Entrepreneurship drought: ‘South Africans low on confidence’

The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship has appointed Judi Sandrock as Chief Entrepreneurship Officer (CEO) to oversee the rebranding of the Branson School of Entrepreneurship, which was established in partnership with CIDA City Campus in 2006.

The new CEO has more than twenty years of experience in large corporate environments as an expert in enterprise development, organisational leadership and knowledge management. She was a key figure in the design, development and implementation of Anglo Zimele Small Business Hubs, a corporate enterprise development programme which has assisted hundreds of successful entrepreneurs.

Memeburn caught up with the new CEO as she was settling in to her new post.

MB: Why is entrepreneurship not growing as fast as this country needs it to?

JS: I think it has a lot to do with confidence. And it has a lot to do with role models. People haven’t had that to look up to. It was okay in the old ‘white’ environment, and white kids have grown up with that, but we don’t have enough black, Indian entrepreneurs as role models.

As South Africans, we tend to be low on confidence. Self-belief is standing in the way of success. What gets in peoples way is themselves. That sense of ability and confidence is lacking.

Memeburn: Can you give us a short history of Sir Richard Branson’s involvement with education in South Africa?

Judy Sandrock: In 2006, Richard Branson met Taddy Blacher at the Cida City campus. He had come to listen to a talk by Mandela at the campus. After the talk, Blacher chased him down the road and invited him to look around, and get involved. Virgin Unite and Taddy Blacher put together a faculty of entrepreneurship for the school that ran for 2 years. A further study by Virgin Unite found that the program was producing very capable scholars, but not entrepreneurs. This precipitated a new strategy and an amicable split with Cida campus.

Now it’s time to form the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship to take over from where that programme left off.

MB: Tell us about the new premises you’re moving into.

JS: We’ve decided to move from the city into Braamfontein. The city center is not quite busy enough on weekends and night, and a lot of people we are mentoring need to run their businesses during the days, so they come through to us in the evenings, and for that, the city centre is not ideal.

The new premises are also close to Wits University, so there is a real vibe of learning too.

We have great facilities, an incubator area, and a hub of services, such as legal and service agreements… which are things that people really need, but are often bad at organising for themselves. I believe that people only learn to win by winning. So we want them to concentrate on what they are good at.

MB: What is the strategic vision for the Branson Centre, going forward?

JS: Many people in Richard Branson’s network want to invest in small businesses in South Africa. They want to create those opportunities for people to invest. The center has devised a 12 week program for building an entrepreneur. It’s a practical approach and will involve a lot of mentoring. Ultimately, the sole thing that we will be measured on is the job creation potential of our graduates.

MB: What sort of people will be attracted to the Centre?

JS: We don’t look at people based on gender, or age. We tend to find people who are not great employees, but are driven and who would rather build something of their own. We ask the question, “Can they build a business that creates employment?” Those are the kinds of people we want.

MB: How do you plan to raise funds from campaign-weary South Africans?

JS: Our fund-raising is primarily targeted globally. Virgin Unite does a lot globally. On the local front, we get sponsorship from local Virgin businesses.

We also have interest from SA corporates who need to do something for their Corporate Social Investment, but they want to outsource it and they come to us.

MB: How involved is Sir Richard Branson in the centre?

JS: He’s scheduled for his first visit in February next year. He’s involved in as much as the Virgin Unite team are his eyes and ears…but he asks for feedback, and he gets feedback. My sense is that he keeps an eye on it but doesn’t interfere.

Right now, this is the only Virgin branded Entrepreneurship center in the world. It all starts here, then the next stop is the Caribbean, then maybe something in Zimbabwe. We are interested in countries with a high Gini Coefficient. Countries like that are fertile ground for entrepreneurs.

MB: What are some of the projects that you are most excited about working on?

JS: We have so many projects already, and I’m excited about most of them. For example, we’ve begun work with Lesego Malatsi, who is a fashion designer with six staff. He’s just gotten to the point where he’s opening a boutique. He’s a pragmatist, so he does a corporate line as well as his own line.

Apart from that, a couple of guys just visited us with a vision for a green construction business, and they have done so much research already that it was inspiring –these are people with potential and vision who know what they want and that is what excites me the most.

MB: What hard skills do people learn from becoming part of the centre?

JS: People learn hard skills at the Center. People must build a value proposition and be able to sell. Nothing starts without the sale. After that, they spend a lot of time analysing and putting together operations so they can deliver.

Managing cash flow and money is another area where they need a lot of assistance.

MB: How much contact do you have with people once they have completed the programme?

JS: We don’t want to lose contact. We want to create an alumni where people can give back, come and coach, mentor, perhaps even a guest lecture series. We don’t want them to leave at all. There is so much power in the network, and there is power in giving back too.

For more information, or to get involved, visit www.virginunite.com



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