25 November 2013
Absa, the South African subsidiary of Barclays Africa Group, launched its flagship entrepreneurship centre in Newtown, Johannesburg, last week.
With eight entrepreneurship centres now in operation across the country, the bank’s objective is to develop small businesses by not only training their owners in financial literacy, but also by mentoring them, providing them with networking opportunities, guiding them on business infrastructure and offering HR expertise.
“The goal we have set ourselves in the SME sector requires us to be more than simply a financier of new start-ups,” Wendy Lucas-Bull, Barclays Africa chairperson, said in a statement accompanying Wednesday’s launch. “It requires us to play a meaningful role by supporting entrepreneurs beyond just their financial needs.
“Funding is of course vitally important, hence our R250-million commitment this year to help SME businesses prosper that typically would not meet normal lending criteria,” Lucas-Bull added.
According to the bank, one of the largest obstacles facing small businesses is not financial, but rather access to markets. The ability to penetrate existing markets, or create new ones, is the difficulty they face when having to compete with established businesses.
The bank said it also recognises that the high failure rate among small businesses is because of a lack of business management skills, which is why its entrepreneurship centres also provide computers with internet access for processing business requirements quickly and efficiently.
“Unique to these centres is that SMEs are offered Absa’s procurement portal, which is a virtual marketplace that links SME suppliers with blue-chip companies and government bodies, to encourage corporates to buy more services and products from SMEs,” Lucas-Bull said. “To date there are over 19 000 SMEs and 3 000 corporate buyers registered and actively using the portal.”
Also speaking at the launch of the Newtown centre, Johannesburg Mayor Parks Tau said it was important to “capitalise on Newtown’s history as the original business centre of Johannesburg and a hub of exchange”.
Speaking at a recent gathering of Kenyan small business owners organised by Barclays Africa Group, Happy Ralinala, Absa’s head of business banking South Africa, reiterated the bank’s commitment to facilitating market access for small businesses across the continent.
“Our intention is to connect the African continent and promote intra-Africa trade among SMEs,” Ralinala said. “While funding and skills development are key to helping SMEs succeed in running their small enterprises, creating connections and giving them access to markets, information and non-financial support is crucial to the success of these businesses.”
The partners involved in Absa’s enterpreneurship initiative include the City of Johannesburg, Telkom, Microsoft, the South African Revenue Service, South African Breweries, the Gordon Institute of Business Science, auditing firm KPMG, cash and carry outlet MassCash, the SA Institute of Professional Accountants, the SA Bureau of Standards, the Sustainable Entrepreneurship Accelerator and Proudly South African.