The survival rate of South African emerging businesses is among the lowest of any country surveyed in the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report. How small businesses are capacitated with skills, mentorship and tools to turn such statistics around is a matter of national concern, and one that’s the driving force behind the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation.
The brainchild of Allan Gray, founder of the investment management firm Allan Gray Limited, the foundation focuses on equipping talented young individuals with the skills, attitudes and motivation to become successful high-growth entrepreneurs. Anthony Farr, CEO of the foundation, says, “We strongly believe in the power of investing in high-potential individuals so I suppose you could describe us as a personal incubator as opposed to a business incubator.”
Creating an entrepreneurial orientation
Selected in high school or the first year of university, these individuals become Allan Gray Fellows, and in so doing receive fully-funded education and participate in a programme that focuses on general and entrepreneurship education, skills development, work experience and mentoring. “Once they graduate, they are required to gain practical work experience and thereafter, if they develop a viable idea for a business they will be able to access start-up capital from the E2 Trust, which has been developed solely for this purpose,” explains Farr.
While the fellows are selected on the basis of entrepreneurial potential, not all of them will go on to start entrepreneurial businesses. As Farr explains, “Our broader focus is to foster an entrepreneurial orientation, and whether this is expressed in politics, the corporate environment, the professions or a small business is not the central issue. Everyone is benefited by becoming more entrepreneurial in their outlook. Wherever you work, an entrepreneurial mindset enables you to manage resources more effectively, helps you to identify opportunities and initiate projects to make the most of them.”
Are entrepreneurs born or made?
What the foundation is doing raises the long-established debate about whether entrepreneurship is something you can teach, and Farr has some interesting views on the subject: “I don’t think everyone has the potential to become an entrepreneur but I think that South Africa has the potential to produce far more entrepreneurs than we currently see. We fall behind the global average when it comes to the portion of our population that is engaged in entrepreneurial businesses, so part of the challenge is to unlock those individuals that have the inherent raw materials but don’t otherwise see entrepreneurship as a valid career option.”
If exposing people to the option of entrepreneurship is half the battle won, the other half comes in providing them with the tools to start and sustain a successful entrepreneurial business, and it’s here that Allan Gray Orbis believes that aspects of entrepreneurship can be taught. The foundation has developed an in-house curriculum that encompasses four types of learning interventions. “These are overlaid on top of a fellow’s undergraduate studies and include entrepreneurial simulations and activities; interaction with leaders in business, government and society; work experience, and mentoring from both assigned foundation employed staff, as well as business mentors, that help the fellows to develop networks and social connections,” Farr explains.
With this experience, and access to a venture capital fund dedicated solely to the Allan Gray fellows, individuals are equipped with the all tools necessary to start South Africa’s high-growth businesses of tomorrow. “It will take time before we see this happen because the foundation is still young and our brand of investment in individuals will take time to reach fruition. But already we are extremely excited by the entrepreneurial business ideas that some of the fellows have.” Many different initiatives are required to spark the dream of extensive entrepreneurship in South Africa and this one, founded by one of the country’s great entrepreneurs, certainly has a decisive vision for the future.
Allan Gray Orbis: Foundation
CEO: Anthony Farr
Contact: +27 21 431 1400