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Start-up Advice

Top Small Business Resources and Programmes to Build your Business

Take your business to the next level with these great South African business support systems and small business resources.

Nadine Todd




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 or 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.


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 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 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, email 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 or go to 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.
  • Bandwidth Barn: A networked business incubator, part of the Cape Information Technology Initiative (CITI).
  • BTISoftstart Incubator: BTISoftstart supports high-tech entrepreneurs starting and growing businesses by offering innovative products and services.
  • 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.
  • The Innovation Hub: Africa’s first internationally accredited Science and Technology Park and a full member of the International Association of Science Parks (IASP).
  • 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.
  • Raizcorp: An unfunded for-profit business incubator model, which provides full-service business support programmes that guide entrepreneurs to profitability.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.

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Start-up Advice

Put On Your Wellies: It’s Time To Wade Into Risk

Entrepreneurs aren’t all leaping into the unknown like lemmings off a cliff, but they do need to consider it…

Chris Ogden




You’ve had a great idea. You’ve looked into its development. You’ve recognised that it has potential beyond just what Auntie Mabel and Mike From The Grocer think. And you’ve clearly nailed a pain point that can make money. Now it is time to take the risk of running with it.

Every big idea comes with risk. You can’t step out into the world of entrepreneurial thinking and business development without it. Your idea may fail. It will also be time consuming, demanding, hungry for money, and hard work. It is unrealistic to expect that your project will leap out into the world and be an unmitigated success.

It is also unrealistic to assume that it isn’t worth taking this risk.

There are steps that you can follow to ensure that your risk is managed so you aren’t blindly leaping off that cliff…

Step 01: Do your research

No, canvassing your neighbours, friends and family is not doing research. You need to know that your idea will appeal to a broad market and that it will have significant legs. This may sound like daft advice, but you would be surprised how many people think an idea will take off just because Susan in Accounting said so.

Step 02: Understand the costs

Projects are hungry for money and investment. Realistically work out your budgets and how much it will cost to take your project off the ground and then stick to it.

A calculated risk is a far better bet than one that shoots from the hip and hopes for the best. You can also use this as an opportunity to draw a clear line under where you will stop investing and end the project. If it keeps eating money and isn’t getting anywhere with results you need to be able to walk away.

Step 03: Know when to walk away

As mentioned before, this can be defined by a line you’ve drawn in the proverbial sand (and budget) but no matter where you draw this line, you have to stick to it. Often, when time, money and energy have been poured into a project it can be incredibly hard to walk away.

You think ‘but I have put so much into this, just one more’ and then it gets to a point where the ‘just one more’ has taken you so far down the line that walking away feels impossible. Leave. Learn the lessons. Apply them to your next project.

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Start-up Advice

Mind The Gap

The entrepreneur’s guide to finding the gaps and building the right solutions.

Chris Ogden




Innovation may very well be the key to business success but finding the gap into which your innovative thinking can fit is often a lot harder than people realise. Some may be struck by inspiration in the shower, others by that moment of blinding insight in a meeting, however, for most people finding that big idea isn’t that simple. They want to be an entrepreneur and start their own high-growth business, but they need some ideas on how to find that big idea.

Here are five…

1. Network

It sounds trite but networking is actually an excellent way of picking up on patterns and trends in conversation and business problems. The trick is to note them down and pay attention. Soon, you will find patterns emerging and ideas forming.

2. Look for pain

Just as networking can reveal trends in the market, so can spending time reading. The latter will also help you find common business pain points. These are the touchpoints that frustrate people, annoy business owners, affect productivity, or impact employee engagement.

Be the Panado that fixes these pains.

3. Luck


This is probably the most annoying of the ideas, but it is unfortunately (or fortunately) very true. Luck does play a role in helping you capture that big idea. However, luck isn’t just standing around and random people offering you opportunities. Luck is found at networking events, it is found in research and it is found in conversations with other entrepreneurs.

4. Luck needs courage

You may have found the big idea through your network, a pain point or pure blind luck, but if you don’t have the courage to take it and run with it, you will lose it to someone else.

Being bold in business is highly underrated because most people assume that everyone is bold and prepared to take big leaps into the unknown. However, not all brilliant entrepreneurs were ready to throw their family funds to the wind and leap into an idea – they were courageous enough to figure out a way of harnessing their ideas realistically.

5. Pay attention

This is probably one of the most vital ways of finding a gap in the market. Often, people are so busy that they don’t really pay attention to that niggling issue that always bothers them on a commute, or in a mall, or at a meeting. This niggling issue could very well be the next big business opportunity. Pay attention to it and find out if that issue can be solved with your innovative thinking.

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Start-up Advice

5 Things To Know About Your “Toddler” Business

As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind.

Catherine Black




Ah, toddlers. Those irresistible bundles of joy bring a huge amount of energy, curiosity and fun to any family – but there’s also frustration and worry that comes with their unpredictability, as they grow and start to become more independent. If you own a business and it’s successfully past its “infancy” of the first year or so, it’s likely it will also go through a toddler stage of its lifecycle.

Pete Hammond, founder of luxury safari company SafariScapes, agrees with this. “Our business is now three and a half years old, and we’ve found that we’re not yet big enough to justify employing a large team of people to handle the day-to-day admin tasks, yet we still need to grow the business as well,” he says. “As a result, our main challenge is finding the time to step back and see the bigger picture. Kind of like when you are raising a busy toddler and you spend most of your time running after them!”

As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind:

1. This too shall pass

Everything in life is temporary – and that goes for both the good and the bad. It’s as helpful to remember this when you’re facing the might of a toddler temper tantrum, as it is when you’re facing throws of uncertainty in your business. If your new(ish) venture is going through a rough patch in its first few years, it can be easy to think about giving up – but don’t. As long as you have an overall big idea that you believe can add value to your customers, keep pushing through the rough parts until you come out the other side.

2. Appreciate what this phase brings

The toddler years mean that the initial newborn joy is officially behind you. But these small humans also bring their own kinds of joy, as you watch them learn new skills, say funny things, and give affection back to you. While your two-year-old business may not hold the same exhilaration for you as it did during those first few months, there are now different things to appreciate about it: Maybe you’re expanding your product range, or employing new people who can take the workload off you.

3. Establish boundaries

Toddlers thrive on boundary and routine – and your toddler business will too. As it grows into a new phase, try and establish limits in terms of the type of clients you want to work with and the type of work you’ll do. It’s also a good idea to make a decision about the hours you’ll work and when you’ll switch off, which will help you establish a good work-life balance.

4. Take a break

Every parent with a toddler needs a break every now and then, even if that means a walk around the block (on your own!), a dinner out with friends, or even a few days away. The same is true for a demanding small business: every so often, remember to take time out to rest properly, where you switch off your laptop and completely unplug. You’ll return much more inspired and resilient to deal with the everyday uncertainty that it brings.

5. Give it space to make mistakes

While the unpredictability of a young business can be stressful and tiring, it’s also a time for trying new things without the risk of huge consequences if they don’t quite work. After all, it’s much simpler to change your USP if you’re a small business employing a few people, rather than a big company where 50 people are relying on you for their salary, or where you’ve received a huge amount of investment capital. While you may fail in some of the things you try with your business (in fact, this is almost guaranteed), see it as a toddler that’s resilient enough to pick itself up, dust its knees and keep moving forward.

During this phase of business growth it’s also essential to have the right type of medical aid cover. There are medical schemes such as Fedhealth which has a number of medical aid options and value-added benefits to ensure that your health and wellness is taken care of too. After all, the healthier you and your staff are, the more productive your business will be – during the toddler (business) stage and beyond.

While this phase can be frustrating, it’s a sign that your business is growing and adapting, rather than remaining in its infancy, and that can only be a good thing! So embrace the difficulties, learn from them, and watch as your business strides forward confidently into the next exciting phase.

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