Propella Business Incubator (PBI) was one enterprise example presented during the EDHE Lekgotla 2022 Think Tank that explored business incubation and acceleration programmes. PBI is a partnership between the Nelson Mandela University (49%) and Engeli Enterprise Development. Together with SEDA, PBI officially launched the Propella Township Incubator (PTI) in the Neave Industrial Satellite in Nelson Mandela Bay in February this year. (PTI is also known as T3 – meaning township plus technology equals transformation.)

The aim of PTI is to ensure that local communities have access to services which will help them to become part of the local and mainstream ICT economy. PTI also aims to bridge the gap between township and technology for grassroot, rural and township entrepreneurs.

PTI offers a range of incubation and business development support services and assists start-up* and small businesses in mitigating the risk of failure in the early stages of start-up. It also provides both physical and virtual incubation support and offers young entrepreneurs with viable digital or technology concepts, the opportunity to transform their ideas into viable businesses.

Township Incubator Manager, Ms Nafeesa Dinie (left), said the choice of the location of the incubator was strategic: “It creates a link between the township and the industrial zones of the municipality. The two economies need to merge. We have combined space, place and people.

“Incubation is more than just the role in developing entrepreneurs. It has to develop the key specialists and drivers who are to be the mentors and coaches.”

In her presentation, Dinie focused on the three Cs – commitment, collaboration and co-creation: “We are here to construct, deconstruct and reconstruct new models. We need to embrace diversity and inclusivity. In our incubation programmes we celebrate failure because not every idea is viable. You cannot become risk averse. In entrepreneurship, failure is accepted to a certain degree because it teaches valuable lessons.”

How do incubators ensure that SMMEs transition from university hubs to the “outside world”?

Dinie explained: “There are always going to be challenges. I think the most important thing is that the programme offerings must be milestone-based, meaning able to measure the entrepreneurial growth plan. It is not merely a cheap facility to access a Wi Fi system, printers or boardrooms. There must be a system through which the client, as the beneficiary, pays for services. It teaches them that in the real world, as an entrepreneur, you are going to be paying rent and other costs. Your programme model must allow for a review of the revenue model. Young entrepreneurs don’t always understand who their market is; who their customer is and what their unique value proposition is. Sometimes you have to be brutally honest; it’s got to be a viable business, otherwise the incubator is just paying for someone’s hobby.”

From studentpreneur to student employer

She cited the case of Jonathan Kettledas who founded NanoTek, an IT solutions company, and has successfully moved from student entrepreneur to student employer: “I am delighted to say that Kettledas graduated from the Propella main hub and today is not only a service provider but a partner of the T3 incubator, driving technology programmes and creating jobs.”

The NanoTek figures and achievements are certainly impressive:

  • Since its inception there has been a 200% increase in clients in two years
  • Revenue growth for 2019/2020 was 466% (this during CoViD-19)
  • Between 2020/2021 the business showed a 40% stable growth. Growth forecast is estimated to increase to reach 50% by the end of this year
  • 15 sustainable jobs have been created in the last two years
  • Other studentpreneurs are part of his ecosystem
  • The company assisted the largest infrastructure deployer in Africa – Liquid Telecoms – with ICT resources
  • It was commissioned to build software for one of the largest exporters in the Eastern Cape, SJM Flex.

*“The terms start-up accelerator and start-up incubator might seem like they have the same meaning: to help your business grow. They are often interchangeably used but both differ a lot from one another. While one helps established businesses grow quickly, the other helps flesh out the details in starting a new business.” Bharath Sivakumar – Feedough.com

Janine Greenleaf Walker is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.

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