Small business in South Africa will receive a boost in the coming year when the country hosts one of the primary international business congresses in Johannesburg.
Representatives from the US, Europe as well as the rest of the world are going to get together at the Sandton Convention Centre between 15 and 18 September 2012 for what will be Africa’s very first International Small Business Congress (ISBC).
The congress will be hosted in collaboration with The City of Johannesburg, Foundation for African Business and Consumer Services, Khula Enterprises and Finance and the Small Enterprise Development Agency. The congress will exhibit activities associated with small business development in South Africa and around the world.
As outlined by 2012 congress director Septi Bukula, the main objective of the conference is to expose small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to business opportunities in South Africa as well as in various areas of the world.
Those most likely to participate in the congress are SME practitioners, policymakers from government, trade associations, banks seeking to assist small businesses, small business support organisations, academics and entrepreneurs.
The congress will in addition host an exhibition where organizations can showcase and market their products and services.
The theme for the event is Fostering small business in new and high-potential industries worldwide, and will focus on getting SMEs involved with emerging industries with high-growth prospects.
First congress in Africa
Ever since the first congress in Hawaii in 1974, the ISBC has helped bring together global small business players trying to make improvements to small business practices with a distinct focus on entrepreneurs as well as their environment.
The 2012 event is a milestone for the ISBC and the continent, simply because it will be the very first time that the congress is hosted in Africa.
“ISBC recognises that South Africa is an exciting destination and Africa is an emerging global player. The ISBC is attempting to build in Africa given that it never really focused on it before,” said Bukula.
Subject areas to be discussed at next year’s congress include things like e-commerce and ways in which small firms can make use of the internet to their advantage.
Other discussion topics will be systems to boost management capacity; gathering and disseminating information on new and high-growth opportunities; incubation and technology demonstration; along with innovation, intellectual property, and research and development capabilities.
Challenges facing SMEs
The poor condition of the current global economy has had an adverse influence on small businesses worldwide, as stated by Bukula. This will also be one of the primary talking points at next year’s congress.
“All of us are going to be exploring the impact of the current global economy. We may at the same time cover ways in which small businesses will respond to a depressed economy,” he was quoted saying.
Having said that, he added that in many cases, small businesses simply do not possess the capacity to respond to a stressed economy.
The congress will in addition deal with the issues small businesses encounter when accessing new markets, in search of finance to either start-up or expand, and operating under strict government regulations.
Even though these issues relate to small businesses worldwide, South Africa at the same time has its own hurdles. Bukula pointed out the country’s small businesses are hindered by limited skilled labour, which he attributes to the education system.
“Our entrepreneurial abilities are not very strong as a result of … education system. We do not prepare individuals to be self-employed,” he was quoted saying.
Despite the fact that government has invested a ton of money in small business development, Bukula said there exists a need to develop more entrepreneurs in the sector.
He explained that the gap can be closed if students and pupils acknowledge that becoming an entrepreneur is a viable career choice. Bukula is working together with the Department of Trade and Industry to seek out strategies to address this challenge.
Change our value system
Results of a study carried out by the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship discovered that South African students’ role-models are politicians, pop stars and sports stars. “Not a single entrepreneur ended up being listed, yet those are the ones who are the backbones of the economy and provide jobs,” Bukula stated.
This is due to entrepreneurs, particularly those who are struggling, being stigmatised by society if they fail.
He added that perceptions towards business will need to change to ones that are not scared of failure.
“Instead of stigmatising business people who struggle or fail, they ought to be inspired to try harder, try again or try something else,” said Bukula.
He discussed how individuals who have work experience together with the necessary skills and knowledge are well-equipped to start their own businesses, however they do not think of entrepreneurship as a possible option.
The main reason, he said, is a general shortage of programmes to encourage individuals to become business people.
A good way to motivate individuals to become entrepreneurs is for the government to make available incentives when starting up a business.
Entrepreneurs should be given access to existing support programmes to allow them to gain confidence knowing there is a back-up system in place.