Leigh Meinert is passionate about entrepreneurship. So much so that the university she runs offers free foundation courses and a business degree that focus on entrepreneurship. “We think of ourselves as the ‘pay it forward’ university,” says Meinert, who started the Tertiary Institution for Business Administration (TSiBA) in 2005. Inspired by the free education model of Cida City Campus where she previously worked, Meinert and her co-founders secured seed funding of R1,6 million from the Shuttleworth Foundation to start TSiBA. “Our vision was to offer full tuition scholarships for bachelor of business administration degrees that place a strong focus on entrepreneurship,” she says.
TSiBA, which appropriately also means “jump” in Xhosa, offers a unique Foundation Year Certificate in Business Administration, followed by an enriched Bachelor in Business Administration programme focused on entrepreneurial leadership. While there are other tertiary education institutions that offer degrees in entrepreneurship, TSiBA is the only one that focuses on the undergraduate student. The programme obviously includes theoretical material, but students get a great deal of hands-on experience. If it’s possible to learn entrepreneurship, gaining experience is the only way to do it.
Meinert explains: “Our goal is to plant the seeds of entrepreneurship in all our students, and we do this by providing them with a real experience of what it’s like to be an entrepreneur. During the foundation course, they engage in simulations and then move on to venture projects in their first year of the degree. For these they are given a very small amount of capital from which they need to grow an entrepreneurial initiative. The second year involves working on a business plan for a viable business idea, which they present to a panel of real venture capitalists at the end of the year. The final year involves an industry practical project in which those who managed to secure VC funding can incubate their businesses, or they can choose to take up industry internships in real companies.”
This level of education doesn’t come cheap and offering students full tuition scholarships means constantly having to secure funding. “Some 80% of our funding comes from corporate CSI budgets – supporting entrepreneurship makes good sense for businesses and they see the value of funding TSiBA,” says Meinert. But, she adds, the university can hardly position itself as an entrepreneurship institution without being entrepreneurial itself. “It’s important that we investigate innovative and sustainable ways to fund ourselves, that don’t rely on the grant model,” she says.
To this end, TSiBA has leveraged its expert knowledge and contact base of entrepreneurs to offer consulting services to corporate organisations on their enterprise development (ED) plans. “Many large corporates have budgets set aside for ED and preferential procurement, and they need to invest in these areas to earn their broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) points. However, they are not in the business of developing small enterprises – this is our area of expertise so we can add value to their BBBEE process on many different levels,” Meinert explains. TSiBA has also established a BBBEE trust that can be used to transfer ownership stakes should companies require this.
The field of entrepreneurship presents many opportunities for expansion. Already, TSiBA has established an Entrepreneurship Centre to assist entrepreneurs from economically marginalised communities to get their businesses off the ground. “The Centre addresses two major factors that inhibit the growth of SMEs: lack of resources and insufficient managerial talent. Many other centres were not willing to go to the level of detail that a true grass roots entrepreneur needs in terms of education and assistance, so we focus on this level,” Meinert explains. These services are offered free of charge as part of TSiBA’s “pay it forward” ethos, but they also provide the institution with the opportunity to build up a database of case studies and relevant local examples, which can then be used in the classroom.
Meinert’s future expansion plans are driven by a desire to make an economic impact in South Africa. “We’re taking our model into the rural environment. That’s where the greatest need lies and is where we believe we can have the greatest impact,” she explains, adding that TSiBA intends expanding the scope of its entrepreneurial programme to include short courses aimed at supporting existing entrepreneurs. “So much remains to be done in South Africa and entrepreneurship is the way to get us there,” she says. We couldn’t agree more.
Tertiary Institution for Business Administration (TSiBA)
Player: Leigh Meinert
Contact: +27 21 532 2750