Since its launch in 2015, the Township Entrepreneurs Alliance (TEA), have impacted over 8500 entrepreneurs in townships like Tembisa, Alexandra, Mamelodi and Vosloorus as well as parts of Durban. Today they have an active database of about 10 000 entrepreneurs, according to its founder Bulelani Balabala. TEA also engages with 20 000 plus high school students though their High School Outreach initiative.
They focus on empowering township– and rural-based businesses and entrepreneurs through knowledge sharing, skills development, enterprise development and access to market. Balabala is an entrepreneur himself, he’s the founder of printing and brand manufacturing company, Intercessor Army Franchising (IAF Brands). He is also a motivational speaker and founder for the annual Township Business Innovation Summit.
Balabala is proud of TEA’s progress, but says he is hungry for more.
“Looking at our last TEA initiative’s get-together we hosted, it had about 1 500 entrepreneurs over two days, for us that is growth, but what we want to achieve in 2019 is impactful growth and not just numbers on the board.”
Find out why Balabala says entrepreneurship in 2019 needs to move beyond box ticking and lip service.
How do you see TEA continuing to help South Africa’s entrepreneurs in the coming year?
In 2019 we see TEA getting into its fifth year of entrepreneurship development and at grassroots level, going into township and rural areas to bring about enterprise development, networking initiatives and pitching workshops to help entrepreneurs to harness their development.
One of the things we are looking at doing this year is continuing with the monthly workshops that we have been running every third Saturday of the month. We have a gathering of entrepreneurs, but we would like to spread that across the country and get partners involved to help us with this.
We are looking forward to a beautiful year of impacting entrepreneurs.
What are some of your plans for 2019 in this regard?
The plan is to move out into the various parts of the country through partners, build a ecosystem of partners to work with. We would love to partner with local municipalities in the various places that we go into as well as corporate partners, because the initiatives that we run cost quite a bit of money.
Also, what we are doing this year, we will be launching the TEA digital platform which will be more accessible to entrepreneurs across the country. A digital roll-out will make it easier to reach everyone because we know many entrepreneurs spend most of their time on their phones as they are always on the move.
What are some of the developments you are hoping for in the coming year, with regard to the ecosystem, the entrepreneurs themselves and support mechanisms available?
What I am looking forward to in 2019 is corporate participation from across the board and not for corporates to participate in such initiatives as a box-ticking exercise, but to really sink their teeth into entrepreneurial development.
One of the things I have noticed across the board is entrepreneurs get stuck at the enterprise development stage. It would be nice for entrepreneurs to move up the ranks and eventually becoming suppliers. We see quite a lot of entrepreneurs moving from one ESD programme to another as opposed to them graduating to the next level.
So I would really love corporate participation on that level, but the government needs to acknowledge the efforts of on-the-ground initiatives like TEA more. When talking about the eradication of unemployment, you cannot have that conversation without talking to SMEs and when you talk about building support mechanism to support these entrepreneurs then you can’t have that conversation and exclude initiatives that speaks directly to entrepreneurs on the ground.
What can we look forward to from the incubator in 2019?
2019 for us is a year of growth. I think from an incubation perspective we are really looking forward to a relationship that we have set up with the Innovation Hub to house some of our entrepreneurs on a day-to-day basis, [this will enable them] to come together to share concepts, ideas, learn, engage and network.
We are looking forward to setting up our first township business incubator, a physical structure that will be open to the community and the youth and will act as a hub for economic development. The facility will aid entrepreneurs and the youth in furthering their dreams and act as a place to move your dreams or your ideas from ideation all the way to actual operation and making money and creating employment.
What is your wish for SA entrepreneurs for 2019?
My big dream for SA entrepreneurs for 2019 is for them to go out and chase their dreams.
In the pursuit of dreams, yes there will be failures, errors and mistakes, but in the midst of all that the economy will be lenient to their failures, and that they will clinch the deals that they need.
You find a lot of entrepreneurs complaining about needing funding, but you find that some of them find it difficult to articulate that what they actually need is market share.
I would love entrepreneurs, themselves, to take social economic development as a key focus and not just [launch businesses] to make money and build themselves up, but to participate in community development initiatives themselves and also help to create employment.