Opinionista Munozovepi Gwata 5 July 2018

Unravelling entrepreneurship and making it accessible

We have overcomplicated what entrepreneurship should look like and have consequently made it exclusive and inaccessible.

Everyone now wants to become an entrepreneur or push the entrepreneurship agenda, and rightfully so. Entrepreneurship should always have been a priority for our country. Through entrepreneurship we facilitate economic growth, and provide for the key elements to create a successful economy.

On my mission to make everyone an entrepreneur I have struggled to make entrepreneurship accessible. I have been very open with this obstacle that I have encountered, and through open discussion I have been fortunate enough to gain deeper insight into this matter. The reason entrepreneurship is not as accessible as we would like it to be is a result of our perception of what entrepreneurship is.

Before I go any further, I should explain what I mean by accessible entrepreneurship. When I say that entrepreneurship is inaccessible to the people, I mean that the majority of the people do not have the necessary skills, the context, the resources etc… to become successful entrepreneurs, and as a result we do not have enough entrepreneurs. For a long time, at least I thought this was the fundamental problem and the core reason for why we do not have an influx of start-ups and new businesses in South Africa. I acknowledge that this is a key part of the problem, but also how we perceive entrepreneurship is a greater call for concern.

There is no absolute definition of entrepreneurship, but it does however carry very distinct connotations. When we think of entrepreneurship nowadays, we think in terms of disruption, innovation and impact, and rightfully so. However, an absence of these characteristics does not translate to a lack of entrepreneurship, and this is important to note. With our modern interpretation of entrepreneurship we have excluded simplistic and raw forms of it, such as roadside vendors.

This is where the problem lies: because we have overcomplicated what entrepreneurship should look like, we have consequently made it exclusive and inaccessible. We design incubation and entrepreneurship programmes that adhere to one format of entrepreneurship and as a result we neglect the other entrepreneurs who run Spaza stores or small businesses that are not innovative. This is detrimental to the health of the entrepreneurship ecosystem, because by not placing equal emphasis on entrepreneurs that aren’t innovative, or tech savvy, we are negligenting an equally important segment of the business sector. We need to split our attention equally and fund the not so sexy non-tech driven “uninnovative” businesses, because it is equally important to do so. Alibaba recognised this as well, and as a result has pumped a lot of investment into small convenience stores, which are the equivalent of our local Spaza stores.

One of the things that they have done is taught the owners how to conduct effective consumer analysis using smart business software, so that they can effectively and efficiently manage their inventory by stocking up on what is in high demand, and ordering less of what is in less demand. This is one of many ways in which we can help raw small-sized entrepreneurs. Something simple that we can focus on that is specific to our local entrepreneurs is to teach craftsmen and women how to sell their artwork (such as African beading, statues, baskets, paintings etc) online through platforms such as Etsy and Amazon.

Innovation and smart technology is definitely the space we are moving towards, and we do need to have programmes that develop these skills and entrepreneurship framed around innovation and high level technology. However, we equally need to develop our raw local grass roots entrepreneurs who may not be as sophisticated or innovative as we have made out entrepreneurship to be, with the same aggression and passion. DM

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