Survivalist to sustainability

Eastern Cape entrepreneurs see results

USB SBA JoGEDA Top student 2018 01 LR.jpg

From stagnation to a growing business in nine months – that’s the result seen by Sterkspruit entrepreneur Lorraine Makgoantle after completing a business development programme offered by the Small Business Academy (SBA) of the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) in partnership with the Joe Gqabi Economic Development Agency (JoGEDA) in the Eastern Cape. She was named Top Student at the ceremony held on 7 August in Aliwal North.

Ms Makgoantle was one of 23 small business owners who received certificates at a ceremony in Aliwal North after completing the programme which provides sponsored business tuition and mentorship from USB academic staff and alumni to empower entrepreneurs to grow from survival mode to sustainable businesses.

The participants hailed from small towns across the Eastern Cape’s northernmost and mainly rural district, including Aliwal North, Barkly East, Burgersdorp, Maclear, Steynsburg and Ugie. They are involved in diverse industries – from agriculture, tourism, construction and manufacturing, to arts and culture, catering, micro-lending and retail.

Ms Makgoantle’s results across the programme’s components of workshops, assignments, mentoring, and presentation of a business plan earned her the Top Student award – and she said the training, particularly in financial management and marketing, had already paid off in a marked improvement in sales for her business Lekata’s Memorials which sells and installs tombstones and grave linings.

Graphic designer Laziswa Manzi, also from Sterkspruit, won the Best Business Plan award for her strategy to expand her design and promotional business Laz Amanzi into a full-service printing shop, while Nthabiseng Booi, whose Nobo Cultural Village in Maclear is a community-based income-generation enterprise, was named Most Improved Student.

This was the second year of the JoGEDA partnership with the USB Small Business Academy to bring their development programme – specifically designed for historically disadvantaged entrepreneurs in low-income areas – to the district and sponsor participation by selected local entrepreneurs.

Some 49 small business owners in the Joe Gqabi district have now been through the programme over the past two years and JoGEDA chief executive Ayanda Gqoboka said that results have been “outstanding” – pointing to success stories such as Ms Makgoantle’s, and participants’ new-found abilities to structure, focus and plan for their businesses.

“The SBA programme is achieving exactly the impact we wanted – through transfer of knowledge and skills, entrepreneurs now have better understanding of their businesses, their results and the trends in their specific sector. This translates to business growth and sustainability, and so we are achieving our aim,” he said.

Mr Gqoboka said that empowering small businesses to move out of survivalist mode and become sustainable engines of economic growth and employment creation was part of JoGEDA’S strategy to diversify economic activity in the district, unlock the potential for growth in sectors such as agro-processing and manufacturing, and create local employment opportunities that would retain young people in the district. 

SBA head Dr Marietjie Theron-Wepener said the programme was developed, and first rolled out in the townships of Cape Town, in response to the high failure rate of small businesses, and she was delighted with the positive results seen in its extension to the Eastern Cape.

“Many SMMEs don’t survive their first years due to a lack of business knowledge, inability to create a business plan and poor market research – the SBA business development programme aims to address these gaps and, in the process, give life to the USB vision of having a meaningful impact in society,” she said.

“Our vision is to make a difference in the lives and businesses of small business owners in low-income communities, building sustainability and eventually supporting them in such a way that they can play a vital role in alleviating poverty by creating employment,” she said. 

Ms Makgoantle said the course had enabled her to market her business better, to properly understand her business costs and manage her finances by re-investing in the business rather than “just operating randomly” as she had before.

With sales improving since starting the SBA programme in January, she has now acquired land and is seeking funding to open a tombstone manufacturing business. “In this area, we all buy our tombstones from Bloemfontein as there is no manufacturer locally. By manufacturing tombstones, I can reduce costs and turn my competitors into my customers, retain spending in the Eastern Cape, and create stable jobs for local people,” she said. 

One of the most valuable aspects of the SBA programme has proven to be the allocation of an alumnus of the USB’s MBA programme to each participant as a mentor. Ms Makgoantle said this sounding board had proved invaluable “for advice and keeping me on track” and that her mentor believed in her business plan so much that he had offered to continue mentoring her after the course ended.

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