NINETEEN women-owned businesses in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro have recently graduated from a R250 000 intensive nine month women enterprise development programme run by the Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC) in partnership with the Uitenhage Despatch Development Initiative (UDDI). The graduation ceremony officiated by the MEC for Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Sakhumzi Somyo, was held at the Nelson Mandela Bay Science and Technology Centre in Uitenhage last Thursday. A total of 21 enterprises which met the criteria were admitted to the programme, which provided training, mentorship and coaching covering areas such as strategy development, financial management, marketing management and business legal compliance. Richmond-based Bibstar Trading and Projects, owned by Nozipho Hlalukana, is one of the women-owned enterprises that graduated from the programme on Thursday. The company employs eight women and two men and offers cleaning, renovations and maintenance services. It has contracts with companies such as the South African Maritime Authority, Coega Development Corporation and the Department of Rural Development.“My business was provided with a mentor, Lulama Jakavula, who is a business trainer and her help was instrumental in ensuring that Bibstar developed proper financial management systems,” Hlalukana said.ECDC business support manager Mpumi Fundam said the programme was aimed at addressing the “entrepreneurial skills bottleneck” by providing coaching, mentorship and training of women-owned emerging enterprises in the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan area. In addition, all participants had access to the varied support products offered by ECDC to address either access to finance or markets.“The programme is aimed at facilitating growth and sustainability of women-led small businesses, supporting women-owned businesses to operate in a professional manner, while improving their administrative efficiencies and business compliance, as well as developing business management and technical skills to create readiness for markets and investor opportunities,” Fundam said.He said once enterprises were admitted to the programme, a baseline assessment was carried out to determine the status of the businesses and their business needs. “Based on the identified gaps, mentors with relevant skills were recruited and a programme to address the identified needs was developed.”Another participating enterprise was Zozinette, a 100% women-owned enterprise in Port Elizabeth. The company produces a locally made range of custom designed baby carriers including stretch wraps, ring slings and buckle carriers. The company currently employs eight black women. It received support in the form of market access, strategy formulation, mentorship, as well as a financial masterclass. Another beneficiary was Lumia, a 100% black women-owned business in KwaNobuhle in Uitenhage. The company specialises in DSTV and Openview HD installations, upgrades and support services. It employs five people from KwaNobuhle. UDDI chief executive officer Patricia Dlamini said one-on-one mentorship and coaching were provided. “The purpose of one-on-one coaching was to ensure that enterprises are assisted in developing their strategies and in developing and implementing financial management systems and supporting them for compliance,” she explained.Fundam said the programme was a response to a need to provide non-financial support in order to harness the competitiveness of these small businesses. “The intention is to ensure that these enterprises are well-managed and are prepared for long-term growth,” Fundam said.