Proof of Possibilities

The University of Stellenbosch Business School’s Small Business Academy in Cape Town, South Africa, makes a difference in the community by improving the entrepreneurial skills of local small business owners.
Proof of Possibilities
A KEY PART OF THE MISSION for University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) is to promote meaningful engagement with society—in 2012, the school launched its Small Business Academy Development Program to support that goal. Through the SBA, the business school wanted to make a difference in the lives and businesses of small business owners in low-income communities, by developing their business skills through the efforts of students, alumni, faculty, and other stakeholders.

Small business owners from disadvantaged communities are allowed access to the program (see one study group, pictured above), provided that they have earned educational certificates from recognized schools and have existing businesses that have been running for at least two years. The SBA is supported by two large corporate sponsors as well as other businesses.

Since the program’s launch, the school has seen an annual growth of 30 percent in inquiries from interested small business owners, who hear about SBA through the school’s advertisements in local newspapers and on local radio stations. “We also host open events in targeted areas, and we have built a word-of-mouth awareness,” says Heindrich Wyngaard, manager of media publicity, social media, and e-publications at USB. In the beginning most participants came from the nearby township of Khayelitsha, but the program has since attracted participants from five others, including Mitchells Plain, Guguletu, Phillipi, Blue Downs, and Langa. “

These townships are situated on the so-called Cape Flats, a mostly desolate, and dangerous, part of Cape Town,” says Wyngaard. “These areas are all characterized by similar socioeconomic challenges, such as low income status, unemployment, low schooling, high crime levels, poor infrastructure, a lack of available business premises, and a need for business management education. Access to computer facilities and the Internet are two other needs faced by the business owners.”

The SBA consists of four parts: a training program, a mentorship program, practical workshops, and consulting assistance provided by current MBA students. The training program takes place over a nine-month period and includes four modules that cover business essentials, marketing, finance, and business plan writing and presentation. Four USB faculty help direct and deliver the program; the school also brings in six external faculty to teach courses, local experts to present practical workshops on areas such as self-esteem and social media skills, and alumni mentors to assist SBA participants with the practical aspects of their businesses. Faculty and trained mentors, who are mainly USB alumni, also continue to support participants after the program is over to better ensure their success.

As part of a compulsory course called “Business in Society,” MBA students work closely with the business owners to help them build websites, create standard contracts, and learn more about banking and crowdfunding. After completing the program, participants receive certificates issued by the University of Stellenbosch, which they can use as a building block to enroll for a program at a higher level.

Over the past three years, owners of more than 60 small businesses have completed the SBA. Their businesses are wide-ranging, including a mobile vehicle window fitting center, an educational toy store, a women-run football club, a laundry, a beauty salon, a foodto-compost service, a swimming school, and even a male singing quartet. Many already have seen positive results, Wyngaard says. For example, the owner of the mobile vehicle window fitting business was able to secure funding from a multinational company to establish a storefront. The owner of the swimming school, who had started her business in her front yard with just 35 swimmers, has since expanded her clientele to 600 swimmers. She also has purchased a new vehicle, appointed more staff, and expanded her offerings to include water aerobics; she now is buying property to build a larger swimming pool.

The school now plans to expand SBA to other geographical areas outside the Cape Town region and even beyond the South African borders. In addition, its faculty have begun research studies to analyze program results, quantify the program’s impact on the local economy, and track which methodologies are most successful. These studies will continue over the next ten years; the school expects the first results in 2017.

The school hopes the impact of the SBA will only continue to amplify over time. SBA graduates “are contributing to their communities through their unique offerings, empowering people through creating jobs, ensuring exposure for their communities through media coverage, and sharing their newly acquired business knowledge and skills with other local business people,” says Wyngaard. “Together, they are proof of the possibilities that exist.”

To learn more about the University of Stellenbosch Business School Small Business Academy visit www. usb.ac.za/sba. To read more about the owner of the swimming school, who was able to improve and expand her business through the program, visit www.littlemermaids.co.za.