It all started with an empty building in Marshall Street inJoburg’s CBD and a vision to provide resources for entrepreneurs in need ofknowledge and guidance. Lisa Kropman, head of corporate social investment atInvestec, approached the bank in 2000 to suggest that it fund a place whereentrepreneurs could go to explore their ideas and find the information theyneed to kick start their business ideas or grow their micro enterprises.
A year later, her dream was realised. The Business Place aimsto provide a comprehensive range of services under one roof, rather thanforcing people to go from pillar to post for the information they need, thuscutting their travel costs and speeding up their access to services.The company offers relevant and affordableservices for both emerging and existing entrepreneurs, giving them access tofinance, training, information, networking and support. It’s a business advicecentre that advises entrepreneurs on how to proceed or refers them to a serviceprovider.Tenants include non-governmental and community-basedorganisations, giving the centre credibility and attracting customers, saysMarcel Newsome, network operations manager and regional MD of The BusinessPlace. “This is a collaborative effort between service providers, governmentagencies and local government. It has been so successful that we arereplicating the model in other areas around the country. It’s a great exampleof what can happen when you have a successful public-private partnership.”
The Business Place has branches in Cape Town, King Williams Town, Phillipi and St Lucia and anew branch recently opened in Alexandra. The office in downtown Joburgattracted so many visitors from Soweto that itmade sense to open a satellite in Kliptown, southern Joburg, funded – like itsparent – by the City of Johannesburgand Investec as part of the bank’s CSI initiative. Unisa is also a strategicpartner. The Business Place is a Section 21 companyand non-profit organisation. Each branch has its own board of directors and itsown partnerships. Newsome says the Joburg City office attractsaround 600 to 700 visitors a week, tallying a record 2 700 people in Februarythis year.Newsome, who hails from the US, has aMasters in Economic Development and a Degree in International Studies. Hefocused on job creation studies while living in Baltimore,then moved to Mozambiquewhere he worked in the microfinance sector before relocating to South Africa.
“We address the first three levels ofentrepreneurship,” he says. “These are the idea stage, the operational stage,and the growth stage. We have succeededwith stages one and two, and we are now enhancing our focus on growth so we canhelp people move to the next stage in their business.”On of the centre’s challenges, he notes, isto move from hoping that it provides an effective service to actuallyquantifying and qualifying its achievements and its relevance to the market.“Once we have successfully accomplished that, we will be able to use thosemetrics as a standard for what we need to achieve going forward.”Newsome says there is growing recognitionof the need for an organisation like The Business Place. “Because we’rebuilding such a large client base, we are becoming more able to leverage thatgrowth to access other corporations. We are using the number of clients we haveto encourage new partners to enter into this market with us. Our model isbeginning to be used as a template for small business development in othersectors.”
The Business Place recently partnered withsoftware technology holding company Intelligent Business Systems GroupInternational South Africa (IBSGI SA) to offer a turnkey solution, TBPBiz-Link, to aid small businesses which often fail within two years due to thelack of infrastructure and systems necessary for growth. The Internet-basedplatform comprises an e-commerce exchange with website building and hosting,digital catalogue and shopping cart functionality. It also offers completeaccounting, fiscal management, and inventory control functionality; a centrefor the request for proposals and tenders from public and private sources; abusiness development seminar library; budget and client managementfunctionality. Contact: +27 11 836 9000; www.tbp.co.za
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