Overcoming the challenges South African entrepreneurs face

How does the South African legislative framework and BBBEE policies affect local entrepreneurs?

What skills and attributes do our nation?s top entrepreneur?s value most? What is the difference between a great entrepreneur and a mediocre entrepreneur? These are just some of the questions entrepreneurs and small business owners ask themselves and face on a daily basis. The 2012 Entrepreneurship Forum was held at Regenesys Business School in Sandton, to grapple with these and other vital questions.

The aim of the event (in partnership with Sunday Times and Jenna Clifford Designs) was to provide a networking opportunity and a platform to develop business relationships for aspiring local entrepreneurs, as well as provide the tools needed to run and grow a business.

The forum featured expert panellists well known for their entrepreneurial skills and knowledge, consisting of Mr Herman Mashaba (Founder of Black Like Me), Ms Jenna Clifford (Jenna Clifford Designs), Mr Konstant Scholtz (Snr Portfolio Manager of GroFin) and Mr Wayne Diamond (Founder and CEO of Diamatix).

2012 Regenesys Entrepreneurship Forum panellists (from left to right). Mr Herman Mashaba (Founder of Black Like Me), Ms Jenna Clifford (Jenna Clifford Designs), Mr Konstant Scholtz (Snr Portfolio Manager of GroFin) and Mr Wayne Diamond (Founder and CEO of Diamatix)

The forum commenced with Saravanja (Master of Ceremonies), emphasizing the importance of entrepreneurship in South Africa as a means of job creation, noting that 70% of jobs are provided by small businesses. He moved on to highlight the poor success rate of small businesses and that nine out of ten businesses worldwide fail.

Mashaba remarked that as a result of South Africa?s legislative framework, he only employs four people (including himself), begging the question "how do you employ people in a country where employers and business people are regarded as enemies of the people?'

Mr Herman Mashaba (Founder of Black Like Me)

Mashaba, a true capitalist, reasoned that capitalism has given him the "freedom that any human being in the world deserves'. The controversial Mashaba stated that the only way that freedom can be taken from people is when politicians bring in laws to "ruin us'. Mashaba quipped that one thing he doesn?t understand is why "generally, politicians don?t like free people'.

Jenna Clifford, a passionate entrepreneur, believes that entrepreneurs need something to move and motivate them, and that pain is one of the biggest motivators. In her opinion, entrepreneurs today have a huge problem on their hands, particularly in South Africa, because entrepreneurship is needed to grow people.

The main message that Clifford wished to convey to the audience was that "education is vital' and that "the greatest thing you can have today is an education, and the one thing I can tell you about this institution [Regenesys Business School] is it?s going to afford you that'.

She stated that as an entrepreneur, you never stop, there?s always something moving you, and that it?s not about money, it?s about autonomy and it?s about changing the world.

Ms Jenna Clifford (Jenna Clifford Designs)

Saravanja, reinforcing this idea, commented that entrepreneurship is about more than just money, but about leaving a legacy beyond our lives and making a difference.

Enlightening the audience with her life lessons, Clifford stated that "your intuition is powerful, you should listen to it' and that you often miss the mark as your mind rationalises intuition.

She commented that "you cannot lead from the top, unless you?ve come from the bottom' and encouraged everyone to "be unnecessarily kind to everyone you meet' because there?s such a thing as the law of return - what goes out, will come back - if you are kind to everybody, your pathway will be ensured, no matter what.

Scholtz, a financier who interacts with entrepreneurs on a daily basis, pointed out that in developing countries, 66% of all employees are employed through SMEs and commented that "being an entrepreneur is one of the most important roles these days'.

From Scholtz?s experience, businesses need to have a promise, in terms of what they can offer their customers, and ensure that they deliver on their expectations through an understanding of what customers want, not what a business owner wants.

Diamond highlighted the importance of being able to sell on the Internet and that as an entrepreneur; you need vision, determination and perseverance. He moved on to say that eCommerce is an important aspect in South Africa and that the Internet is the future of business.

Questions raised to the panel included what the difference is between great entrepreneurs and mediocre entrepreneurs. Mashaba responded that it is easy to identify great entrepreneurs based on the success and growth of their company, and that a mediocre entrepreneur is not necessarily someone who fails and makes mistakes, but rather someone who does not progress and is not prepared to work hard. Great entrepreneurs are those who persevere.

Saravanja added that they "think big' and have "great visions' and that in life, we become what we think, regardless of what we are now.

Further questions raised where the issues of BBBEE policies and what needs to be done to cultivate self reliance in entrepreneurs. Mashaba acknowledged that South Africa?s BBBEE policies is a huge challenge facing the country, but that it is a great piece of legislation, as long as it applies to the broad population.

Mashaba commented that he "feel(s) really concerned about South Africa failing dismally to produce entrepreneurs' and that "labour legislation has been responsible'.

The last question posed to the panel of experts was the difficulty new entrepreneurs experience with "closed doors', even with innovative, value-adding products, and how to access these markets. Mashaba commented that the judgement on whether a product is effective or not is determined by the customer, not the entrepreneur.

He moved on to say that in the open market, doors can never be closed and entrepreneurs need to consider the alternatives available. Saravanja encouraged entrepreneurs to keep knocking, to persevere and not to give up. In closing, Clifford added that entrepreneurs need "killer instinct', and to never stop until they reach their target.

Clifford closed the forum with an inspiring quote that Nelson Mandela used in his inaugural speech from A Return to Love, "our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us', giving hope to entrepreneurs that although the road to starting and growing a successful business is long and hard, their dedication and perseverance will be worth it in the long run.