreneurs with technical knowledge. A retired entrepreneur in attendance said that having recently mentored her son who owns a business, made her realise how desperately the youth seek guidance. She explained that while they have the passion and ideas, they struggle to implement these ideas and that more should be done to make it easier for them to grow their business.

The youth therefore need to have the opportunity to shadow a seasoned entrepreneur and be shown what it takes to run a business and what can be achieved with commitment and dedication.

Give back and get back

Not only are these mentorship and incubator initiatives relatively easy to implement, but entrepreneurs can also reap rewards from these engagements. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely job and an incubator environment can create an immediate sounding board for your business. It creates an opportunity for you to also learn and possibly think of new ways to do business.

Gugu Mjadu, spokesperson for the Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® competition and co-facilitator of the alumni events which were hosted across the country in 2015.