Boost to Western Cape Entrepreneurs

2015-03-23 11:03

I had the pleasure of attending the Western Cape Funding Fair last week, which was a platform to introduce entrepreneurs to different forms of funding, to people such as themselves and to already successful business owners. What stood out to me was the positive energy in the exhibition hall and the auditorium. Everyone was keen to share their great ideas, to give advice and to offer assistance. Despite the hurdles that entrepreneurship in SA often faces, the opportunities remain great and I am confident that many of the attendees of the Funding Fair will become very successful.

My friend Mervyn Cookson (a fellow entrepreneur) told me about this event and we decided to go. I was not too excited initially as I am not on the lookout for funding, but seeing as I need access to market, I decided to go hand out some business cards. I also arrived late as the cricket quarter final against Sri Lanka was riveting. When I got there, I was pleasantly surprised and thoroughly enjoyed the day. I definitely will not miss next year’s event.

The Western Cape Funding Fair is a partnership between the Department of Economic Development & Tourism and Deloitte. Present were government-based funders (Industrial Development Corporation, National Empowerment Fund, SEFA, Tourism Enterprise Partnership); SME funders (Anglo Sebenza Fund, Business Partners, Edge Growth, Thundafund, U-Start); asset managers (Atlantic, Futuregrowth, Knife Capital, Leaf Capital, Masisizane Fund); bank and alternative financing (ABSA, Merchant Factors, Nedbank); and other companies (Capital Equipment Group, etc.). Click on the names to go directly to their websites. Maybe they can help you too!

I met or listened to a number of very interesting people during the day. Alan Knott-Craig Jr, the founder and CEO of Project Isizwe (the largest public free WiFi network in SA) told a fascinating story about his journey as an entrepreneur with loads of great advice about pitfalls and opportunities. He has an amazing vision for SA of how increased connectivity can increase efficiency and reduce unemployment. An example is how so many unemployed South Africans would queue for hours at community centres to be able to get to the notice board where jobs are regularly posted or sit for hours next to Builders Warehouse looking for the odd job. He imagines a future where these people can instead look for jobs online, saving large amounts of time and transport cost. Project Isizwe is actively busy making this future a reality.

Kieno Kammies who is best known as a talk show host on Cape Talk, told of how he has become successful in the business of developing small businesses. An example is how his love of flying drones led him to become an angel investor in a drone business which will be used to improve farmer’s crop yields, provide peace of mind airborne security solutions and help with search and rescue.

Darlene Menzies took us through her turbulent journey to become a successful entrepreneur and offered excellent advice to new start-ups. Her business offers great resources for small businesses, including the soon to be launched website that will help start-ups to access finance in SA and SMEasy, an easy to understand accounting package for small businesses.

A breath of fresh air was provided by Guy Harris from the SA Institute for Entrepreneurship. He was so passionate about education and training and so positive about the future. Within minutes of meeting him, he had included me on his Innovation Twitter list, a forum where South Africans can share their great and innovative ideas. Check it out. He also introduced me to a remarkable young man called Sihle Tshabalala who took his experience in prison to found Brothers for All, a business involved with prison rehabilitation, community upliftment, youth leadership, income generation and coding & start-ups. Sihle is passionate about reducing the dependence of the poor upon government grants and advocates investment in employment and small businesses instead.

Haley Gray, co-founder Forge Technologies spoke about how their business started by providing IT solutions to the advertising industry in Cape Town and has expanded from there. A very interesting project by Forge Technologies is their innovative interactive mathematics game called Intelleapp, which allows students to take part in weekly competitions, get their names on leader boards and to win prizes like mobile data. The app can be downloaded for free on both Google Playstore and Apple iStore.

There was a great deal of discussion on the state of education in SA, but what was refreshing was that most people were offering solutions instead of simply complaining. Isizwe, Kieno Kammies, SMEasy, SA Institute for Entrepreneurship, Brothers for All and Forge Technologies all see education as a priority and are all part of the solution. I also met or listened to other people that are active in this field including Michael Harrington from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor and Tembile Nyoka who runs the Ncedulunthu Academy of Learning in Dunoon and other township areas.

I was also happy to share my views on supporting successful township schools and encouraging underperforming schools to become more successful. I told the story of Mbilwi Secondary School in Limpopo that was first introduced to me by Prof. Jonathan Jansen (and discussed in a previous blog). This school achieves an almost 100% pass rate with almost 80% of pupils achieving matric exemption. It has more than 2500 learners and has become a very attractive destination for pupils who are searching for excellence. What makes Mbilwi different from many underperforming township schools is excellent management, dedicated teachers and very high standards. At Mbilwi, the target is not to achieve a pass (typically 40%) – instead, the target is to achieve 100%. If Mbilwi can do it with limited funds, so can so many other schools.

All in all, my time spent at the Western Cape Funding Fair was just great. Thank you to the Department of Economic Development & Tourism and Deloitte for organising. Hopefully there will be many more to come, including in other parts of our country (there have been similar fairs in Kwazulu Natal already). Be on the lookout and go if you have a chance. You will not be sorry.

Did you attend the Western Cape Funding Fair and what were your impressions? Would you attend a similar fair if it were held in your city? Are you a small business owner looking for advice and funding? If so, were the links above useful to you? I would love to see your feedback.

In the mean time, keep your talking straight!

Marius Strydom is the owner of MLAX Consulting

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