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SA Needs To Support Entrepreneurs Now More Than Ever

Celebrating World Entrepreneurs’ Day

Considering the extreme economic adversity that South Africa currently faces, entrepreneurs should be celebrated and supported now more than ever before. This is according to Arnold February, Regional Investment Manager at Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS) – one of Africa’s leading risk finance companies for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) – who says that in light of World Entrepreneurs’ Day on 21 August, it is vital for South Africa to recognise and support local entrepreneurs, many of whom risked their own livelihood to ultimately create economic opportunity and employment for others.

“Given the historically high unemployment rate – which is only rising in the COVID-19 environment we find ourselves in – the opportunity cost of leaving formal employment to pursue an entrepreneurial opportunity is correspondingly high. We need to commend those who have taken this risk in the past and encourage others to do so in the future.”

After all, as February puts it, if the SME sector is the growth vehicle for economic recovery, then entrepreneurs are the drivers. “We are quick to note that almost half of South Africa’s workforce is employed by SMEs, but often forget that without entrepreneurs, there would be no SMEs – these are the individuals who create employment for not only themselves, but for others as well, which our country so desperately needs.”

An example of an entrepreneur to be recognised is Tshepo Mekoa.Having founded Brima Logistics back in 2005 with just a dream and a truck, Mekoa managed to successfully expand his humble sole proprietorship into a leading logistics company, employing 120 people and showing no signs of slowing down. That is, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit South Africa earlier this year, bringing the business and any future plans for expansion to a sudden halt.

“The business was growing from strength to strength – we had a fully-staffed head office in Johannesburg with branches in Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, Polokwane and Port Elizabeth,” Mekoa explains. “But everything changed when the national lockdown was instated – annual growth targets suddenly became meaningless and I realised that we would need to fight just to survive.”

Having made his way from a warehouse clerk to a logistics executive in a large corporate before pursuing his own entrepreneurial endeavor, by capitalising on a gap in the local market for reverse logistics – operations related to the reuse of products and materials – Mekoa is just one of countless local entrepreneurs who are currently fighting to make ends meet for no fault of their own.

As one of the clients to benefit from Business Partners Limited’s COVID-19 Financial Assistance Programme, Mekoa received a R25 000 non-payable grant, as well as a R975 000 loan, which he said enabled Brima to purchase necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) for employees and provided a much-needed cash injection into the business.

“During level 5 of lockdown, we were unable to trade until we had the necessary PPE and had lost almost 80% of our turnover,” recalls Mekoa. “We were facing a serious cashflow issue and desperately needed immediate assistance, which we thankfully received.

“Then gradually, we moved up to about 60% capacity in Level 4 and were back at 80% capacity in Level 3,” he says, noting that the business is finally starting to see the light again.

“The past few months have been nothing short of a disaster, but it’s reminded me why I became an entrepreneur in the first place. Unfortunately, many business owners are driven purely by a desire to make money, which isn’t enough. You need to have a burning passion for your industry and company in order to be a successful entrepreneur.”

This, Mekoa says, epitomises the difference between a business man and an entrepreneur. “A business man is driven by making a profit, whereas an entrepreneur is driven by passion. I am, and always will be, an entrepreneur,” he concludes.