South Africans should learn from entrepreneurs in rest of continent

The recently released ‘Accelerating Entrepreneurship in Africa’ survey revealed that 57% of respondents consider becoming an entrepreneur a desirable career choice. According to Mark Paper, chief operating officer of Business Partners International, this finding is extremely positive for the growth of entrepreneurship in Africa and he says that South African entrepreneurs should look to the continent for inspiration.

Paper says that in light of Global Entrepreneurship Week, South Africa should be making use of the African continent as a positive example when it comes to entrepreneurship, as in comparison to the 57% of Africans that cite entrepreneurship as a desirable career, it was recently revealed in ‘The State of Entrepreneurship in South Africa’ report that corporate careers are still more desirable to most South Africans.

“We have noticed that there is certainly more of an interest in entrepreneurship as a first career choice in some other parts of Africa in comparison to South Africa. In the selected African countries that we operate we also see a more spirited interest in entrepreneurship. In comparison, entrepreneurship is not embedded as a first career choice within South African society yet.”

He says that despite the many challenges that African entrepreneurs face, they often manage to overcome these and succeed in various industries, which contributes positively to the economy. “Entrepreneurs in other parts of Africa have considerably less access to funding as the banks are much stricter in comparison to South Africa. In addition, African entrepreneurs also face significant challenges when it comes to skills development, as they do not have an abundance of skilled workers in the region.

“The infrastructure in many parts of Africa is also far less conducive for an entrepreneurial environment and entrepreneurs often struggle with electricity and transport challenges, which all hinder growth.

“African entrepreneurs definitely operate in a more challenging environment and thus need to be more creative and resilient in order to make their businesses succeed. If they can operate and succeed despite their numerous challenges, entrepreneurs in South Africa certainly can too.”

He says that although the African continent continues to face significant challenges, the economy is growing and presenting opportunities for entrepreneurs that have not always existed. “Economic activity in the African region is projected to expand by about 5% in 2012 and 2013, a similar pace to that observed in 2010–11, thus presenting a growing opportunity for entrepreneurs to establish themselves with the economy.”

Paper says that since the early 2000s, entrepreneurship in Africa has reported strong organic growth, and now, as the world’s second fastest growing region, has the potential to develop even more. “The population in Africa is also expected to expand by more than double to two billion by 2050, so the continent’s potential will develop even further.

“This increased population’s needs will not be able to be met by only government and the corporates operating in the area, so entrepreneurial ventures will be key in serving consumers’ needs.”

He says that research from the McKinsey Global Institute reveals that natural resources account for only about a third of Africa’s growth. The rest of this growth is as a result of internal structural changes that have stimulated domestic economies – the telecommunications, construction, banking and retail sectors, which are thriving. “This provides entrepreneurs in Africa with much opportunity to take advantage of these growing industries.”

Paper says that South Africa, as part of this growing economy, needs to embrace entrepreneurship. “The limited views that many South Africans have with regards to entrepreneurship need to be eradicated in order for the industry to flourish.”

Global Entrepreneurship Week aims to expose the public to the benefits of entrepreneurship and motivate individuals to explore entrepreneurial ideas. Paper adds that South Africans, who are generally viewed to have a rather negative perception when it comes to entrepreneurial failures, need to reassess the perception they have of entrepreneurship. “The brave individuals, who choose to take the risk of starting a new venture that contributes to the economy, should be recognised and rewarded,” concludes Paper.