It was a record year for the EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity 2022 with the highest number of entries received in its four-year history, and a total of 24 national finalists drawn from all 26 South African universities.

The hugely successful event is convened by the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) programme, a facility of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), being implemented under Universities South Africa (USAf). 

Welcoming participants to the finals and the subsequent awards ceremony, Dr Phethiwe Matutu (right), CEO of USAf, underlined the significance of this event. “The three goals of the EDHE programme are to equip every student and graduate for economic participation and true entrepreneurial activity. EDHE supports the development of entrepreneurship through teaching, learning and research. The programme is also critical in the development of entrepreneurial universities.”

Dr Matutu commended the various EDHE Communities of Practice (CoP), recognising them for executing the bulk of the programme’s project conceptualisation, information sharing and thought leadership.

She welcomed all CoPs comprising students, staff across all disciplines, academic leadership and alumni associated with entrepreneurship development on campuses.

Sponsors pledge continuing support

The organisations supporting the EDHE Intervarsity project offered messages of support.

Representing the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation (AGOF), Mr Landi Mashiloane, Fellowship Selection Manager said: “We are very proud to have partnered with and been associated with the EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity since its inception. Our mission is to foster a community of high-impact responsible entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship does not just change the financial or social standing of any individual. If done right, it impacts the socio-economic conditions of our community and the country at large.”

He said his organisation was part of the eco-system that all the studentpreneurs could rely on for support, inviting them to use the Foundation as a resource.

Another Intervarsity sponsor is the SAB Foundation. In her message, Social Innovation Specialist, Ms Itumeleng Dhlamini, said: “This is my favourite initiative that we support as the SAB Foundation. This is happening in the context of declining economic growth in South Africa, where we have unsustainable levels of inequality and rising unemployment.

“Social entrepreneurship is promoted as the key to solving market failures through sustainable models that aim to build inclusive economies, protect livelihoods, advocate for social inclusion and environmental sustainability and provide access to health care, education and sanitation.” The youth, Ms Dhlamini said, were most impacted by the social ills inflicting this country. She called on student entrepreneurs in the room and those connecting virtually, to innovate and create change.

“We are pinning our hopes on the future of the country on you, the brave ones who dare to seek change and challenge the status quo,” she said. The SAB foundation, she said, “fully supports the EDHE Intervarsity initiative because we believe it plays a pivotal role of enabling social innovation that addresses South Africa’s ongoing social economic challenges.”

Dr Dulcy Rakumakoe, a social entrepreneur in the healthcare space and Chairperson of Global Student Entrepreneurship Awards, Entrepreneurs’ Organisation (EO) was the third sponsor. She told the audience: “I love entrepreneurs, mostly because, like me, they are crazy enough to think they can change the world.” She called studentpreneurs the lifeblood of economic growth.

Dr Rakumakoe reminded the audience that some of the greatest inventions in the world (e.g. Dell, Yahoo, FaceBook, Google, Dropbox, FedEx) had arisen from universities. “Remember that South Africa’s own Multichoice began as an MBA project. You students are on the right path.” Encouraging the students to contend for the EO run Global Students Entrepreneurs Awards, she informed them that “the South African leg of the competition takes place on 17 February 2023, after which winners go on to compete internationally.

“That is how networks are built,” she said.

Transformational programme

Keynote speaker, Deputy Director-General in the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), Dr Marcia Socikwa (left), said the DHET was intent on maintaining its support to EDHE, “notwithstanding our increasingly limited funds.”

“The introduction of EDHE into the university system represents an important milestone within this country’s transformation agenda. It is a strategic response to national post-school education and training policy imperatives critical to the needs of citizens, employers as well as the broader society. 

“It is also a response to a stronger, more cooperative relationship between education and training institutions and the workplace. EDHE responds to challenges relating to the lack of commercialisation, human resources development and funding capacity for expanded socio-economic development in our country,” Dr Socikwa said.

EDHE, she explained, is funded through the University Capacity Development Grant (UDCG) within the DHET.

EDHE Intervarsity growing in leaps and bounds

“I am delighted that all 26 universities took part in the Intervarsity this year with a total of 3457 registrations from students. The number of successful submissions in the competition has grown from 1155 in 2019, to 1545 in 2020, 1468 in 2021 to 1682 in 2022.

“However, only 677 successful submissions this year were from student women, just 40% of the total. This underlines the continued under-representation of student women in entrepreneurship. We can do better and raise this to at least 50%. Women dominate in terms of enrolment numbers so it should not be too difficult.”

Continuing programme support amidst declining funding

Dr Socikwa said the DHET would continue to support this programme.  “Universities are bursting with wonderful inventions, and prototypes – but going nowhere because there are not qualified professionals interested in carrying them to the marketplace. We want to do tracer studies which we hope will assess the impact of this investment, over time. We will use this as a tool to bring more partners on board,” she said.

EDHE, the DDG said, must be aimed at helping equip students and transfer the results of their research studies, thinking and ideas into large and small-scale entrepreneurial initiatives to benefit society.  “Increasingly funding for most of the projects at EDHE is becoming scarce. This means there’s a need for collaboration – across international and local universities. We need global tentacles to enhance reach in terms of research and opportunities. 

“As we seek funders, we want to augment the contributions we make to the different universities. I am very pleased to say that the department will be meeting several interested parties over the next few months. We hope to be able to direct more funds towards EDHE.” She added that they were hoping to bring on board the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector to “grow and expand the impact of this programme.” 

How the Intervarsity was born

Dr Norah Clarke (above), Director: EDHE at Universities South Africa (USAf), told the audience: “Four years ago, when we started the first EDHE Intervarsity, our purpose was to alert universities to the fact that there were student entrepreneurs in their midst, operating below the radar. Studentpreneurs leverage their academic exposure and academic investment to grow themselves as people.

“When we started, we knew universities had to know who the promising entrepreneurs were and what promising businesses needed to be supported. We needed to put a spotlight on those studentpreneurs. Our second objective was to inspire students who were a bit despondent about their own economic prospects. How could we give them hope, show them they have power and influence on their own futures?” It became clear that the way to do this was to find role models and share their stories and profiles.

Dr Clarke said: “We hope these role models will be turned into heroes of sorts in their institutions – showing that people who come from this village, this background, this university, can achieve.”

Charmain Naidoo is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.

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