Like so many South Africans, instead of going out to play, I stayed home on Friday night to watch our new president deliver his maiden State of the Nation Address. And like so many of my fellow citizens, I felt revitalised by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s commitment to setting our beloved country on a path of growth and optimism for the future.
More, though, I was thrilled that President Ramaphosa recognised how vitally important it is for everyone – business and government and citizens – to support entrepreneurs and small businesses. It is something that as a company, we’ve made a core part of our business. Being in the co-working and serviced office industry, we work with entrepreneurs and small businesses every day. They are the backbone of our business.
As such, we’ve developed in-house programmes to support them. When we can utilise their services ourselves, we do. A member of the co-working space, who has a catering company, runs our coffee shop in headoffice. We run workshops and knowledge hubs to encourage ongoing skills development and the joy of learning. We’ve even put some of our entrepreneurs at the centre of our marketing campaigns; we live and breathe the business lives of our entrepreneur members. And we learn from them too.
Economic growth sustained by small business
So when President Ramaphosa said that ultimately, “the growth of our economy will be sustained by small businesses, as is the case in many countries”, I couldn’t help cheering. Recognising entrepreneurs and small businesses sometimes means changing our thinking, looking a little bit further than our immediate surroundings.
In his speech, President Ramaphosa said government would honour its undertaking to set aside at least 30 percent of public procurement to SMMEs, co-operatives and township and rural enterprises and would continue to invest in small business incubation. “We encourage business to do the same,” he said.
And we would encourage the public to think about it too. Instead of employing the services of a major corporate or chain, is there a small business nearby that does the same work? Do you have local suppliers in your area that you could use? Is there an innovative service in your area started by an entrepreneur you could support? Do you think about where you buy your products and services, or you on autopilot? When you discover a fantastic small business, do you tell your friends? Do you post on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram and take note of it?
As Ramaphosa says, “It is our shared responsibility to grow this vital sector of the economy. We will work with our social partners to build a small business support ecosystem that assists, nourishes and promotes entrepreneurs”.
Centre of the economic agenda
Yes! We are trying to do the same thing in our own way. For example, we recently opened a co-working/serviced office development in downtown Johannesburg’s central business district. While co-working is becoming a more established trend in workspaces, what makes the Village Road The Workspace different is that this time we are collaborating with MiWay business insurance to launch an entrepreneurial hub and business development programme within the space.
The thinking is that we should become a mecca for start-ups, entrepreneurs and small business owners. This partnership will bring a number of benefits to members, including monthly knowledge hubs hosted by professional speakers as well as industry related workshops where guest speakers will impart business know-how to members.
We also believe that by supporting and funding an entrepreneur competition, which will run over the next nine months, we will give voice to our belief in entrepreneurship and its ability to create jobs. We will be able to showcase innovative businesses, with four employees or less. And the prize will give the winning business a major headstart by funding office space, office requirements, and insurance requirements etc for a year. Imagine not having to pay those things every month. Freeing up that money to put back into a business.
President Ramaphosa has promised young South Africans will be the “centre of the economic agenda”. At the centre of the national agenda is job creation, especially for young people. He praised the CEO’s Initiative of launching a R1.5 billion small business fund, remarking that it was an “outstanding” example of the role the private sector can play. Government will do its bit by reducing the regulatory barriers for small business and finalising a small business and innovation fund for start-ups.
This is fantastic news. President Ramaphosa reminded us that while change can produce uncertainty, it also presents great opportunities for “renewal and revitalisation, and for progress”.
We are behind him every step of the way. And will continue to do our bit. So if you know of an innovative entrepreneur business out there, with four people or less, encourage them to take a step closer to their dreams.