The 7th Entrepreneurship Lekgotla kicked off yesterday with critical positioning statements from the most pertinent entities in Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE).

Talking to the EDHE Lekgotla and Studentpreneurs Indaba 2023 theme “Social innovation for Societal Impact”, representatives from Universities South Africa (USAf), the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), the University of Western Cape (UWC), as the hosts, and the Department of Small Business Development, set the agenda for the Lekgotla 2023.

The focus over the next three days will be on trends, new developments and best practices in entrepreneurship development, along with challenges that universities face in this space. 

Host, Professor Michelle Esau (right), Dean of the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at UWC, welcomed delegates saying the problems of poverty, inequality and unemployment, called for a united action to find innovative solutions to societal problems.


“Innovation is the essence of entrepreneurship as it identifies opportunities in society, the markets and different sectors and shows how to exploit them,” she said. At universities, there was a socio-political and economic imperative to prepare students to engage with real problems like digital and financial exclusion, gender-based violence, climate change and justice, and marginalisation – especially of rural women. She added that student entrepreneurs need to care about society, address challenges and make an impact.

Professor Esau said UWC contributed to knowledge creation and development through research that infused teaching and learning with community engagement. The University has, for example, ‘zone learning’ – an entrepreneurship incubation space with clinics that are experiential learning hubs where students can turn theory into practice. “The small business clinic – located in the economic and management sciences faculty – is one such clinic. A centre for entrepreneurship and innovation aspires to develop and grow entrepreneurial thinking and acting across disciplines.”

At this “gathering of like-minded people” Professor Esau urged delegates to use this opportunity “not to compete but to collaborate; let’s form productive partnerships and engage in the entrepreneurship space to find solutions to our societal problems through innovative thinking, strategies and the preparation of the future leaders of our country.”

World of Work Strategy Group

Professor Thandwa Mthembu, Chairperson of USAf’s World of Work Strategy Group (WSG) and Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the Durban University of Technology (DUT), laid out four focus areas of WSG.

  • 4IR, which is quickly transitioning to 5IR. He said the “internet of things” is morphing into AI where things are becoming human-like. “We now work in the cloud and not physically; these are the challenges facing the WSG.”
  • Graduate employment, which sits at around 7.5%. “The challenge is the mismatch between the demands of the labour market and the quality and type of graduates – the values, principles, attitudes, mindsets – that we produce. Unfortunately, these erode the legitimacy and hegemony of our universities. You can’t wear your university gown and you go back into the street to sell tomatoes. WSG focuses on how to tackle graduate unemployment.
  • Entrepreneurship development in Higher Education – the main focus of the Lekgotla – provides opportunity and a response to graduate unemployment. 
  • Work Integrated Learning (WIL) in a social economy where there are fewer opportunities for young people to participate productively in this social economy.

Professor Mthembu (below) said a WSG workshop in April 2023 saw a refining of strategic priorities – aligned to five broad categories of their mandate.

1. Institutionalisation of innovation and entrepreneurship within higher education:  When will we have specialised curricula that enable students and graduates to create, run, sustain start-up and spin-out companies? This needs a different education philosophy. We can’t train for a workplace that no longer exists

2. Facilitating graduate productivity in the social economy: We have to link our graduates to provincial and national entrepreneurship ecosystems to ensure sustained graduate support beyond their university years.

3. Making innovation and entrepreneurship education sustainable: We need to establish a variety of funding streams to wean ourselves off DHET University Capacity Development Grants. Why talk about innovation and entrepreneurship when there are no returns, whether social or economic? We have to be self-sufficient or we can’t say we are training entrepreneurs.

4. Managing entrepreneurship education by measuring:  Establishing a national monitoring and evaluating system for entrepreneurship education, using an entrepreneurship maturity model to measure what’s being done across the sector.

5. Establishing micro and macro ecosystems for innovation and entrepreneurship:  This is a big challenge – nowhere in the world will you find a siloed ecosystem; there are micro ecosystems within universities and regional, national and international environments.

Community engagement

Ms Nadia Waggie, Chairperson: EDHE Community of Practice (CoP) for Student Entrepreneurship & Head of Sustainability & Impact (Careers) at the University of Cape Town, told delegates the CoP had always been revered for its active member engagement and a sense of community.

“We are well placed to engage student entrepreneurs and mobilise national student and graduate resources to create successful enterprises that will ultimately lead to both wealth and job creation,” she said.

That theme was picked up by Ms Thulisile Manzini (left), Acting Director-General, Department of Small Business Development (DSBD) who said the development of an entrepreneurial culture for students was important considering the capacity of the strained economy to absorb job seekers.

Lever to wage war

“Entrepreneurship is an important lever with which to wage a war against the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality.” An entrepreneurial culture helping students improve their confidence and creativity while allowing them to view entrepreneurship was a viable career option, she added.

Quoting what President Cyril Ramaphosa said to an Mthatha Youth Day Rally in 2022, Manzini said educational training is the greatest challenge, and the reason for millions of young people not being in employment. She said Statistics SA’s May figures put our unemployment at 32.9%, of which 4,9million are youth.

To address this challenge, the DSBD had begun developing a national entrepreneurship strategy – with youth development at its heart. “Barriers to entrepreneurship education include inappropriate learning methodologies where education programmes are not outcomes or skills development based, or where entrepreneurship is not being promoted as a career option. A lack of entrepreneurship education limits early-age entrepreneurial activity and the performance of SMMEs. Successful entrepreneurs possess not only creativity and innovation but also strong business management skills, business know-to-know and sufficient network. Lack of these skills limits the performance and competitiveness of enterprises,” Ms Manzini said.

Focus Group

Responding to these issues, the Department is in the process of establishing a focus group that looks at delivery in higher education – something that will be done in partnership with universities. She said DSBD was interested in understanding the relationship between entrepreneurial education and start-up inception, adding: “The primary goal of entrepreneurial education is not only to grow entrepreneurial intention, but to also prepare students to be entrepreneurs.

“Therefore, we’ve entered into agreements with the DHET TVET colleges to find new practical ways of nurturing this. The Department assists students through incubators, centres for entrepreneurship, rapid incubator investment support and youth start-up support programmes such as Youth Challenge Fund which supports youth-owned enterprises.”

Regarding factors constraining the implementation of entrepreneurship education in higher education, she mentioned funding, inadequate entrepreneurship curricula, acute shortage of facilities and equipment, the absence of infrastructure and skilled staff.

“We are taking active steps to create supportive structures, in collaboration with academic institutions and the private sector,” Ms Manzini said.

Beyond academic requirements, mechanisms were needed to monitor ventures that would ultimately grow dynamic youth enterprises that contribute to the gross domestic product. “We’ve identified various players in the entrepreneurship space and harnessed some interesting work being done in order to enhance our intervention.” She said regulatory regimes that impede start-ups were also being looked at “to enable one-on-one funding for start-ups and so allow us to keep entrepreneurial talent in the country.”

Underutilised resources

Ms Mandisa Cakwe, Director: University Capacity Development Directorate in the Department of Higher Education and Training, said her department provided a resource to universities through the University Capacity Development Programme and Grant to support entrepreneurship development.
“But we don’t see much of the budget going towards entrepreneurship development. We’re working with universities on new university capacity development programme plans that we start in 2024.”

Ms Cakwe (right) said a 2014 report produced by the Human Resource Development Council clearly states the challenges faced by the Post School Education and Training System (PSET) regarding entrepreneurship.

“The report provides clear recommendations of what can be done to overcome these challenges. The department is trying to respond to these challenges. It is common knowledge that many universities around the world are becoming centres for innovation, commercialisation, and entrepreneurship, producing successful artefacts that benefit the economy. Brands such as Google, FaceBook, Microsoft were all created by students.”

Locally, she named successful South African studentpreneurs:

  • Mark Shuttleworth, CEO of Canonical, the company that developed the Linux-based Ubuntu operating system
  • Ludwick Marishane, voted the best studentpreneur in the world. He invented DryBath – inspired by a lack of access to water for many
  • Ntsiki Biyela, the first black female South African winemaker and
  • Nkhensani Nkosi, owner of a successful Stone Cherry fashion brand.

“Women must take centre stage in terms of entrepreneurial development,” she said, applauding the EDHE Student Women Economic Empowerment Project (SWEEP). “It is critical that student women are supported to become economically active – despite the other challenges they face as young women in our country.” 

Charmain Naidoo is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.

EDHE Lekgotla 2023 Articles