SA urged to develop tomorrow's entrepreneurs

Cape Town - 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 Sanlam/Business Partners Entrepreneurs of the Year alumni gathering, an entrepreneurial platform established in an effort to stimulate conversation and action among established local entrepreneurs.

Gugu Mjadu, spokesperson for the Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year competition, said the gathering  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.

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.

The recently released GEM Africa’s Young Entrepreneurs1 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%.

“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,” says Mjadu.

She said that 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, says Mjadu. “As a country, we need to encourage entrepreneurship from a young age. Past GEM research1 shows that only 11% of South Africa’s youth indicate that they intend to start a business in the next three years.

“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.”

Mjadu points to an alumni member operating in the construction space who has 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 the young entrepreneurs to the business world by allowing them access to business engagements or seminars.

Mjadu says that 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.

“Youth 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,” said Mjadu.

She adds that not only are these 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,” concludes Mjadu.

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