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A Snapshot of Entrepreneurship in South Africa

The research and results arising out of the White Paper on the state of entrepreneurship reveals some of the challenges facing entrepreneurs – and debunks several commonly held myths.

Juliet Pitman

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Malik Fal

It’s no secret that entrepreneurs represent the engine of economic growth in emerging countries, and South Africa is no different. Government, corporates, the private sector and NGOs are involved at different levels in various initiatives intended to boost entrepreneurial activity throughout the country, and there is no shortage of programmes, organisations, competitions and initiatives targeting entrepreneurs at various stages.

“However, much of this activity takes place independently, and we realised there was a pressing need to create a platform that would gather together this common knowledge into a single repository,” says Malik Fal, MD of Endeavor South Africa which, together with FNB and the Gordon Institute of Business Science, published The Entrepreneurial Dialogues: State of Entrepreneurship in South Africa, in March this year.

“Our goal was to provide a broad-based view of the state of entrepreneurship in South Africa and pull together information on the myriad different issues that affect and drive this important sector of the economy.” The paper represents the culmination of broad-based research that began during Global Entrepreneurship Week in November 2009, when Endeavor and FNB facilitated discussions between stakeholders from government, entrepreneurial, corporate, academic and NGO sectors. It provides an in-depth view on issues such as access to capital; the culture of entrepreneurship in South Africa; enterprise development and broad-based black economic empowerment; incubator and SME support; and access to skills.

Some of the findings reflect what we already know. But the report also challenges a number of widely held misconceptions and in so doing, shines a spotlight on the real challenges.

Struggling to access capital?

One of the most interesting of these relates to the issue of access to capital. “Ask any entrepreneur what their biggest challenge is and they’ll tell you it’s access to capital. But, as Dr Mike Herrington, Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) South Africa Team Leader points out, South Africa has the same availability of capital when compared to other countries. In other words it’s a myth that there is somehow less money available in South Africa,” says Fal.

But entrepreneurs might argue that this doesn’t change the fact that they still struggle to get funding. And on this point, Fal agrees: “There are certainly challenges and hurdles to getting funding, even if they don’t relate to the amount of funding available,” he says.

Fal believes the issue needs to be grouped into two categories of challenge – those that relate to the providers of capital and those that relate to the seekers of capital. “Things need to change on both sides of the equation,” he says.

Providers of capital need to offer greater transparency and communication about what applicants need to do and the criteria they need to meet in order to access funding. But, more importantly, such communication needs to target specific categories of entrepreneurs. “Funding providers need to be clear about whom they are targeting, and then tailor their communication to specific groups. What we’re learning is that a shot-gun approach to such communication simply doesn’t work,” Fal explains.

Entrepreneurs who are looking for capital also need to make some changes. “Applying for funding is like going through boot camp so be prepared to pay your due. Entrepreneurs really need to do their homework – find out what information the funding organisation is looking for and don’t apply until you have all of it down perfectly,” says Fal. He adds that entrepreneurs who assume funding is due to them make a big mistake. “There is a culture of entitlement among some, who believe it is their right to get funding just because they need it,” he says. Simply put, the need for funding doesn’t make a compelling case for providing it.

Tapping into enterprise development fundingClosely related to the issue of access to capital are the White Paper’s findings about enterprise development (ED) and broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE). “Around R20 billion is earmarked for entrepreneurial development through ED, and the question on everyone’s lips is why this is not being deployed,” says Fal.

Part of the problem arises from an historic corporate mistrust of BBBEE. Fal explains that most organisations see ED as a social initiative instead of a commercial one. “Corporates need to be educated about the commercial value of enterprise development. Some companies are getting it right and are reaping the rewards of investing in their up- and down-stream industries, but much still remains to be done,” he adds.

There’s also a need for greater creativity when it comes to identifying suitable ED recipients. “Many ED applicants simply aren’t suitable candidates for funding because they lack the business skills and therefore the sustainability that companies are looking for.  Part of the problem is that many of the skilled and educated potential entrepreneurs are employed in the corporate environment, so companies need to find a way of identifying these people and investing in businesses which they can run,” Fal says. There is of course a downside to encouraging skilled entrepreneurs to leave your employ and venture out on their own but, as Fal points out, if they are running businesses in your up- or down-stream industries, your company can reap commercial rewards in addition to the points earned for its BBBEE scorecard.

Building a skills-rich organisation

Contrary to popular belief lack of skills – not capital – is one of the biggest hindrances to entrepreneurial success. “We can learn a great deal from programmes launched in the US in the 1980s,” says Fal. Aimed at spurring entrepreneurship in minority communities, these programmes initially focused on increasing access to capital through subsidised grants. “However, people soon learned that it wasn’t lack of capital but rather lack of skills that was preventing entrepreneurs from growing and being profitable,” says Fal.

In fact, many of the subsidised grants became destroyers rather than creators of wealth because they created debt traps from which people, particularly those without the requisite financial skills, couldn’t escape. The skills of the entrepreneur are critical to success, and the White Paper reveals that entrepreneurs with a better education and experience in the corporate world of business have a greater chance of running sustainably profitable enterprises. “People might point to examples of successful entrepreneurs who dropped out of school, but these examples are by far the exception, not the rule,” says Fal.

The skills of the individual entrepreneur are not the only ones under the spotlight, however. Most entrepreneurs struggle to attract skilled staff to their companies, Fal points out, because they can’t compete with large organisations on salary. But there are ways of overcoming this, he adds. “Entrepreneurial companies need to focus on their broader employee value proposition. They need to sell the adventure that comes with being part of an entrepreneurial company and they shouldn’t shy away from approaching seasoned executives, many of whom are bored stiff in the corporate environment and would love to join an exciting, innovative company on the make,” he explains.

However, he adds that labour laws present a more challenging problem. “Current labour legislation is really onerous for small businesses and there is definitely a need for the Department of Labour to review it and possibly draft laws specific to small business needs,” he says.

How to build a robust entrepreneurial culture

“In many ways entrepreneurship is a deeply cultural thing; those countries that epitomise entrepreneurial success have it ingrained in the culture of their people and their society,” says Fal, pointing to the example of the US, a country built on the possibility of individuals getting ahead by starting their own small enterprises.

There are pockets of such entrepreneurial flair in certain communities in South Africa, but on the whole, our society does not value entrepreneurship highly enough. “There is no silver bullet but in order to foster a greater spirit of entrepreneurship, our society needs to integrate the issue into home life and the formal education system. What we are seeing is that a basic introduction to entrepreneurship is valuable even to people who are going into the professions or into corporate business. The education system has a much bigger role to play in teaching children and young people about the possibilities entrepreneurship opens up to them,” Fal says.

The broader South African society also needs to understand the value of entrepreneurship, he adds. “By and large, the South African community is still very conservative when it comes to the career options it presents to the younger generation. Youngsters are encouraged to do well in school, get a good degree and secure a well-paid and secure corporate or professional position,” he says. Of course a solid education is vitally important but there is equally a need to encourage and celebrate the entrepreneurial drive of those people who are inclined towards it.

“Unfortunately our society as it currently stands does not make room for those ‘outliers’. It  either chases them away and they emigrate, or it stifles them to such an extent that it’s difficult for them to survive,” Fal explains. Added to this is a low tolerance for entrepreneurial failure.

Offering incubation and support

In addition to general societal support, entrepreneurs need the assistance of a range of different organisations, including incubators such as Raizcorp and NGOs like Endeavor and Enablis  that offer SME-targeted support. “Again, we’re seeing that large-scale shot-gun approaches to support don’t work. Entrepreneurs require targeted, specific support.”

To this point, however, Fal adds an interesting caveat. “Many entrepreneurs are not well-positioned to make the best use of the services offered by the support organisations that exist, because they don’t have a clear sense of what it is they require. If support organisations and incubators work best by providing targeted help on a specific challenge, entrepreneurs need to have a sense of what that challenge is if they want to get the support on offer,” he explains.

It might seem an obvious point, but an anecdote related by one of the White Paper’s delegates reveals an alarming trend. Fal summarises: “The offices of Cipro and SEDA  are close together in Tshwane and one of our delegates from SEDA pointed out that you can watch individuals go into Cipro to register a company and then immediately approach SEDA to ask what line of business they should go into. That’s deeply worrying.” Would-be entrepreneurs tend to over-rely on support organisations, sometimes to the point of wanting to delegate the entire running of the company to someone else. The reason? “They usually lack the basic skills necessary to run their business, so they don’t really understand what it is they need help with.” The recipients who get the most out of support organisations are those who can say, “I need help accessing the corporate market” or “I need assistance managing cash flow” – not those who say “I need help running my business”.

Looking ahead

Fal is at pains to point out that the State of Entrepreneurship White Paper represents a beginning. “This is something we are going to research and publish each year, either taking a snapshot of the entire state of entrepreneurship in the country, or honing in on a particular issue,” he explains, adding that the intention is for the document to create a repository of information that can influence policy and action. “Our role is not to drive that action – that job falls to each stakeholder group, from Government and corporates, to funding institutions, NGOs, civil society and entrepreneurs.”

In closing Fal says, “It will take time but we want to see an improvement in the Total Entrepreneurial Activity Index, hopefully arising in some part out of the work and the research that we’re doing.”

Interesting facts & findings

  • In spite of their reputation, banks, which are the least positioned to take on the high risk of investing in start-ups, are the dominant providers of capital to entrepreneurs. SA needs a broader, more diverse private equity and venture capital community that is specifically suited to investing in the high-risk start-up market.
  • Around R20 billion is available through enterprise development funding, but little of this is finding its way to sustainable entrepreneurs.
  • SA’s male: female ratio of entrepreneurs is 1,6:1. If this improved to a ratio of 1:1, total entrepreneurial activity would improve significantly.
  • The ideal number of entrepreneurs in a successful incubator is between 40 and 60.
  • South Africa’s entrepreneurial activity (7,8 % in 2008) still lags behind its peer emerging countries – 11,5% in Brazil, 24,5% in Colombia and 13,1% in Mexico.

Guidance for entrepreneurs

  • Attracting skills: Tailor employee packages and incentives; appeal to young executives’ need for broader functional exposure; scout on an ongoing basis, not just when you need to fill a position; avoid unprofessional recruitment practices at all costs – being small is no excuse for being sloppy.
  • Retaining skills: Share the success of the business with the founding staff who took risks with you and helped you build the enterprise.
  • Accessing funding: Make it your job to find out exactly what information the funding institution requires, in what format and in what detail. Don’t submit your application until you have met all these requirements and are ready to answer difficult and searching questions about your entire business.
  • Accessing support: Have a clear sense of the particular support you require and be able to frame it in a specific way.
  • Differentiating: ‘Me too’ businesses clutter the space and compete in a saturated environment for limited funding and markets. Entrepreneurs with new offerings have a far greater chance of success.

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Carl Muller

    Aug 1, 2011 at 21:13

    We have the only achievement motivation programme accredited at Services Seta (or any Seta).
    Do you know how difficult it is to market it.
    People asked me, what is that. Do you do motivational training?
    There is a big difference between the two.
    Achievement is the biggest characteristic of an entrepreneur…

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Business Landscape

How Schindlers Attorneys Became Involved In The Landmark Cannabis Case

Everything you accomplish accumulates and eventually comes back to assist you further along in your career. This is how a final year LLB assignment became the basis for a Constitutional Court case.

Nicole Crampton

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Schindlers Attorneys are the law firm that were involved in the landmark Constitutional Court judgement on cannabis use within a private space. Paul-Michael Keichel, Partner at Schindlers Attorneys shares how they came to be the foremost legal experts on cannabis and how they became involved in the Constitutional Court case:

How the journey began

“In 2005, my first year at Rhodes University, whilst studying for Intro to Law, it occurred to me that there were strong constitutional points that could be raised to objectively justify the decriminalisation of cannabis in South Africa,” explains Paul-Michael Keichel.

“In my final year LLB, 2009, I took Constitutional Litigation as an elective (largely motivated by the creation of a timetable clash, which meant that I’d not have to sit another semester of lectures for a module that I had failed the previous year). This provided me with the opportunity to write an assignment titled “A Critical Analysis of Prince and an Objective Justification for the Decriminalisation of Marijuana in South Africa”, in which I composed my argument (based on the right to equality in our Constitution).”

Related: 7 Top Lessons You Can Learn From The US Cannabis Market

The start of the partnership

“Fast forward to 2013 and the Dagga Couple find themselves at Schindlers (where I am a first-year associate) to register their NPC, “Fields of Green for All”. The attorney handling the registration (who I’d also bored with my argument) suggests to the Dagga Couple that they speak to me. It turns out that they already knew of me, because my assignment had (unbeknownst to me) done the rounds on the underground cannabis networks. We get chatting and I rope-in my brother, Maurice Crespi, the managing partner of Schindlers,” explains Keichel.

“We are the only firm out of many approached by the Couple who are willing to take on their trial action against 7 state departments and Doctors for Life to push for a declaration of constitutional invalidity of the laws prohibiting cannabis use/possession/dealing in South Africa. We decide to run the challenge for them pro bono.”

The Cape ruling that started it all

“Prince and Acton et al have their matter heard in the Cape, which resulted in the 2017 Judgment. We run a portion of our trial (including expert evidence from international scientists and doctors – the best in field), but it is rendered part-heard. We then heard that Prince and Acton et al’s matter will be heard by the Constitutional Court in November 2017 and we decide, with the Dagga Couple, to intervene in that matter, upon which it is confirmed that my 2009 assignment forms the on-record basis of a major chunk of Prince and Acton et al’s arguments in support of legalisation.”

“Our involvement in the Constitutional Court was such that we provided clear legal argument and authority to support and expand upon what Prince and Acton et al were trying to say to the Court. Ultimately, much of what we submitted has found its way into the judgment of the Constitutional Court.”

Related: 10 Cannabis Business Opportunities You Can Start From Home

How a final assignment became the foundation for a Constitutional Court case

“So, an idea (bolstered by wanting to create a timetable clash) resulted in an assignment, which provided certain credibility and impetus to cannabis activists. Two of these activists ended up being our clients, which, despite being handled pro bono, has brought Schindlers immeasurable positive publicity, and which, ultimately, contributed to the decriminalisation (and potential future legalisation and commercialisation) of cannabis in our country.”

“Schindlers now has a dedicated “Medicinal and Recreational Cannabis Law” department, through which we will continue to make submissions to parliament, apply for licenses on behalf of our clients, support those who have been arrested and charged.”

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Business Landscape

6 Ways To Win A Better Deal

Be proactive not reactive by working through these six critical elements of your strategy.

Andrew Bahlmann

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By far, the majority of our clients start the journey of selling their business by working on a very reactive basis. Most business owners going to market say they just want to ‘see what happens’.  But this means you are starting the process on the back foot.

This approach automatically takes the control of the business sale out of your hands and puts it into the hands of the market. Keeping control is a critical element in selling your business for maximum value.

Letting the market tell you what they think about your business and what they want from you means that straight away the acquirers set the hoops that you need to jump through.

They tell you what they want. Any engagement is on their terms.

You have not defined terms or standards to use as a yardstick for what the market is saying. So you are much more likely to find yourself boxed into a corner, forced into the role of price taker rather than price maker.

Taking the time to define your ‘go to market’ strategy is a critical factor in achieving success for yourself, what you want for your business and how the market aligns to this.

Be proactive not reactive by working through these six critical elements of your strategy:

1. Define your non-negotiables

We all have certain non-negotiables in our lives and you must think through those that you want to apply to the sale of your business.

Spend quality time working out what your personal and business non-negotiables are. Then make sure that they feature prominently in your deal strategy. Examples could be:

  • I am prepared to stay on for only 18 months after the sale conclusion.
  • My staff need to be looked after as they have been with me for 20 years and are like family.
  • I want to sell 100% of my shareholding on Day 1.
  • I am not prepared to warrant future profits.

When you start out on the selling journey, this list will probably be a lot longer. Usually, it will reduce as you travel further and further down this road but you may even add new non-negotiables once you climb into the trenches and take control of the process.

Don’t be shy about presenting your list of non-negotiables to prospective buyers. They will certainly be putting forward their own list as well.

Related: Savvy Business Sale Spells New Life

2. How ready and committed are you to sell your business?

Selling your business is one of the biggest decisions that you will take in your life. It is an emotional rollercoaster. You will face more questions than answers as you progress down this road. Nobody can ever be 100% ready but you can help yourself prepare as much as possible by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do I know what my business is worth?
  • Is my business ready for acquirers to see?
  • Am I ready to let go of my business?
  • Can my business run without me?
  • What makes my business attractive and enticing to an acquirer?
  • Do I have the time and skills to embark on selling my business myself?

As you work through these questions, a whole host of other questions will probably occur to you. Be decisive, objective and critical in asking and answering all these questions.

3. Put a plan together

Like any other business or strategy implementation, selling your business is a project. All projects need a plan of the objectives, timing, resources and risks required to succeed.

Selling your business is by far one of the most important projects that you will ever drive and also one with the least room for error. Your planning cannot control the biggest variable of all – how the market will react to your business. But being as well prepared as possible will help you cope with this.

4.  The market wants a serious seller

The way that your business and personal brands show up in the exit process is critical. Buying or selling a business is a very time-consuming process, with both seller and acquirer committing quantities of effort, energy and resources.

The market therefore wants to deal with a committed and serious seller. Any business owner just dipping his/her toe into the water to see what happens will frustrate them and potentially damage future transactions if that toe is removed from that water.

Related: When Is The Right Time To Sell Your Business?

5. Be ready for the experts

You are brilliant at running your own business, which is why you are considering selling it for maximum value. The acquirers on the other side of the table are, of course, also experts at what they do and how they do it.

Expect them to speak a different corporate language, exude negotiation and transaction skills and have mastered the ability to control the transaction. If you do not have a strategy or blueprint to default to when the heat gets too high, you will lose your way and could be blindsided into the wrong transaction.

6. Bring it all together

Work through the various steps identified above and craft your deal strategy. Let this framework be your compass during the transaction.

Always lean on it when there are too many variables being thrown at you. Having your strategy is the first step. Sticking to it will be your biggest test when the pressure is on.

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Business Landscape

Hooked On Ethics

The business that puts ethics at the forefront of its culture is the one that will shine in a landscape littered with dishonest behaviour.

Howard Feldman

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There is significant research into how the work environment influences ethical behaviour. Study after study has shown how the ethical values upheld by management filter down to all employees, affecting behaviour and business practice. The biggest influence on a person’s ethics is their environment. In South Africa, the after effects of the recent political regime continue to shake both country and citizen. Corruption has seeped into almost every part of the government and in some of the country’s most prominent private organisations.

The old saying that the ‘fish rots from the head’ has never been truer, nor more obvious.

The ethical dilemma

The reality is that the government’s flagrant disregard for ethics saw corruption become a part of everyday life. This makes almost everyone ask themselves questions like – why should I pay X utility bill? Why should I pay my TV license? The money is being clearly used fraudulently. Sure, it is the law, but leadership has proven that ethical behaviour isn’t rewarded or recognised.

But it is. The value of building an ethical business and upholding a culture that promotes honesty and integrity cannot be understated.

Related: Developing Your Business’s Ethics Policy

Here are five reasons why…

  1. Those who skirt the edges of ethics almost always get caught.  There has been a steady shift in the country’s moral compass as leadership has taken a far stronger stance on rooting out corruption and already some of the country’s biggest names have been found guilty. KPMG, McKinsey, Bell Pottinger and SAP have all had their names tarnished by the scandals that have rocked the country.
  2. Employees are more engaged and better behaved. A weak ethical culture filters down from the top, influencing behaviour and attitudes. If employees feel that they can get away with bad behaviour that benefits them, or if they feel that their environment encourages this, then they will.
  3. A strong ethical influence will dictate how employees treat customers and one another. If your company enforces and rewards honesty and integrity, then these will be the qualities that clients will perceive. Their lack may also see you lose market share and your reputation.
  4. Like attracts like. If you create a culture that rewards employees that work all hours, deliver the goods and commit themselves then you will attract more people with these qualities. The same applies in reverse – reward bad behaviour and the results will rapidly speak for themselves.
  5. Your business reputation. Trust can’t be bought. It is hard won and easily lost. If you lose your reputation then it is very unlikely you will win it back and it will follow you for the rest of your life. The same applies to your staff. If their behaviour is questionable it could damage your company. Make sure you set the rules of what is or is not tolerated by your company culture and consider investing into ethics courses that allow your teams to stay ahead of the curve.

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