Three dragons of the Dragons’ Den, a South African version of Shark Tank, spilled the beans recently on the reality of entrepreneurship that is rarely talked about in the country – the lack of corporate support for innovative projects by South African entrepreneurs and continuing exclusion of the country’s majority from economic activity. This was during a panel discussion at the annual congress of the SA Council of Shopping Centres (SACSC) held in Durban last week.
One of the things I find fascinating about big corporates in SA is that they do not invest in innovative projects
Polo Leteka Radebe, the only woman of the five dragons and the CEO of Identity Partners, said during the panel discussion that while she believes the government is “making the right speak” about entrepreneurship, she is not happy that the corporates are just “sitting on cash” and are not willing to play their role in entrepreneurship in the country, according to Fin24.
Vusi Thembekwayo, well-known South African businessman, investor and public speaker, said that the big corporates don’t want to invest in the innovative projects because of the possibility that they might not get a return on their investment.
“One of the things I find fascinating about big corporates in SA is that they do not invest in innovative projects, because they think these will fail,” he said.
Thembekwayo added: “Yes, you will fail and fail, but you cannot win the Lotto if you do not buy a ticket. Much of the innovation for big corporates in SA is imported and we are not creating our own spaces of innovation.”
Gil Oved, one of the dragons, agreed that failure is necessary for entrepreneurs. “You cannot get wisdom from listening to a few TED Talks. Unless fail at least once, you will not understand the pain and hardship of picking yourself up again and to learn about tenacity.
According to Thembekwayo, South Africa has two stories. “The reality of a young black person growing up in poor circumstances is different to that of a young person growing up in an affluent suburb like Bryanston,” he explained.
“It means the majority of SA’s people – from a race perspective – are still unable to participate in the economy. “We talk about black participation in the economy, but we should also talk about black socialisation around it.”
He said it was hard, when someone who only grew up seeing entrepreneurship as something for short-term consumption, to switch his or her mindset to understanding what it means to be a growth entrepreneur.
It means the majority of SA’s people – from a race perspective – are still unable to participate in the economy
In an interview with Morning Live of the SABC News, Thembekwayo said we have to teach black people to stop thinking small. “We can start small but not think small.”
He said that he hates the term “small business”.
He added: “It’s about us realising we have to do the small things to start doing the big things.
“Give people money to start their own things, and if they fail, let’s be honest about the fact that they failed and keep doing it.”