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2 December 2022
UWC’s entrepreneurship leader dreams big
Abraham Oliver’s life in Hout Bay started out humble. As the second youngest of eight children, he was the first to attend university. Now Oliver not only shepherds his family and church flock, but the head of the University of the Western Cape’s (UWC) Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) also hobnobs with peers from other countries teaching action-learning methodologies, and securing funding for student entrepreneurs.
In 1985, Oliver had three choices – catch fish for a Hout Bay factory, become a council worker, or get educated. So, he started his undergraduate studies in business, determined to break generational bonds of poverty. 
“UWC showed to me that I could stand in my own truth. The fact that I am different, the fact that I pray, and the fact that I don't need to feel inferior. It taught me to take my position and make a difference. That left a real mark on me. When I started off my career as an educator in 1987 – it’s strange, but I always believed there was more.”
After completing his Honours, he was introduced to entrepreneurship and business management through False Bay College. “At that time, entrepreneurship was not the ‘flavour of the month’. It was totally unknown to the broader business community, and the students.” 
When opportunity knocked, he took the chance and was appointed as the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s new Entrepreneurship Coordinator. 
“At this point the journey of entrepreneurs had become a very focused discipline, and I was trying to assist students to turn their discipline into a business for themselves.” 
Out of frustration over the challenges facing entrepreneurship, such as a lack of support for students, he later moved on to a private business college, the Tertiary School in Business Administration (TSiBA). As their Entrepreneurship Anchor: Ignition Manager, he was finally able to help students start up their own businesses. 
Oliver now heads up the CEI, and is always finding ways to support community entrepreneurs and students. 
“What I am currently doing has been forged in fire, in the heat, and now the economy finally understands there are not enough jobs in the country. We need to instill an entrepreneurial spirit.
“I’ve been in this position since March. In April I was approached by the German Commission for UNESCO, wanting to partner with the university.” 
Of the universities considered, UWC was selected to drive an entrepreneurship project that started on 11 August. That project culminated in the selection of 200 students showcased the results of their ideation at a closing ceremony in November.
Oliver at the launch of the STEP Programme, partnered
with UNESCO. Image: Ruvan Boshoff (UWC Media).

Oliver also secured funds from three SETAs for the entrepreneurial projects of community and unemployed graduates. Those projects will run until December 2023. In addition, he has also provided 25 opportunities to unemployed youth. 
“We have submitted proposals to the Chemical Industries Education and Training Authority (CHIETA) and the Insurance Sector Education and Training Authority (INSETA) to support unemployed graduates to start-up their own business. CHIETA sponsored five and INSETA 20. 
“These unemployed graduates will be taken through a 10-month, fully-funded programme. They will be equipped with E-tools for aspiring entrepreneurs, and E-skills to set up online marketing profiles. They will also receive business and entrepreneurial skills to start and run their own business, coupled with coaching support.”
He believes “an entrepreneur has two primary challenges: they’re too small and they’re too new.
“We now help them by serving as a launchpad, and with visibility through exposure and giving them credibility.” 
He says success is more tangible when entrepreneurs start working with ecosystem partners. Oliver also believes a holistic programme is needed to assist start-ups to access markets and financing. The CEI has a range of short programmes to start and launch viable and innovative youth businesses. They also assist students to build networks, share resources and referrals, and provide partnership exposure to the National Youth Development Agency, Small Enterprise Development Agency, Services SETA and the Small Enterprise Financing Agency. 
In addition, he has initiated a strategic conversation between UWC and the Western Cape Education Department to “look at inculcating an entrepreneurial mindset into educators, so they can teach our next generation of kids”.
He also dreams of starting an inter-trade incubator in the Bellville CBD, “where graduates can have resident space to trade, and access coaching support to accelerate the growth of their businesses”. 
“Here up to 10 businesses could benefit from space for 12- 18 months to set up all their systems, get them supplier ready and ready for growth; then they need to ‘leave the nest’ and one can take in another group. In the end if we can reduce the number of job seekers and create more job creators, we will be able to do something about the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and income inequality.”
Oliver's been to the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Oklahoma, USA to teach action-learning methodologies, and he believes “imagination and entrepreneurship will take you everywhere”. 
“That helps me dream beyond where I am. I would never have thought the guy from Hout Bay would be walking the streets of Washington.”