ISBC2012 Sandton Convention Centre 15th – 18th September 2012

dianne isbcThe 37th International Small Business Conference [ISBC] was held on African soil for the first time with South Africa being the host of this international event. This was like the 2010 FIFA World Cup for small business. There were practioners and small businesses from the rest of Africa as well as India, Japan, United Kingdom, Canada, Ukraine, Italy etc. Most South African’s in attendance were government officials and very few private companies.

As a speaker at the conference this gave me a platform to interact with many practioners from Africa and the rest of the world. From all the presentations made there were a few common themes:

The lack of experience of business advisors – from UK, Canada, Japan, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Botswana all agreed that many business advisors leave university with a degree and are place in positions as business advisors with no experience in business. How does an individual give advice in business when they do not have experience in business? Running a business exposes you to holding meetings, taking minutes, managing staff (HR) and managing finance. If one has not had this experience how do you assist the SMME who visits your office for help. There was a general agreement that a new approach is urgently needed.

Finance – the lack of managing finance as well as the lack of access to finance. Many Financial institutions do not provide feedback to the SMMEs and three weeks later when the SMME calls to follow up they are told that there is a problem with certain documentation. Three weeks have been lost by the SMME as the process will only start once that document has been submitted. Why did the financial institution not give feedback within the first week? An SMME could lose a contract because funding arrived three weeks too late. This could have been avoided had the documents been checked earlier. Deputy Minister of Trade and Industries [DTI] Thabethe also stressed that it is not the access to finance that is the challenge but the requirements to access finance that seems to be the greater challenge.

Focusing on growth – how do we manage growth? Minister Rob Davies acknowledged that there are entrepreneurs of necessity but these entrepreneurs need to be encouraged to take them into value adding products by building partnerships. Enterprise Development could be used as a vehicle to attain this. We were informed that in Zimbabwe all university students must create a product before leaving university. These products are then positioned within the different industries.

Incubators – were promoted by all speakers as this is seen as the best way of ensuring sustainability of the SMMEs. There were many presentations that were made about incubators in particular the automotive incubator in Pretoria. Minister Rob Davies, who was one of the speakers, spoke about the Incubator grant that the DTI will be launching on 26th October 2012. The DTI will partner with the Private sector to establish incubators throughout South Africa. This will definitely ensure sustainability of SMMEs within the incubators. Incubation is the main thrust for both South Africa and Zimbabwe. The minister of SMME Development and Co operatives in Zimbabwe said Zimbabwe has the best Housing co operative in Africa which constitutes 3,500 co-ops and 6,000 beneficiaries. Kenya on the other hand has the 3rd biggest development bank in the world. This bank started as a SACCO (Savings And Credit Co Operative).

In closing Deputy Minister Elizabeth Thabethe declared 2013 the year of the Entrepreneur and small business with special attention to Women, youth and Disabled persons. This will ensure that the DTI will ensure focus will be place on SMMEs and Entrepreneurs. As the SMME sector it will be necessary to take advantage of this by forming forums so as to make representation of challenges faced by SMMEs as well as needs.

CEO of SEDA, Hlonela Lupuwana was elected as deputy chair of ISBC which means for the first time South Africa as well as Africa will be represented.