Vuthela entrepreneurship support programme – lessons learnt

As the Vuthela entrepreneurship support programme wraps up, Shannon Moffett, Key Expert of the Vuthela Private Sector Development Component reflects on the lessons learnt.

In Vuthela Spark 10, we covered the start of Vuthela’s entrepreneur support programme being implemented in KwaDukuza Local Municipality. At the time of the newsletter, the 20 selected  entrepreneurs had just started the programme, with a four-day bootcamp in Ballito. Programme participants reflected on what lessons they had learnt so far, and how they would apply it to their businesses. They also explained what they were hoping to get out of the programme.

With the programme wrapped up at the end of June 2023, this newsletter article reflects on the outcomes of the project and the lessons learnt.

During the short, six-week intensive programme, in addition to their training at the bootcamp, the service provider for the programme, Goshen Enterprise Development, provided both group and individual training and mentoring sessions. Five industry leaders shared their experiences and tips with the entrepreneurs and a range of business support services was provided.

A key learning of the programme is that six weeks is not enough time to sufficiently support and mentor entrepreneurs. Ideally, such a programme should be implemented over at least a year, allowing for monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of the programme learnings and to assist businesses to adjust their business plan based on their business circumstances and market changes. Furthermore, the service provider noted the challenge in delivering the business support services in this short time frame. It was the initial intention of the programme to be a year long, however delays in approvals and allocating funding to the programme meant it was substantially shortened. Fortunately for the programme participants, Goshen Enterprise Development is also the service provider for Enterprise iLembe’s incubator, based in KwaDukuza. All graduates from the Vuthela programme have been invited to join the incubator programme and will continue to receive support for their businesses.

Business support services

The second key learning of the programme is how critical business support services are to entrepreneurs. As part of the programme, an allocation of R10,000 per entrepreneur was made to be used for additional specialist training, marketing collateral, financial services, and/or quality control which might include SABS compliance. Based on a detailed assessment of needs, four companies had their financials done by an accountant, eight businesses had websites developed, most of the businesses were registered on SMEplus (a quotation, invoicing and business compliance system), and others received marketing materials such as branded shirts and aprons, business logos, banners etc.

Relevant companies were registered with COIDA or with the municipality for business licenses. While such support services are critical to operating a business, the costs involved are often out of reach of young businesses. Furthermore, while many government, NGO and private sector programmes provide training support to entrepreneurs, few programmes provide the funds for the business support services made available through this programme.

A key consideration when designing the programme was how to make such a short support programme sustainable. To achieve this, two officials from the Local Economic Development (LED) department of KwaDukuza Local Municipality were included in the programme. The assumption was that by going through the training and support programme themselves they would be in a better position to advise and support entrepreneurs who come to the municipality’s LED office. The LED officials were also expected to select one of the entrepreneurs, and shadow them through their programme journey. LED intern, Ms Ntombizodwa Gumede chose to shadow a photography and videography company, Focal Shot Productions, and Ms Nomathamsanqa Ngiba chose to shadow Stez Manufacturing, a company that manufactures and sell tombstones.

Comprehensive and well-structured

Speaking of her experience of the programme, Gumede said, “The KDM Entrepreneurship Support Programme was a comprehensive and well-structured initiative. Through training sessions, mentorship opportunities, and access to resources, the programme equipped aspiring entrepreneurs with valuable knowledge and support. The sessions covered essential topics such as business planning, financial management, marketing strategies, and business compliance.”

Ngiba wrote that it was a “wonderful programme that has given us knowledge of high calibre. In this programme I have learnt a lot such as being able to identify business ideas and opportunities to have a sustainable business.”

It must also be noted that the feedback from the service provider is that the LED staff were “excellent”. They attended all sessions, and were always engaged with the topics, asking questions, and participating.

Again, a challenge of such a short programme limits an analysis on the effectiveness of including the LED officials and how it has impacted on their work in providing support to entrepreneurs who visit the office. How many businesses have they advised? What has happened to those businesses? Is the LED office now better able to deliver business support services to their clients? A longer programme would have allowed us to implement tracking mechanisms for this.

The questions of stipends to support participants in programmes like this is an important one. During Vuthela’s iLembe ICT project, stipends were not provided to participating youth. While there is no evidence to support that, it is possible that the high drop off rate from the programme was due to there not being financial support in place for the youth. Considering this, the programme provided a small stipend of R100 a day to cover the transport and other costs for the participants involved in the programme. The attendance in the programme was very good, with almost a full house at most sessions. The service provider however reported that two of the selected businesses were not engaged in the programme. Had the programme been longer in duration, we would have been able to replace them with entrepreneurs on a waiting list.

What else can such a programme provide to support entrepreneurs? To answer this question, we asked the programme participants in a client satisfaction survey, distributed at the end of the programme. For the most part, respondents felt that they need more financial information and support as well as how to tender. Another requested more information on point of sales and how to manage their stock better. For the most part, the participants expressed great satisfaction with the programme and the support they received, with 100% of the participants responding that they were “very satisfied” with the quality of the programme.