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SBF 5th Entrepreneurship International Conference

Author: Institutional Advancement: (021) 959 2625 - Aidan van den Heever & Nicklaus Kruger

The University of the Western Cape School of Business and Finance helped find solutions to Africa’s SMME problems through research at the 5th Entrepreneurship International conference.

​5th Entrepreneurship International Conference explores the need for entrepreneurship education

Seven out of 10 jobs in the future will be created by Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises - and universities have a big role to play in training students and SMMEs to find solutions to Africa’s economic problems.

That’s why the University of the Western Cape’s (UWC) School of Business and Finance recently hosted the 5th International Entrepreneurship Conference, providing a platform for researchers, academic scholars, practitioners and policy-makers to hold debates, talks and discussions around the theme of Evidence-Based Best Practice in Entrepreneurship Education in the Southern African Region.

“The aim is to understand the particulars of the ecosystem in which Southern African entrepreneurs operate, and shape the way entrepreneurship is taught in the SADC region,” Professor Ricardo Peters, Director of UWC’s School of Business and Finance (SBF), explained. “The success of entrepreneurial students and SMMEs has obvious positive benefits to the GDP of nations, and also to social development and upliftment.”

Speakers shared their research on business incubators, on revitalising township economies, action learning, the value of social capital for women entrepreneurs, and what business schools can contribute, given the many particular challenges of entrepreneurship in the region (among many other topics).

“Most start-up businesses are not “pitch-ready” when seeking capital from funders,” noted guest speaker Alan Winde, Western Cape Minister of Economic Opportunities. Given that funding - or the lack thereof - is already a stumbling block, and the lack of skills among would-be entrepreneurs, universities have a part to play in addressing these challenges.

“We need to work together to understand the ecosystem we live in,” Winde noted.

Many entrepreneurship educators turn to European and European pedagogy. But entrepreneurship is very different in those regions - especially when compared to the areas on which the SBF focuses: rural communities, township entrepreneurs, fishing communities, and cooperatives.

Prof Tami Mazwai, Extraordinary Professor at the School of Business and Finance and Special Advisor to the Minister of Small Business Development South Africa, added that the country faces problems of poverty, high unemployment rates and inequality - and that addressing these challenges effectively will require entrepreneurial thinking.

“Nearly 40 million people in South Africa do not have the skills to find gainful employment - for many of them, entrepreneurship is the only solution to solving economic hopelessness,” Mazwai said.  “So entrepreneurship education is vital.”

Another guest speaker - Helen Zille, Premier Helen Zille, cautioned against “outdated” regimens” and “outdated paradigms”, and urged South Africans to learn the right lessons from the right places.

“If we think we are going to have an African century without changing our mindset, we are very mistaken,” she said. “And universities, of all things, must be on the cutting-edge of these debates.” 

Entrepreneurial Learning: Imparting Critical Skills For Future Leaders

Fred Robertson chairman of Brimstone Investments, provided some tips for entrepreneurs to succeed - a recipe he followed in his own success.  

“You need to keep expanding your knowledge, learning new things, changing your approach - and always do the right thing, contribute to society,  give back to others,” Robertson said, “build business to create employment and lastly always pay your taxes.”

UWC’s Professor Linda de Vries, Prof Chris Friedrich and others hosted the first panel session on Entrepreneurial Learning.  

Prof Chris Friedrich said the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Report 2017 indicates that entrepreneurship activity in South Africa is at an all-time low.

“How do we solve this?” he asked. “The solution is through entrepreneurial training - the kind of training that UWC has to offer. It can’t be business as usual. We have to ask ourselves, how relevant is our curriculum? Are we teaching things that are going to be irrelevant in the workplace?”

Prof de Vries added that it is not just how lecturers teach, but also how students learn that is important.

“The way we structure our programmes plays a part in the ultimate outcome,” Prof de Vries said. “Rather than just having an entrepreneurship module like we did in the past, we find our short courses across disciplines have had the most success in reaching students.”  

Through tailor-made short courses for SMMEs and programmes such as the Future Leaders Programme which will be launched soon, the SBF hopes to help students and SMMEs find success in their businesses.

“We need to think about transforming curricula for the future and also revitalizing the teaching of the subject, thus helping to unlock the creativity in the student,” Prof Peters noted. “If we’re going to tackle the challenges of Southern Africa, it can’t just be business as usual.”

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