“South Africa has so many problems … isn’t it wonderful”, this is how you can tell that Stephen Read is a glass-full kind of guy. A life long entrepreneur and now a teacher, facilitator and mentor, Read (43) founded and runs the Field Entrepreneurs Development Program in under-resourced areas like Katlehong, Vosloorus and Thokoza areas. This optimist believes that you can start with anything or nothing, and this is the message that he is teaching through the Fields incubator program.
Creating a nurturing environment
“We are the first step” says Read who explains that the majority of applicants to their program often have little to no business skills and almost no existent resources. This often means no financial literacy and very little numeracy skills or basic business principles.
Beyond a lack of resources and skills is what Read calls “a lack of perspective”. Many of the applicants often haven’t been exposed to what’s beyond their immediate environment, most of which is negative.
This is where the Field program comes in. Read says they have structured the program to address some big entrepreneurial issues including the fact that most of their applicants are driven to entrepreneurship by desperation and unemployment and that five out of seven new small businesses fail within the first year. The 18-month program has a strong focus on personal and leadership development and teaches goal setting, basic business skills with a strong focus on mentorship. “Entrepreneurship grows in a nurturing environment,” says Read.
After completion of the program, the organisation continues to offer support and guidance to the new business. “We want someone to leave having an understanding of the different facets of business” says Read.
A lot of effort goes into making sure they choose the perfect candidate. “Can you lead and persevere? Are you resourceful and personable?” says Read, “We want someone who can drive their own process forward”.
Read sees his involvement with his entrepreneurs as a life-long one. “I never let them go, we are a support structure that they can always tap into,” he says.
A life-long commitment
“Entrepreneurship is not for sissies, the right people will stick it out” says Read. It costs R1,000 to enrol into the program, which Read says applicants pay as a show of commitment. The rest of the cost of training is subsidised by a corporate sponsor.
It’s not all bad news. Read says he continues to be amazed by the individuals that join the program, whose positive attitude he describes as “unbelievable”.
Last year the Field Program received over 192 applicants with 30 graduating from the program. There were 22 completed business plans at the end program which were all assessed for funding. Read says they have accepted the relatively high reduction rate between initial applicants and the number of successful business plans completed. “Our current model is to cast a wide net and let the best candidates show themselves, even though we have an application assessment process” he said.
Fanyana Minisi is one of Field success stories. The entrepreneur, hailing from Katlehong launched Makoya Spice n Mor’, an innovative chicken seasoning than does not require egg or batter mixing to bind to the chicken. Minisi also developed an innovative distribution model selling to hawker organisations who distribute the product on the trains.
The man behind Field
Read’s introduction into training and mentorship was almost an accidental one. After years of building every imaginable business (some successful, some not so successful), he opened a chain of supermarkets in the township in 2009. He came by the idea of training his managers so they could buy the store from him. “It was a win-win situation” he says. Although he failed to get funding for his staff, the training idea stuck and Field was born. The first 18 months of the program was run without any funding until Liberty came onboard as a sponsor.
Read says he ultimately sees Field as a way he can pass on the lessons he learnt on the way: “I had all this knowledge and wanted to share it.” He says he is aware of the challenges ahead, but in true optimist fashion says the gaps should be seen as opportunities.
About the author: Stephen Read is the founder and CEO of FIELD an incubator programme working in rural and under-resourced areas including Katlehong, Vosloorus and Thokoza. Stephen is also a life-long entrepreneur and now a teacher.