The Platinum Incubator, an entity discussed during one of the Think Tank sessions at last week’s EDHE Lekgotla 2022, is the only small business start-up hub in the world devoted to encouraging budding entrepreneurs to develop world-class products and applications using platinum group metals (PGMs).

Established in 2006 in partnership with the Platinum Trust of South Africa and the North West Province with funding by the Department of Trade and Industry’s SEDA Technology Programme, it has helped aspiring jewellers to build careers in the design and manufacturing of jewellery using platinum, silver, palladium, gold, diamonds and semi-precious stones mined in southern Africa.

While the incubator’s historical focus has been on jewellery design and manufacture, it has the potential to play a much broader role in the beneficiation chain by actively promoting and encouraging young inventors, chemists, engineers, scientists, technicians, designers and entrepreneurs to use PGMs in new and exciting ways that will ultimately benefit all stakeholders.

Since it opened its doors in Rustenburg, The Platinum Incubator has mentored and assisted 135 talented young people from previously disadvantaged backgrounds to realise their dream of becoming jewellery designers and manufacturers.

Says founder, Ms Sibongile Shongwe (left): “I was lucky to discover my passion of being a social entrepreneur at the age of 13 when I started doing community service. A lot of people work and become entrepreneurs because they want to be multi-millionaires. I was fortunate enough to become one by the age of 30. However, I realised that my calling was actually in helping people and making sure that others are able to live their dreams. So, I started a platinum incubator which works closely with the universities.

“I believe that incubation is a bridge between academia and industry. Universities are the places where knowledge is harnessed and sharpened and where potential leaders in business and entrepreneurs are uncovered.”

Shongwe listed the advantages of institution-based incubators:

  • Well packaged developmental solutions
  • Workplace/trading-conscious graduates
  • Inclusive economic participation throughout the student’s academic years
  • A culture of business practice for future citizens instead of an employee mindset or mentality
  • Grooming entrepreneurial flair for potential future employers or business owners
  • Economically active students offering real time solutions for communities
  • Future fit solutions for both existing and emerging organisations
  • Peer-to-peer networks towards future solutions.

However, she acknowledges some disadvantages that cannot be ignored, which include:

  • Potential need for programmes review
  • May require additional motivation
  • May require adopting testing for entrepreneurial personality types
  • Some students do not want to return home during academic year intervals
  • In place of employment contracts, students’ exit pathways could be business mergers and partnerships.

The Platinum Incubator offers three structured programmes – a six-month pre-incubation, a three-year incubation as well as post incubation for graduates who may still face challenges because of their disadvantaged backgrounds.

She explained the incubation cycle:

Pre-Incubation (six months)

  • Target market: bright, entrepreneurial South Africans with a business idea involving platinum group metals (PGMs)
  • What is offered:
    • Feasibility assessment, technical assessment and feedback
    • Business mentorship & counselling, training and advice
    • Networking opportunities
    • Registration of new businesses and compliance with statutory obligations
  • Outcome: Operating a registered company with a business plan.

Incubation (three years)

  • Target market: South African entrepreneurs who have experience in producing PGM products or services
  • What is offered:
    • Machinery: Access to machinery, CAD software, administrative services, Wi-Fi and internet
    • Assistance in procuring raw material
    • Organised access to experts
    • Marketing, distribution tools and platforms for tenants’ products
    • Reduced set up capital and start-up costs
    • Professional security and asset protection
    • Quality control
    • Strength and synergy in numbers: The clustering together of similar and complementary enterprises allows small enterprises to reduce costs through combined and shared use of scarce resources and limited capital
  • Outcome: Sustainable manufacturing business

Post-Incubation

  • Target market: candidates who have been in business for more than three years producing quality, tested products.
  • What is offered:
    • Clients are encouraged to operate from their own premises and become independent of the incubator
    • Access to professional services, machinery, equipment and metals purchasing power is available at a nominal fee. Access to networking and exhibition opportunities are among the benefits for those who have graduated from our incubation programme.
    • Export and import initiatives
    • Investor opportunities
    • Marketing your goods and services
    • Participation in the post-incubation hub at OR Tambo airport.
  • Outcome: Exit strategy

“Incubation is also about networks and collaboration, and you have to have the right stakeholders in your incubation. We go out and find industry experts who are relevant for our SMMEs,” she concluded.

The EDHE Lekgotla 2022, themed #movetomarket, was hosted by Nelson Mandela University in Gqeberha for over 300 in-person delegates and around 250 online attendees.

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

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