Virgin Active hosts ‘Open For Business’ festival in Soweto

The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurshosted the Soweto chapter of the Open For Business festival on Saturday in an initiative meant to plug in small entrepreneurs into networks that can help them grow.

The flagship event took place at the Soweto Virgin Active marking growth of an initiative launched by the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship in September this year. It was designed to create a platform in Johannesburg communities, namely Katlehong, Alexandra and most recently Soweto, for local entrepreneurs to market and sell their goods to the community so as to drive sales, raise awareness and boost entrepreneurship in the areas.

Going into this festival, a statement issued by The Branson Centre said helping entrepreneurs to build business networks was one of its core focus as such networks are the cornerstone to success.  

“We launched Open For Business in September so we could interact with small business owners in their locale, said Tracey Webster, CEO of The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship. We’ve already hosted events in Katlehong and Alexandra”.

Webster, said South Africa should take stock of entrepreneurship challenges in approaching the Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) between 12 and 18 November.

“The Medium Term Budget and Census results were released recently. Both suggest we have a lot to do in so far as getting South Africa ‘back to work’. The reality is we have a shrinking tax base due, in part, to the millions who live on social welfare because of lack of work or relevant skills to secure work. By boosting entrepreneurship we can support small businesses to grow into high impact entrepreneurs who add value to the economy by employing staff.”

Yet given that entrepreneurship represents just 30% of the GDP “much more is needed to be done to tackle South Africa’s economic and unemployment challenges through collaborative entrepreneurship development” said Webster.

She went on to say to say that entrepreneurs face myriad challenges when starting or sustaining a business venture. Among them is a lack of industry-related experience. “Gone are the days of spending several years gaining work experience or being an apprentice. This is because many start their businesses too young or too quickly – out of necessity – at the risk of not being exposed to critical tricks of the trade.”

To address this, The Branson Centre has developed a series of Industry Masterclasses in partnership with experts within a particular field. This is so that entrepreneurs can learn from them and apply insights to their own businesses. “The classes have been very successful and will form part of our regular 2013 training and development programme as we can clearly see the gap it is filling,” said Webster.

Raksha Mahabeer, co-founder of Summer Time, a design, branding and marketing agency based in Jo’burg shares her view, “Before joining the Centre in April this year, my business partner and I were convinced that we understood the ins and outs of running a business.  But exposed to the Centre’s training we were mistaken. Key to our growth has been understanding business processes, understanding our market, compliance, driving innovation and building our networks through mentoring and meeting fellow students.”

Nedbank, which is driving its own entrepreneurship initiative, Small Business Friday, is also involved after seeing an opportunity to collaborate, “We are delighted to partner with the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship in its efforts to grow entrepreneurship and help address challenges facing small business. Our association with the Centre started building on the launch of the Small Business Friday™, which seeks to rally South Africa in support of small businesses,” said Nirmala Reddy, Senior Manager of Enterprise Development at Nedbank.

As for what 2013 holds, Webster concludes by saying The Centre will continue to drive partnerships, broker opportunities and support its entrepreneurs. This is so they have the skills and relevant experience to tackle the challenging, and at times daunting, task of being a small business owner in tough operating conditions.

“As our founder Sir Richard Branson said, ‘Entrepreneurs and small businesses are the engines that power our economies, create jobs, fuel growth and ultimately, transform communities’. We agree.”

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