The Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Venda (UNIVEN), Dr Robert Martin (left), said he was delighted that his institution was hosting the national launch of the EDHE Student Entrepreneurship Week (#SEW 2022) in the year that UNIVEN was proudly celebrating its 40th anniversary.
“It is our opportunity to showcase our institution to the outside world,” he said during the opening session last Thursday, which also featured EDHE’s other officials, Dr Norah Clarke, Director: Entrepreneurship at Universities South Africa (USAf); Ms Nadia Waggie, Chairperson: EDHE CoP for Student Entrepreneurship, University of Cape Town and Mr Sandile Shabalala, Senior Student Engagement Officer: EDHE, at USAf.
Ms Waggie and Dr Clarke both emphasised that women are still severely underrepresented when it comes to entrepreneurship although progression is being made. Mr Shabalala gave an overview of Student Entrepreneurship Week (SEW).
“Its aim is to promote entrepreneurial spirit amongst universities, students and staff across the 26 public South African universities. We want to showcase the opportunities available for students within the universities so that they can also become entrepreneurs. We want to equip all students to participate in the country’s economy,” he told both in-person and online delegates.
Dr Martin continued: “UNIVEN is a unique space; I believe we are only one of two universities in the world which are situated in a UNESCO-declared biodiversity area; ours is known as the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve.
“At UNIVEN, we have an exciting story to share when it comes to entrepreneurship. Although we find ourselves in a rural setting, we are not a rural institution and we have the opportunity to impact the world here from Venda. We are a rurally-based university, and not a rural university, and are widely recognised as an entrepreneurial university. However, this is only possible thanks to the academic support (from USAf affiliated institutions around the country) that underpin all of these initiatives.
“While our students may lack the physical exposure to big business like their city counterparts, it is our job to bring all of those opportunities to this area. It is the community around us who experience and benefit from the difference that an entrepreneurial university can bring.”
He announced that UNIVEN would be introducing business advice centres to communities in the area later this year: “What makes this unique is that we will combine business advice with what the traditional law clinics have been doing. By working in collaboration with these law clinics, we will bring both law and business advice to these rural areas.”
Dr Norah Clarke (left) reiterated what UNIVEN had achieved in advancing entrepreneurship at the university.
In 2020, it was the winning university in the EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity which identifies and recognises top student entrepreneurs at South African public universities. That accolade followed UNIVEN student, Mr Promise Nyalungu, being named the 2020 National Student Entrepreneur after scooping the award for the Best Existing Social Impact Business for his company, Struu Artzz Edutainment.
Said Dr Clarke: “With this victory, UNIVEN proved that any university – regardless of size or location – can win a national intervarsity. It is a remarkable achievement and has caught the attention of colleagues and leaders across the country; the university innovates around this mission of entrepreneurship development.”
She referred to a new project at the university which has seen the appointment of student entrepreneurship ambassadors. They will continue to be mentored within on-going university programmes such as the Student Training for Entrepreneurship Promotion (STEP), Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE), intervarsity competitions, ENACTUS UNIVEN and entrepreneurship week.
“My wish is for student entrepreneurs at this university to see the wealth of opportunity and riches right here; you don’t have to go to the city.”
Dr Clarke revealed that an economic activation office is in the process of being established at UNIVEN; internal communities of practice (CoPs) are being rolled out and there is on-going community engagement and social entrepreneurship under the leadership of Professor Vhonani Netshandama.
She referred to the national EDHE Studentpreneurs Community of Practice in which each of the 26 public universities selects one representative, who has to be both a successful student and entrepreneur. In that context she recognised UNIVEN’s delegate, Ms Mutshiwa Aluwani, a BCom Accounting student and co-founder of Rose Enterprise.
“Aluwani influences the national agenda for entrepreneurship. We can’t listen to all students but we can listen to 26 students. Aluwani is the one who is speaking on behalf of students in this university so they need to share their priorities and concerns with her. Students need to know who she is and support her,” Dr Clarke emphasised.
She also referred to the national EDHE Community of Practice for Student Entrepreneurship whose purpose is develop the entrepreneurial capacity of students and who are the coordinators of SEW and entrepreneurship intervarsity. She paid tribute to Dr Livhuwani Nkonde, a lecturer at UNIVEN who she described as “a beacon of hope for how things should be done” as well as UNIVEN national EDHE CoP members Dr Robert Martin, Professor Takalani Mashau, Dr Azwifaneli Nemushungwa, Dr Lawrence Diko Makia and Dr Tendayi Gondo.
However, it was still a concern that more women are not entering the entrepreneurial space, Dr Clarke said.
“Although great strides have been made and despite a woman entrepreneur being named Studentpreneur of the Year 2021 (UCT’s Ms Tshegofatso Masenya), females are still
underrepresented in entrepreneurship. We’ve got to figure out why and at universities we have to figure out how to better support student women in entrepreneurship. What are the barriers preventing them from participating in business and how can we help address those barriers?” she asked.
Ms Nadia Waggie (left) also said that it was imperative to grow the number of women in entrepreneurship and gave details of one of the Community of Practice for Student Entrepreneurship’s flagship programmes which, it is hoped, will encourage more women to enter the entrepreneurial space.
The Student Women Economic Empowerment Project (SWEEP) serves a special purpose aimed at equipping student women for entrepreneurial activity in the context of gender-based violence and the under-representation of student women in entrepreneurship.
Nelson Mandela University was the first to launch a SWEEP student chapter in July.
“SWEEP’s growth since inception has been phenomenal. It started at its launch in Pretoria last year with 46 members. It now has 237 members and is still growing.”
SEW also continues to expand, Ms Waggie said.
“The history of EDHE Student Entrepreneurship Week has really been about how can we improve and better the service we are offering and what is it that the students are asking for.
“Last year, 18 out of the 26 member universities held student entrepreneurship weeks and this year we are attempting to get all 26 to participate by the end of September, by hosting their own in-house programmes to showcase what is available on their campus around student entrepreneurship. We are happy to assist wherever we can. It is about sharing knowledge and experiences so that all universities can offer these services to their students.”
The number of entrants in the Entrepreneurship Intervarsity was also on the rise.
“We have had almost 3500 entries this year compared to the 1000 in our inaugural year in 2019. It has really taken off with more students participating, which not only benefits them but their community as well. Of the 3500 applications received this year, 677 were from women but we want to continue to grow these numbers.
“It’s about engaging each other, sharing knowledge and collaboration and really assisting each other for the benefit of all,” she concluded.
Janine Greenleaf Walker is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.