The Telkom Cape Town Entrepreneurship Conference aims to support entrepreneurs in two distinct ways, by offering advice and networking opportunities to entrepreneurs, and by bringing together key corporate and governmental stakeholders who influence the entrepreneurial landscape.
For Martin Feinstein, co-event director of Cape Town Entrepreneurship Week, this distinction is an important one. “Even though the first 2 days of the Telkom Cape Town Entrepreneurship Conference is not aimed specifically at entrepreneurs in terms of attendance, it is all about entrepreneurs,” he says. “The environment in which businesses operate is shaped by a range of factors: policies, infrastructure quality, availability of skills, the quality of the education system, support services and access to capital.
“These factors depend in turn on decisions made by politicians, policy-makers, urban planners, educators and a range of other leaders. Our aim with this conference is to try and encourage more co-ordination between these decision-makers and more collaboration in the delivery of services and support, direct and indirect, to entrepreneurs. Participants in the conference will be challenged to think carefully about the importance of promoting and enabling entrepreneurship in Cape Town and other cities, and how they can do this more effectively. Ultimately this will benefit entrepreneurs by their priorities and needs being taken into account more seriously.”
An entrepreneurial focus
Day three of the conference is open to the public and aimed specifically at entrepreneurs. The growth of Cape Town’s economy is ultimately dependent on the capacity of its entrepreneurs to create and develop sustainable business strategies. “For entrepreneurs who seek a cosmopolitan and slightly alternative lifestyle, Cape Town certainly offers more lifestyle choices,” says Feinstein. “In many respects – and this is a personal opinion – the physical infrastructure of Cape Town is better than other cities. A visiting customer can find you easily because the street signs are generally there and visible – unlike many other cities in South Africa where street signs have become casualties – and because they can get around quickly. Retailers are less troubled by vagrancy and erratic services. The city and its officials are generally more efficient than other cities, and more attuned to the needs of business.”
According to Feinstein, the City of Cape Town has embarked on an ambitious strategy to promote and encourage entrepreneurship in the Mother City. Cape Town Activa is based on the Barcelona Activa model, which aims to not only provide early-stage entrepreneurs with access to a wide range of support services, but also to improve the efficiency of collaboration between various private and government agencies and organizations. The Business Place, a non-profit small business information centre, has been appointed to drive this process.
Challenges faced by Entrepreneurs
Many people want to be entrepreneurs, but few people understand what it means to be one – and how tough it is. But once you have launched your canoe from the shore, there are a host of problems and challenges you may face in the water. “Access to working capital is often a problem, and lack of adequate finance means it is difficult to fund the required level of marketing and investment in people and equipment. This often constrains the business, sometimes fatally, in its early days. Finding and keeping staff is a big problem – employees who are reliable, have the right attitude and work to add value are few and far between. And there is lots of red tape to keep you up at night,” says Feinstein, who believes that an entrepreneurial ecosystem can help alleviate many of these problems.
“An entrepreneurial ecosystem is an environment where any entrepreneur, at any stage of their journey, can quickly and easily find the resources and advice they need to get to the next level,” he says. “In a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem, there is access to venture capital, the education system turns out people with the right mix of skills, there is a lot of innovation and R&D happening in companies and on campuses that can be commercialized, red tape is minimized, entrepreneurs who take risks are valued for it, government plays an enabling role and is not scared to try new approaches and experiment, there is a close dialogue and understanding between business and government, and there are serious incentives not only for start-ups but to attract businesses. Government cannot itself create this kind of ecosystem, but it can ‘seed’ it and work to cultivate it.”
For more information about Telkom Cape Town Entrepreneurship Week, please visit www.ctew.co.za