Nineteen young Capetonians had reason to hold their heads up high this week as the first graduates of the Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurial Development at the GSB.
The Ackerman Academy is the brainchild of South Africa's best-known entrepreneur Raymond Ackerman and is run by the GSB Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
It was launched six months ago to provide life and business skills training to youth who struggle to gain access to tertiary education opportunities or employment.
Speaking at the graduation at the GSB on Monday, Ackerman expressed pride in the hard work the Academy team and the students had put in to make a success of the programme.
"Well done to all of you - one of the prime purposes of the Academy, of which I am so proud, is to give enthusiastic, ambitious young people another chance, a fresh opportunity to uncover their potential - and it is clear from that you, the first graduates, have all taken tangible steps over the past six months to doing so. May good luck and good fortune go with you," he said.
Ackerman personally donated the funds to start and keep the institution and its training programmes running in perpetuity.
The students graduating expressed similar enthusiasm for the programme. Kurt Campher, a 24 year old from Crawford, said the training has helped bring a business vision to life.
"My girlfriend Claudia Hendricks, a fashion designer, and I were eager to get a clothing label off the ground but didn't quite know how to go about it. The training has been instrumental in helping us get things started."
Campher and Hendricks launched the Sneaky Tiger label about seven months ago and Campher has steadily been putting his new skills to good use over the course of the training programme.
"Whatever I learnt I have applied and I understand what works and what doesn't for us. The two areas I found very rewarding were the marketing and the financial training. I learnt how to use financial statements and the vital importance of managing finances correctly," said Campher.
In fact, Campher believes that it was these financial skills that helped them secure a recent bank loan for the business. It's a few months later, and Sneaky Tiger can now be found at Mix, a popular fashion boutique on Long Street.
Campher added that the programme was not just theory, but gave him real skills he could use immediately. The groupwork part of the programme was also a big plus.
"Working on a group level really worked for me. In the real business world you have to work with people all the time so I think it was good experience. You begin to understand how to communicate and discuss issues and how to come to decisions as a team."
"The lecturers are also successful business people and entrepreneurs - they speak from real experience. It's a lot easier to understand the concepts and it makes the learning interactive."
The programme is offered for a nominal fee, and Campher paid an amount he could afford. He estimates that in real worth the programme is closer in value to R50 000 for what it delivers. In addition, all the students have access to computers with free internet access as well as printing facilities.
Another student, 19-year-old Candice Petersen from Heideveld, added that not only was the programme content "amazing" for the six months, but also that, even after the course, the Academy is willing to help students.
"It's great that you can go back if you need advice," she said.
Even though she says is not yet ready to start her own business, Petersen's time at the Academy opened the door to a new job - she has just secured a position in the IT department at the GSB.
Jonathan Marks, Director of the Academy, said he is delighted to see the first class of student successfully emerge from the programme.
"The Academy is geared towards giving talented youngsters the opportunity to take control of their own futures - by giving them the skills to start their own businesses or by helping to find the relevant work experience that will put them on the right track for a successful career. It is wonderful to see so many of the graduates already finding a foothold to make their dreams a reality," said Marks.
He added that the second programme for 2005 is underway, and that three programmes are scheduled for next year. He is aiming to accommodate up to 40 students per class for future programmes.
Teaching on the programme is modelled on the GSB's leading-edge methods. Students spend one week of each month at the business school in conventional classroom settings. The rest of the time they work in groups under the watchful eye of the experienced mentors.
Anyone interested in applying for a place on future programmes can contact the UCT Graduate School of Business at (021) 406 1911.