Few opportunities for entrepreneurs at Soweto Fest Expo

Posted on September 29th, 2014

Few opportunities for entrepreneurs at Soweto Fest Expo

According to provincial government statistics, Soweto residents’ annual retail spending is worth more than R5 billion. However, only a quarter of that making it’s way back to the township.

This is what festival organisers, in partnership with the Gauteng Enterprise Propeller and the Department of Small Business Development, are hoping to address with SMME development platform which was held as part of the Soweto Festival Expo.

Now in its ninth year, the three-day Soweto Festival Expo held in Nasrec, south of Johannesburg, combines music, dance and drama with an exhibition of arts and crafts, business and tourism. Approximately 20 000 to 30 000 visitors that attended the three-day expo.

SMME development platform

SMME development platform aims to benefit the Soweto community and surrounding areas by supporting  the township’s entrepreneurs and revive it’s economy.

The platform included an exhibition by entrepreneurs hoping to gain exposure, and sell their wares to festival-goers, as well as networking with established brands, service providers and other entrepreneurs.

Over 160 business exhibitors took part at the expo to showcase their products and services.

Of that number, 125 were Soweto-based and surrounding areas small businesses – ranging from furniture, home and kitchen appliances, health, beauty and fashion, travel and tourism, and community projects and NGOs. About 40 were commercial and government exhibitors.

Mixing business with pleasure

Despite a strong showing by local exhibitors, many small business owners were discouraged by the lack of enthusiasm for business networking shown by the festival goers, with many of the entrepreneurs exhibiting saying the festival’s focus was too much on entertainment, and not enough in the business aspect of the event.

“It was better on Friday because there wasn’t a lot of entertainment and we managed to get a few clients,” a clothing manufacturer said.

“It’s been like a graveyard today, and yesterday was a dead end with no prospects for sales,” a beautician said on Sunday during a live gospel concert.

By Sunday morning, a part of the exhibition centre had been cordoned off as some entrepreneurs had lost interest and left their stalls unmanned while others simply left with their products.

Two worlds of business

While small business exhibitors decried participation at the exhibition centre, business was booming for small-time vendors selling food and beverages to patrons on the premises.

With temperatures averaging 28 degrees Celsius over the weekend in Johannesburg, beverages were on demand, with a 500ml bottle of still water going for R15.

These outdoor stands cost just less than R1,000 per square metre over the three days. A standard package for main exhibitors set them back R1, 800 but they were relieved by government sponsorship.

Working on a tight budget

Over 1 000 SME’s have participated in the expo since the beginning of the event in 2005.

MD of Adele Lucas Promotions, the organisers of the Expo, Rehaad James, said the event still needs a lot of sponsorship since they’re “working on a tight budget”.

“It takes about R10 million to organise an event of this magnitude,” said James. “Our objective is to provide exposure to local enterprises to brand and market themselves. We want them to interact and network with their potential or existing customers. We also assist them with training which facilitates their growth.”

James called on for more government and private-sector sponsorship.

Government shows support

Lindiwe Zulu, the Minister of Small Business Development, visited the Expo on Sunday and interacted with the exhibitors. Although she was impressed with what she saw, she expressed concern over the quality of products of many businesses.

“After walking around seeing all the business concepts, I’m impressed that the number of entrepreneurs taking part here is growing. It’s our duty to support entrepreneurship in every possible way,” Zulu said. “But I’m concerned with the quality of some of the products I saw on displays and the level of upskilling from the entrepreneurs themselves is lacking.”

Democratic Alliance MP, Toby Chance, who accompanied the Minister for a tour of the Expo, noted that “30% of the stands were empty, which is a disgrace.”