The 6th Annual EDHE Lekgotla 2022 hosted by the Nelson Mandela University in Gqeberha from 19 to 22 July presented an opportunity to create wide awareness on the Genesis Project, a University of Cape Town (UCT) entrepreneurship programme.
Mr Stuart Hendry (left), Director of UCT’s Development Unit for New Enterprise (DUNE), spoke about the programme that UCT has been running successfully for years, which they now have packaged into a book, with emphasis on helping other institutions in their journey of developing entrepreneurs.
He drew the audience’s attention to the over four million unemployed youth in South Africa. But of even bigger concern for him was the higher education system “laser-locked on building more employees when they should be building employers,” he said.
He nonetheless acknowledged the ground-breaking entrepreneurship initiatives in some institutions, fewer and uncoordinated as he might find them to be. He lamented the silo approach of universities to entrepreneurship, stating that that takes them even further away from collaborating in lobbying government in this context.
He was of the view that universities should be obsessed with building an entrepreneurial ecosystem, even though he stated that only a handful of venture capitalists were willing to work with student entrepreneurs in the country. He said this state of affairs called for serious job creation solutions, further referencing the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report to state that in South Africa, small and medium-sized enterprises are eight times more likely to create jobs than a large corporation.
The Genesis Project book launch
This EDHE Lekgotla 2022 provided a fitting platform for the launch of the Genesis Project book that Mr Stuart Hendry co-authored with Mr Anthony Hill (middle in the left picture), Chief Entrepreneur and Coaching Officer at UCT. Both authors say this book is meant to assist institutions creating a thriving ecosystem that guarantees action-learning in students.
The book stems from a one-year Genesis Project postgraduate programme that offers 12 academic courses at honours level. From the onset, students in the programme team up with like-minded peers to ideate a product or service, raise their start-up capital, produce and take the creation to market.
“This is not a business simulation; it is not a case study, not a pitching competition and not a business plan… you graduate with a degree in one hand and a business in the other,” he said, adding that the Genesis Project is a global pioneer.
To deepen and enhance this programme’s value, Mr Hendry said it is overseen by a board of directors consisting of successful entrepreneurs who work with students, offering support and mentorship. Each year they run six board meetings, which the students get to chair. He called this real learning, which he desires to see spreading to all 26 universities, adding that most students’ learning concerning entrepreneurship cannot be found in textbooks. He affirmed that the Genesis Project teaches students to push through barriers. Seeing the students turn into business machines is what inspires them as facilitators.
Expectedly, throughout the course, these students make mistakes, an element that Mr Hendry commended as they learn more from them than their successes. The Genesis Project focuses on entrepreneurial leadership and management. It is staunch on developing an entrepreneurial mindset and essential skills to build and run businesses.
Seeing the results of such a programme at UCT inspired the authors to write this book, which Mr Hendry called “a hope story.”
The book shares insights on how institutions can build venture creation programmes following these five principles: (a)build entrepreneurs; (b) build start-ups; (c) do not reinvent the wheel; (d) use Genesis as a template; (e) start now.
Mr Hendry said they hoped to see this grow, one day, into a national strategy and unity of purpose towards building entrepreneurs, and, ultimately, informing a funding policy for studentpreneurs.
A five-person panel participated in the discussion around the book launch. These comprised co-author, Mr Anthony Hill; Mr Geordin Hill-Lewis, City of Cape Town Executive Mayor; Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UCT; and Ms Miranda Hosking, Director for Social Education at Gordons Institute Business School (GIBS).
Professor Matshediso Mohapeloa (right), Associate Professor and Acting Director at Rhodes University’s Centre for Entrepreneurship Rapid Incubator (RU-CFERI), who is also Co-Chair of the EDHE Community of Practice for Learning and Teaching, moderated the session and, therefore, posed a question for every individual on the panel, starting with Mr Geordin Hill-Lewis.
Question: Because the Genesis Project is within your city, as a local government, how do you embrace and collaborate in this ecosystem of entrepreneurs?
Mr Geordin Hill-Lewis (left) said this was something close to his heart, saying that as the City of Cape Town, they had set themselves a bold ambition of being the easiest place to do business on the African continent.
He mentioned that currently, South Africa falls behind her peers on the continent in this category. He said our country lacks attractiveness as an investment destination and that more work needs to be done in this regard. The issue was not only about winning but the lived experiences of people in business – small entrepreneurs would not persevere to set up shop here, if they perceived business treatment by government to be wanting.
He therefore expressed the goal of the City of Cape Town as being to foster a supportive business environment by getting the basics — such as paying bills on time to SMEs — right.
Question: How would we, as higher education, create an enabling environment that supports and develops young black entrepreneurs, seeing that, compared to their counterparts, their success is low?
Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng (left) began by thanking the mayor for his vision and commitment, saying as hard as the City of Cape Town was willing to work to develop a coherent entrepreneurial ecosystem, it is the connectedness to the outside that would render this vision workable.
Commending Mr Hendry and the Genesis Project team for their work, the UCT VC said her vision on entrepreneurship needed people on the ground who are willing to work with others. She said the programme, and now the book, was proclaiming an opportunity to work together as institutions.
Responding to the facilitator’s question above, Professor Phakeng said there were no doubts of racial disparities in South Africa, a legacy of the past. However, anyone could get into entrepreneurship, and this is what they had seen with their students. “It is a mixed bag of success,” she said. “In fact, it is mainly black students who find the university environment much more enabling.”
She mentioned the supportive environment that UCT offered students, including access to free consultants such as Mr Hendry, and the opportunity to engage with professors. This environment also allows students to form various partnerships with peers because of the multiplicity of talent within the ecosystem.
Professor Phakeng said she always marvelled at the extent to which many young black students from rural areas noticed and maximised on the opportunities offered by UCT, adding that it was no wonder that black students outnumbered winners of competitions such as the EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity. This was because their uptake on these opportunities was relatively higher. Even the outcomes of the Genesis Project could attest to this fact, she said.
She acknowledged, however, that the story changes outside of the university perimeter, as race becomes a factor in opportunities and access that young entrepreneurs get to enjoy.
Question: What do you think is our role and contribution in higher education, and if there are any bottlenecks, would you make us aware of those and how to mitigate them?
Ms Miranda Hosking (left) admitted that a lot of good work takes place regarding entrepreneurship development and promotion. But institutions could do better by collaborating, sharing good practices and experiences.
She then spoke about the GIBS Entrepreneurship Development Academy (EDA), which she said takes a social justice approach towards entrepreneurship development and promotion. “The intention is to make good quality entrepreneurship education and training available to marginalised and disadvantaged people who would otherwise not have the opportunity to have a business school education. That really is what sets us apart,” she said.
She said the goal was to impact economic growth and create jobs and sustainable wealth. “We are very intentional about impacting youth through entrepreneurship development and I think that there is a role for all of us to play. To your question on barriers and impediments, one of those, for me certainly, is the siloed activity happening,” she said.
Question: Can you share more inputs on how student entrepreneurs can access funding from the start-up phase to a point where they can self-sustain?
“Very simply, funding is a disaster in South Africa. That is a fact,” said Mr Hendry. That is the reason they teach Genesis entrepreneurs, from inception, that they cannot rely on others for funding. Facilitators stress that businesses must be profitable from day one.
He told a success story of Genesis students who had formed a business, Arion Power, which, in just under two years of operation, had achieved a turnover of over R1 million. “This business broke even within three months. In six months, it was already generating profit. These students raised the initial start-up through bake sales, raffles, etc. Having commenced in since 2020, it is only now that they have taken their first massive investment of R4 million.”
Echoing the above, Mr Anthony Hill (left) plainly stated that banks and venture capitalists do not fund small businesses. He said after eight years of surveys, the banks had concluded that financing such entities was too high a risk for them. “They are happy to fund a well-established business, but not a small start-up — particularly young black entrepreneurs because they identified the problem and the solution, but did not do anything about the solution,” he said.
The problem was that many young entrepreneurs were not business ready, Mr Hill said. They displayed limited or no understanding of basic financials, drawing up a business plan and other aspects taught at universities. Unfortunately, not many have access to these institutions.
He then commended Mr Hendry and the transformation he had brought to the Genesis Project, saying he readies young people for business. In conclusion, he pleaded with entrepreneurship facilitators at universities to do what was necessary to render studentpreneurs business ready, assuring them that once that was accomplished, funders would come.
Learning to accept failure as part of the journey
As the launch drew to a close, Professor Phakeng recapped on failure in entrepreneurship, saying that it happens. She said did not want young people to leave with the idea that success was a guarantee on this journey.
“Be resilient and understand that failure is not there against you, [it] is for you and what you get out of it.” Professor Phakeng said for today’s many successful entrepreneurs, failure was what they needed to grow. There was also something about choosing not to adopt the victim mentality that no one was coming to the rescue.
“It is never the end of the journey when you fail. Failure is a lesson. Our students should never think that it will be easy, simply because they’ve gone through an entrepreneurship programme.”
Hard work, sacrifice, sweating, and running even when it is tough, are some of the ingredients that propel success, Professor Phakeng said.
Nqobile Tembe is a Communication Consultant contracted to Universities South Africa.