It was W Edwards Deming, internationally renowned management consultant, who said, “Learning is not compulsory but neither is survival.” Entrepreneurs know that well. The successful ones have a thirst for knowledge that is equalled only by their hunger for achievement. And although the talent required to be an entrepreneur is perhaps innate, to realise their full potential, their learning spans a lifetime.
Hennie Louw, MD of Educor, the largest provider of private education in Africa which offers distance, face-to-face and corporate learning solutions, agrees.“Entrepreneurs are a special breed. They can’t be made – they are born. But their inherent potential needs to be stimulated firstly by the home environment in their early years, where they may be made familiar with the basics of business and money, and secondly through formal education,” he says.
However, the historical education and employment gaps in South Africa mean that large numbers of the population have not had access to business education in the home or formal environment, leaving entire generations of born entrepreneurs without the training that could launch their success.
For these and other reasons, Louw believes that education has a key role to play in entrepreneurship. “Our economy is faced with a series of challenges. These include a shrinking business environment coupled with growing unemployment. In addition, research has shown that early start-up entrepreneurs in South African have a much higher chance of either failing or of not being able to get through the initial phases, compared with their counterparts in other developing countries,” he explains.
Typically entrepreneurs have a great product or innovative idea and this, coupled with their drive and energy, helps them to start their business. These are things that can’t be learned – they form part of the “innate” talent of this special breed of business person. But many entrepreneurs face enormous challenges in the day-to-day running of their businesses.
They have no training in the areas of finance, marketing and human resource management, to name but a few, and these gaps in their education can prove the downfall of what might otherwise be a successful business. To survive, an entrepreneur needs to be able to multi-task across all these areas, yet few of them sign up for formal courses that would help them in this respect.
Too many South Africans take the view that formal education stops when adulthood is reached, but some of the most successful businesspeople in the world refute this. Henry Ford said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80.” Entrepreneurs who recognise the value of continually filling the gaps in their education are the ones who attain a greater level of success, quicker than their competitors.
But this doesn’t have to mean going back to study full-time. The face of education is changing and institutions like Educor offer entrepreneurs a range of courses that can be made to suit the busy schedule that characterises the lives of most entrepreneurs.
Says Louw, “Distance education in particular allows entrepreneurs of a growing business to up the skills of the people they employ. For those already running a small business, further education could provide a practical checklist to improve sales, systems and profitability.” It is equally relevant to aspirant entrepreneurs.
“Education provides a strong foundation that is able to assist anyone starting or wanting to start their own business. Training and tailor-made courses can provide a solid theoretical foundation in business planning.” Educor – through the brands of INTECCollege, Damelin, Damelin Correspondence College, AFM, Lyceum,CityVarsity, Learning Solutions and Educor Africa – also offers other business courses that are helpful in growing the knowledge base of those considering starting their own business.
These include anything from garden landscaping and feng shui consulting to PC engineering and appliance repair. The smartest people are sometimes those who realise where their limitations lie – and then go out and do something to rectify these. This is what education is all about. It provides the stretch that makes way for growth. And growth is ultimately the key to survival.
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