Branson school for small business

27 October 2005

For the first time anywhere in the world, international tycoon Sir Richard Branson has lent his name to an educational institution – in the heart of Johannesburg.

Cida City Campus, the country’s first virtually free tertiary institution, providing specialised accredited business administration degrees to disadvantaged students, officially launched the Branson School of Entrepreneurship on Wednesday.

Entrepreneurship will be one of the 11 courses Cida students study in their first year at the foundation college, which bridges skills such as computing, mathematics and English, and will be offered as an elective course after that.

A first batch of foundation year students has already put forward business ideas for which they will be given seed money.

British entrepreneurs Tom Bloxam and Leo Caplan have each donated £100 000 (R1.2-million) to the school.

“They will get a tiny bit of seed money in the first year, more in the second year and even more in the third year; and the best ideas will get even more at the end,” Branson said. The money will be in the form of a loan, which the students will have to pay back into the business seed-money kitty for use by those following them.

Many of the students needed little encouraging, Caplan said at the launch. “I was at Cida this morning, and was ‘pitched’ by no fewer than four students,” he said.

Walking in their footprints
To mark the occasion Branson, with leading South African and British entrepreneurs, left his footprints behind when he placed his feet in concrete to represent “walking in the footprints of global entrepreneurs”. These symbols of inspiration will be placed at the entrance of the school at 27 Harrison Street.

The building, donated and renovated by First National Bank, will be named the Nelson Mandela First National Bank Building, as it was here that the former president held meetings in his early years.

Cida CEO Taddy Blecher said the school has been established to help qualified students start up and manage their own businesses.

“The South African economy is dependent on entrepreneurial activity for creating economic growth and jobs, yet few young South Africans choose to start a business after their studies,” Blecher said.

“A myriad reasons explain this, including the lack of role models, no access to capital or training to help them identify viable business opportunities, and the misconception that starting a business is for those who have no other choice. The school has been created to tackle these issues and arm financially disadvantaged students with entrepreneurial skill.”

All students will study a module in entrepreneurship in their first year. Thereafter, they will able to specialise in entrepreneurship, entering the Branson School of Entrepreneurship in their second year at Cida.

Social entrepreneurship
The school will also focus on campaigns to boost the image of entrepreneurship as a viable career, and will offer students modules in social entrepreneurship to address social issues.

“Being an entrepreneur is not only about making money,” Branson said. “You can also tackle social problems with an entrepreneurial mind. No one should develop Aids, no pregnant mother should be passing on HIV to her baby, and millions should not be dying of malaria. These are just some of the issues we will lead the school into discussing.”

Branson pointed out that only 2% of entrepreneurs in South Africa have success with their businesses. “That’s a perilous situation, especially if you consider that many of them have some formal education in entrepreneurship.”

Having a school like this will give people a better chance, he added. “Many will succeed and many will fail, but the confidence with which they leave there will be unparalleled.”

Branson hopes that the students, by studying companies such as Virgin and working with their staff, will learn that taking a great idea and having the courage to run with it can build great 21st century businesses. “I believe that increasing entrepreneurship in this country is the golden highway to economic freedom – plus it’s an exciting and fun way to make a living.”

Start-up funding for the venture comes from Virgin Unite, the charitable arm of Branson’s Virgin Group.

“We have come a very long way in this country,” Blecher said. “We overcame apartheid, but the next stage of the struggle in South Africa is the need for economic democracy. We can only truly be free when we build an equal economy.”

Source: City of Johannesburg