Soweto’s new business school

A young entrepreneur sells fruit to
commuters in the Johannesburg city
centre.
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Wilma den Hartigh

A new entrepreneur academy has been launched at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) Soweto Campus. Given the current uncertainty about the economy, the new facility couldn’t have opened its doors at a better time.

The academy will teach business and life skills to needy but deserving young people between the ages of 18 and 27, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Thandeka Kunene, programme coordinator of the academy, said the goal is to develop both entrepreneurial acumen and self-confidence in students.

“If school leavers are equipped with the appropriate skills to start up businesses, they do not have to face the uncertainty of unemployment in the current economic climate,” Kunene said.

A recession does not mean that there are no opportunities, she said.

“If ordinary people have such skills and they know they can do it, they don’t have to feel helpless. Importantly, they also don’t have to turn to crime,” she said. She is hopeful that those students who start up their own businesses will also in time employ other people.

The initiative was pioneered by Raymond Ackerman, chairperson of Pick n Pay. The academy forms part of the recently launched Centre for Small Business Development. The Raymond Ackerman Academy, in partnership with Goldman Sachs, the global investment bank, first opened in 2004 at the University of Cape Town.

The programme will accommodate 50 students and run for six months, twice a year. During this time, students have to attend classes where they will receive instruction in life, business and entrepreneur skills. Students also have to get work experience, draw up a business plan and set up a business.

Kunene explained that the work experience is a vital component of the six-month programme. In partnership with a placement agency, the academy will assess each person’s area of interest and place the student accordingly.

“Once the work experience is completed, they receive feedback on what makes them employable or not. Some students will eventually even stay on in that job,” she said.

Students also have the opportunity to present their business plans produced throughout the duration of the course to a panel of academics, successful entrepreneurs, banks and small business funders. The most promising entrepreneurs will receive a prize, consisting of a grant and a low-interest loan to start up their businesses.

Students who don’t receive this award, but show promise, will be helped by the academy to find alternative funding. They will also be assigned a mentor to assist them in setting up the business. The academy will monitor their progress for three years.

Of the 100 students who will complete the programme this year, academy staff predict about 30 will become entrepreneurs, 60 who are not cut out for business will find employment, and 10 will choose further education.

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