Top Small Business Resources and Programmes to Build your Business

Top Small Business Resources and Programmes to Build your Business

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From short courses to get your business started to more intensive business programmes that will beef up your knowledge in specific areas of your business, Entrepreneur explores the top small business resources available to assist start-ups and SMEs.

Forget about a lack of governmental support. Forget about the red tape that SME owners and start-ups face. Instead, find the people, businesses and organisations that are designed to assist you.
Entrepreneur has spoken to a number of different programmes to give you an idea of what’s available for start-ups and existing businesses.

There are many more resources available to you than those listed in these pages. You just need to start by joining your local chamber of commerce, researching the programmes that might operate within your field, and keeping your eyes and ears open.

Small business resources for the pre-start-up phase

The Vuka Mentorship Programme

In conjunction with Nedbank, Vuka has implemented a programme called Implement a Solid Business Idea.

The Vuka Mentorship Programme Implement a Solid Business Idea was designed to cater for the pre-start-up market: entrepreneurs who either have an idea or a strong desire to start their own business, but don’t know how to take that idea to market.

“Many organisations focus on businesses that already have a track record, or are at least registered and operating business entities,” explains Sharon Reed, the programme’s founder. Having spent four years with Anglo Zimele, which develops local SMEs in the mining sector, Reed was acutely aware of a gap in the market.

Who was assisting pre-start-up entrepreneurs? “Many potential entrepreneurs see a business idea and think that’s all you need to start a business. They don’t realise that every good start-up only succeeds because the initial idea was viable. Without properly researching your sector, how can you be sure that the business will be sustainable and profitable?” asks Reed.

“Many entrepreneurs struggle through one stumbling block after the next, never really getting their business off the ground but unsure why. When we go back and look at these businesses, the reason is simple: they didn’t actually have a business to begin with. Their idea just wasn’t viable, but through sheer tenacity they’ve managed to keep the business hobbling along. I wanted to find a way to touch these determined entrepreneurs before they launched their businesses, to assist them in learning enough about business and markets to develop sustainable and viable business plans.”

According to Reed, many entrepreneurs secure an order first, and then try to develop a business idea or plan that suits that order. For example, a local entrepreneur manages to secure a local public transport contract, shuttling workers to and from work. This means there are only two travel times. For the entrepreneur, it’s hard to say no – the contract will mean getting a foot in the door. Or will it? “What is the big business idea here?” asks Reed. “Is the vehicle investment worth two travel times a day? Does taking the contract make sense? Is there another stream of income perhaps outside of those two travel times?”

For Reed, this trend of committing to contracts without evaluating how sustainable or viable they are is one of the key reasons behind the local SME failure rate.

  • In a nutshell: Implement a Solid Business Idea is a mentor programme designed to create citizens of the business world who understand the various aspects of starting and running a business.
  • Cost: The programme is funded by Nedbank Business Banking.
  • Duration: Initial applicants are screened during a one-day assessment programme. Thereafter between 30 and 50 entrepreneurs take part in a 14 week business development programme.
  • Time spent away from work: The course meets once a week, although there is extensive homework to be done between sessions. Entrepreneurs who take part in the programme are expected to be dedicated, although it is understood that many already have businesses that they need to be running.
  • How candidates are chosen: The Vuka Mentorship Programme engages with district and local municipalities across the country. Local calls to entry are made in each area earmarked for a programme. Once entries have been received (usually in the area of 3 000 entries), applicants are shortlisted based on their written applications. They are screened according to how passionate they are, if they display some business acumen, and if they appear willing to learn.
  • The break-through: Once the applicants complete the programme, businesses will be chosen to present their business plans to Nedbank. Successful candidates will then be given assistance in the form of either financing the business, or through supplier and procurement development, which will assist the entrepreneur in securing contracts.

The Hub Fellowship Programme

In conjunction with a number of sponsors, The Hub Johannesburg has implemented the first Hub Fellowship Programme for social and environmental entrepreneurs in South Africa.

The Hub in Johannesburg is currently calling for entries for its Fellowship Programme, which is also aimed at entrepreneurs in the seed stage. “This programme is strictly for entrepreneurs who are in the idea phase,” explains the programme’s project manager, Viola Lutz. “We want to not only support entrepreneurship, but actively stimulate it as well. There are a number of different programmes and incubators that support operational businesses, but it’s as important to support seed-stage entrepreneurs.”

  • In a nutshell: One local entrepreneur will enjoy a one-year programme valued at over R150 000.
  • Cost: Free.
  • Duration: One year.
  • Time spent on your venture: 80% to 100%.
  • How candidates are chosen: Candidates must submit an application form and mini business plan; shortlisted candidates will pitch in front of a jury panel.
  • The break-through: The programme includes seed capital, a (small) living stipend, skills trainings, coaching and mentoring, and access to a community of peers passionate about social change.

Visit hub.joburg.net or johannesburg.the-hub.net for more information on how to enter.

Top small business resources for getting connected

Build networks that will enable you to access the decision-makers.

One of the Hub’s members, Shake the World, gained access to upper management from Edgars through a Hub connection. The business’s Shaker Bracelets, which are locally produced through a community assistance project, are now stocked in a number of Edgars branches.

Existing businesses

It’s not only start-ups that need support. As a start-up there are a number of incubators, mentorship programmes and skills development courses that you can join. The same is true of more established businesses. As a smaller, growing business there are a number of ingredients that can assist your business’s growth. These include:

  • A strong focus on business skills development. If you have gaps in your business acumen, business courses can help you fill those gaps.
  • Mentorship. From business coaches that help you to develop your business acumen to mentors who understand your specific industry, advice from those who have been there and done that can be invaluable.
  • Networking. Entrepreneurs tend to face the same challenges, regardless of the industries they operate within. Networking with fellow entrepreneurs can have a number of unexpected outcomes, from good business advice to new business based on synergies.
  • Office sharing. Rent and equipment can be expensive, particularly for a smaller business. Office sharing can help entrepreneurs spend less on infrastructure while they grow their businesses.

Medo

In conjunction with a number of sponsors, Medo offers four different programmes for entrepreneurs.

Supported by sponsors such as Absa and UK Trade & Investment, Medo (or the Micro Enterprise Development Organisation) focuses on helping existing business owners take their businesses to the next level. As a strategic advisor and on-the-ground implementer of micro and small enterprise development, Medo helps to secure supplier relationships and expand trade within and outside South Africa. Because Medo has secured non-Enterprise

Development (ED) sponsorships as well as ED sponsors, the candidates do not all have to meet ED criteria.

“There are so many phenomenal entrepreneurs in this country who are lacking business acumen, but with the right skills would be able to run highly profitable businesses,” says Bashir Khan, a director and course facilitator at Medo. “Our programme is designed to assist these entrepreneurs. We really focus on backing the entrepreneur, or the jockey, as we like to call them. If they have passion and a willingness to learn, we can help them to fine-tune their business model until they are ‘offering fit’ with the market.”

For Khan, one of the most important steps in developing small businesses in South Africa is to dispel the notion amongst entrepreneurs that without funding their businesses will never truly take off. “Funding is not a virtual or real barrier to success,” he says. “We want to foster top-tier self-belief amongst our entrepreneurs by helping them to develop a business offering that caters for their markets. If you have a product or service that the market really wants, and your business model is sustainable, you won’t need funding to become a success.”

According to Khan, self-belief does not have to be inherent – it can be developed. “Neurolinguistic programming can actually increase a person’s self-belief,” he says. “We do a very simple exercise. Our entrepreneurs need to write down four stages to success. They then stand up, and step into the first stage – they close their eyes and imagine what that stage will look like, feel like and be like. They then take a step forward and do the same for stage two. By the time they have completed step four they are actually more self-confident – they can taste what success will be like.”

Medo’s programmes also focus on networking. “Many entrepreneurs spend a lot of time on their own,” Khan says. “They aren’t accustomed to networking. We facilitate speed networking sessions that allow our entrepreneurs to practice their networking skills as well as develop relationships with fellow entrepreneurs. In many cases they even discover synergies between their businesses and ways to assist each other.”

  • In a nutshell: Medo assists small business owners to critically evaluate their businesses and implement meaningful changes to their business models.
  • Cost: Free.
  • Duration: One day programme; a two day refresher programme, five-day programme and an International Trade Programme.
  • Time spent away from work: The one day and two day programmes are full day. The five-day programme takes place one day a week over a course of five weeks.
  • How candidates are chosen: Candidates can apply online, at Medo’s walk-in-centres or at its mobile truck unit. Candidates need to have a bankable product or service offering, the business must be registered, and depending on the assessment, they will be invited to either the one-day business skills programme or the five-day programme.
  • The break-through: After completing the programme, entrepreneurs understand the mechanics of their entire business in relation to the principles of a winning business model. The five-day course also prepares candidates to potentially be considered for Medo’s International Trade Programme. Through the joint programme and partnership with Medo, UK Trade & Investment is able to pool their influence and contacts to create an avenue for UK companies to make a valuable contribution to South African companies, in the interest of South African economic growth, while simultaneously strengthening trade and bilateral relations between the two nation states.

Visit www.medo.co.za to find out more about Medo’s walk-in centres and mobile units, or to apply online.

The Hub Johannesburg

From clinics to a work space to a networking gold mine, the Hub offers its members a range of business support mechanisms.

A global organisation with chapters around the world, the Hub’s offering is varied, designed to stimulate business growth through a number of touch points. These include business clinics, thought leadership dialogues – often across international borders with Hub centres in other countries – member-driven events, access to office space and perhaps most importantly, meaningful networking.

“One of things we are most proud of at the Hub is how the system fast-tracks serendipity,” says founder Lesley Williams. “We often hear people say, ‘I happened to be at the Hub and I met so-and-so, which led to a deal with so-and-so, which has made a huge difference to my business’. This is the foundation of everything we do here. We have created a space where ideas can flow, connections can be made and businesses can flourish. You can’t get these connections running your business from a home office. You need to be out there engaging with the market and other entrepreneurs, which is what we offer.”

Over and above synergies between businesses, these connections often lead to peer mentoring as well, where an entrepreneur with market or industry-specific experience will assist another entrepreneur. “This extends to international connections as well. Often entrepreneurs in other countries that have experienced similar conditions to the South African business landscape can offer valuable advice in overcoming challenges,” says Williams.

Clinics are hosted twice a month, and are the result of close interaction with the Hub’s entrepreneurs. “Through interaction with our members we can see where their skills gaps lie, and where they would like assistance,” says Williams. “We then design one day clinics to assist them.”

Members who are concerned about a specific issue can also host an event or dialogue, and the Hub also invites well-respected local business leaders to speak to its members on a semi-regular basis.

  • In a nutshell: The Hub has a number of offerings. These include access to high speed Internet, printing and fax, hosted space between 8am and 6pm, discounted rates for use of meeting spaces (from R150 per hour), clinics, entrepreneurial dialogues and networking events.
  • Cost: There are 12 tiered packages ranging from R120 per month to R3 750 per month, depending on what the entrepreneur’s needs are. These packages can be renewed or cancelled on a month-by-month basis.
  • Duration: The clinics run for one day.
  • How candidates are chosen: Businesses must add value to society, as the Hub focuses on social and economic development.
  • The break-through: The Hub is an international network that supports entrepreneurs both locally and globally. Members enjoy meaningful connections with local entrepreneurs and are able to share their solutions and similar challenges with entrepreneurs around the world.

Visit http://johannesburg.the-hub.net to find out more about The Hub Johannesburg.

Property Point

Property Point is an ED programme facilitated by property giant, GrowthPoint. It assists SMEs in the property and related services sector to become procurement ready.

Property Point is an example of corporate support for the SME sector. Developed as an enterprise development programme within the GrowthPoint group, Property Point focuses exclusively on businesses that support the property development and maintenance sector.

“GrowthPoint realised a few years ago that the SME sector was vital to the overall development of South Africa’s economy, particularly in terms of creating employment,” says Shawn Theunissen, manager of Property Point. “The problem is that many SME owners are not familiar with big corporate procedures and so they don’t tender well for contracts. They also don’t always follow the procedures that corporates need to see in terms of their own best practice and governance.”

However, while many SMEs are not ‘procurement ready’, they can add real value to the corporate sector once they are. “We find SMEs are flexible and highly innovative,” says Theunissen. “In fact, we have implemented green policies across the GrowthPoint group because of a green initiative that one of the SMEs we contract to implemented in the buildings she cleans.”

Over and above the value that working with SMEs brings to GrowthPiont, Property Point has also made an impact on the local market. “To date we have facilitated linkages to the value of over R70 million for the businesses linked to Property Point, and our member businesses have created over 350 sustainable jobs,” he says. “Many of the businesses that have joined our programme have actually secured bigger clients than us.”

The idea is to offer business owners who show potential, but are possibly missing a few business basics, the opportunity to take their businesses to the next level. “We focus on one key question: where’s the value?” explains Theunissen. “Our programme demystifies how the private sector works and what big corporates are looking for from their suppliers. We cover everything from business basics and how to create a competitive and sustainable business, to procurement processes.”

  • In a nutshell: Property Point’s programme focuses on creating sustainable, procurement-ready businesses. It runs programmes in Joburg and Cape Town.
  • Cost: Nominal joining fee of R5 000 for selected businesses. This is to ensure that the business owner is focused on their own improvement and will work hard throughout the duration of the programme. At the end of the programme these joining fees are awarded to the best performing business.
  • Duration: Two year programme.
  • Time spent away from work: Sessions are spaced out to ensure the entrepreneur is not away from their business.
  • How candidates are chosen: The business needs to be an operating business with a track record of at least two years, and active in the property sector. The entrepreneur needs to be willing to work on their business. Candidates are selected based on their passion and operational business. Property Point needs to believe that with assistance, the business will become procurement ready.
  • The break-through: Property Point understands the inner workings of the property sector, as well as big corporate South Africa. It can therefore offer more than business advice – it offers industry-specific mentoring.

Visit www.propertypoint.org.za, email rbasson@growthpoint.co.za or follow Property Point on Twitter @propoint

Eskom Foundation

Eskom’s Contractor Academy Programme is focused on businesses that can potentially join Eskom’s eco-system once they have completed the programme.

Like Property Point, the Eskom Foundation is geared towards developing SMEs, in this case in the energy sector. “The foundation was formed to assist with capacity building and skills development,” explains Haylene Liberty, the foundation’s CEO. “We focus our programmes around strategic sites across South Africa, predominantly where we are building new sites, but also in areas with existing power stations,” explains Liberty.

“We have found that SMEs often lack business skills and struggle with accessing the market,” she continues. “For example, an SME owner might be highly skilled in their area of expertise, but their business acumen is lacking. This programme is designed to assist them in developing those skills, so that they might potentially become a supplier to Eskom.”

These are long-term contracts, as it takes years to build a new plant, and can include anything from caterers to laundry services, electricians and wiring specialists to security companies. “There will be a host of businesses supplying the 9 000-strong workforce on a new plant’s construction site, or catering for that workforce,” Liberty explains. “So we aren’t just assisting businesses to grow, we provide a potential market too.”

  • In a nutshell: The Contractor Academy Programme accommodates between 15 and 30 entrepreneurs at a time. Candidates who complete the course receive certified qualification.
  • Cost: Nominal registration fee to ensure commitment.
  • Duration: Eight months.
  • Time spent away from work: Sessions are spaced out to ensure the entrepreneur is not away from their business.
  • How candidates are chosen: Candidates must be local, have a business that suits the sector and peripheral services associated with the sector, be committed, engaged and willing to learn.
  • The break-through: The programme teaches business and technical skills, ensuring business owners improve their business acumen, but also that their services are of a high quality and safe.

Email csi@eskom.co.za or go to www.eskom.co.za and click on the CSI tab for more information.

Property Point and the Eskom Foundation are only two programmes specific to their industry. Do some research and find out what the big players are doing in your industry.
Visit their website or give them a call to find out if they offer similar programmes. You can also chat to your local municipality or chamber of commerce, as they should know which programmes are available in their areas.

Small business resources

  • Aurik: An incubator that develops and builds entrepreneurial businesses through all points in the business lifecycle.  www.aurik.co.za
  • Bandwidth Barn: A networked business incubator, part of the Cape Information Technology Initiative (CITI). www.citi.org.za
  • BTISoftstart Incubator: BTISoftstart supports high-tech entrepreneurs starting and growing businesses by offering innovative products and services. www.sbti.co.za
  • ChemCity: Owned by Sasol Chemical Industries. It acts as a business incubator to help the establishment of independent SMEs in the chemical related sector with specific focus on BEE and the empowerment of women. www.chemcity.co.za
  • The Innovation Hub: Africa’s first internationally accredited Science and Technology Park and a full member of the International Association of Science Parks (IASP). www.theinnovationhub.com
  • The National Business Initiative: The NBI is a non-profit business public interest organisation. It has around 200 members and focuses on the contribution of the business community to socio-economic delivery. www.nbi.org.za
  • Raizcorp: An unfunded for-profit business incubator model, which provides full-service business support programmes that guide entrepreneurs to profitability. www.raizcorp.com
  • SABTIA: The South African Business and Technology Incubation Association (SABTIA) co-ordinates and promotes business incubation in South Africa. Their website is a good information source for South African incubators. www.sabtia.org.za
  • Seda: The Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda) is an agency of the South African Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) and is mandated to implement government’s small business strategy. www.seda.org.za
Nadine Todd
Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.