What Entrepreneurs Can Expect From a South African Business Incubator

This is the first of a three-part series on business incubators.

Business incubators have become an important part of South Africa’s entrepreneurship ecosystem. They are where South African entrepreneurs go for support and to access resources they need which typically include: training, mentorship, work spaces and business development, as well as help source funding from VCs, angel investors and the government.

The success of an incubation programme is dependent on the entrepreneur as it on the programme itself.

In this article Chantal de Kock, general manager at Fetola Business Development Professionals, unpacks how entrepreneurs can make the most of their incubation programme. De Kock has 15 years’ experience in the development sector and is passionate about people development and female entrepreneurship. She is an entrepreneur in her own right, with several business interests.

De Kock goes through some of the most common issues that are likely to crop up:
– Managing expectations
– Mistakes entrepreneurs make that prevent them from succeeding
– How to get the most from your programme
– When to leave a programme

Entrepreneurs’ expectations when they enter an incubation programme

Often there is a mismatch of expectations. Many entrepreneurs mistakenly believe the programme is going to fix everything that’s not working in their business.

Another misconception is that the programme’s team or the mentor will do the work, go out to source work or network for entrepreneurs. Some participants even think they don’t need certain aspects of the programme, while the reality is that it all works in harmony. Businesses that are committed to the programme often don’t realise the benefit of the entire programme until they exit the programme or, sometimes, even years later.

How to make the most of your training programme

Firstly, ask yourself: “Can I commit to it?” Secondly, look at the entire programme – what is available and how you can make the most of it. What milestones will you need to reach? Remember, you will need to plan and make time to attend workshops. It takes time and commitment. And a willingness to learn.

Mistakes made by entrepreneurs that prevent them from getting the most out of an incubation programme

1. Participants underestimate the need for communication. They might have valid reasons for not attending a workshop or submitting financial reports, but they don’t let providers know what the circumstances are.

2. Some entrepreneurs cherry-pick components of the business development programme: they focus on what they enjoy or think they are good at. They dismiss something before considering it.

Signs that you are in the wrong programme or that it is not working

This one is tricky because an entrepreneur’s judgement can be clouded because of one component e.g. [access to] grants/finance. In my view, if you have access to finance without business development support it is a recipe for disaster that is likely to end with little to no impact.

Incubation programmes offer a lot of support options that may appear like a jigsaw puzzle, only once you start using the different pieces do you see how it fits together. If you’re only using a few pieces of the puzzle you cannot possibly see this completed puzzle.

Mentorship is a key component to any incubation programme, if you are being mentored by someone who has never owned or run his/her own business then you’re most likely not getting the best possible advice. This is what sets Fetola apart from other incubation programmes, all our mentors are entrepreneurs.

What can entrepreneurs expect in terms of the health and development of their business at the end of the programme

Fetola’s track record speaks for itself. 87% of businesses are sustainable ten years after the programme. Fetola fix the holes in the leaky bucket. Participants can reach markets they did not know they could if they commit to the entire programme and meet their milestones. There is simply no way your business and you cannot change after a comprehensive programme like this.

Resources & Where to go

There are a lot of incubators for entrepreneurs to choose from. See our full list of township incubators here.

About Fetola: With a decade of experience in the field of incubator management and enterprise development, Fetola are leaders in business growth.

Businesses enrolled in Fetola programmes typically achieve an annual growth rate of 47.2% per business. Their long-term survival rate (tracked over ten years) is 87.4%, almost five times the national average. Fetola’s sector expertise ranges from agriculture and mining to financial services and manufacturing. Sustainable business, including energy, waste and water are also strong focus areas. Fetola’s accelerator programmes include SAB Tholoana Enterprise Programme, Groundswell and Waste to Wing.

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Lebohang Thulo
Lebohang Thulo
Lebohang Thulo is the editor of SME South Africa. She enjoys keeping up with the country’s exciting and fast developing entrepreneurship ecosystem. You can find her at @lelele3