Incubation is essential for the promotion of entrepreneurship, which, in turn, provides jobs and grows the economy. But entrepreneurship cannot be an afterthought or side-hustle. It should be a career choice.

This was the view of one of the speakers at last week’s EDHE Lekgotla 2022 Think Tank around universities’ incubation and acceleration* programmes and how they can better prepare studentpreneurs to enter the marketplace.

Participating in the panel discussion were (from right) Ms Sibongile Shongwe, CEO of The Platinum Incubator; Ms Nafeesa Dinie, PTI Manager at Propella Business Incubator; and Dr Thobekani Lose, Unit Head and Researcher at the Centre for Entrepreneurship, Walter Sisulu University (WSU). Ms Kelebogile Molopyane (far left), CEO of AB4IR, facilitated the session.

Kicking off, Dr Thobekani Lose (left) said one way to ensure that entrepreneurship is thought of as a vocation is to discuss and teach the subject at a young age.

“We know that doctors and lawyers don’t come out of nowhere. In primary or high school, they already know what they want to do and what to study, to achieve this. It is the same thing with entrepreneurship – we need to inculcate it from early childhood. In doing so, however, we also need to stay cognisant that students are in university to get a qualification, not to start a business.

“We tend to expect lecturers to try and change students’ mindsets. As incubator specialists, it is important that we nurture students and give them a vision that aligns with their own personalities. To be an entrepreneur, you have to be fearless and you have to be inquisitive, and ask questions.

“Entrepreneurs are subject experts when it comes to theory. We need to ensure that the businesses they start utilise the subject matter that forms part of their degrees. That talks to the skills they have and what they love and chose to study for a career,” he emphasised.

“It is clear that we need to do things differently, and mobilise resources…For example, we need to allow our students to do business with the university. At WSU, in procuring goods and services, we give preference to our students and incubators within the university. We also help them with access to market,” he reiterated.

“Most of us are love titles but no one wants to do the work that entrepreneurs are doing. We need to build people and encourage true leaders who are able to transfer skills to students.”

Focal areas, he believes, should be:

  • Curriculum re-design to create an entrepreneurial curriculum
  • Learning environment modification
  • Strengthening links between universities and industry
  • Involving government and other stakeholders
  • Institutional funding; if the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) withdrew their funding, most incubators wouldn’t exist.

*“Business incubators and business accelerators provide advice, guidance and various forms of support for businesses in the start-up phase. The key difference between them is that business accelerators, as the name suggests, compress the timescale for starting up by operating as a type of boot camp. Business accelerators claim to help entrepreneurs hit the ground running; business incubators nurture the business in its start-up phase, allowing it to develop at its own pace.” – Ian Linton, CHRON

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

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