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SMBs to learn from global counterparts

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 As countries around the world continue to fight their way out of the recession, support for entrepreneurs and small businesses has never been more critical – particularly in a country such as South Africa where the official unemployment rate stands at over 25%.
Bringing together experts in the field is key in the promotion of entrepreneurship and small business, as it gives fledgling entrepreneurs and other parties the opportunity to exchange ideas on approaches, experiences and lessons learnt in implementing policy measures and support programmes.
“The upcoming International Small Business Congress aims to do just this,” explains congress director, Septi Bukula.
“By giving participants the opportunity to interact with their peers and forge global networks and contacts, they will be able to exchange information and ideas long after they first meet.”
ISBC 2012 is unique not only because it is the first time that it will be held on African soil, but also because leading international SME support agencies will be sharing their experiences at this year’s congress. Three of these support agencies will be coming from Japan, Malaysia and Northern Ireland, all countries with an enviable track record of entrepreneurship.
The Organisation for Small & Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation in Japan is an independent administrative agency, which supports SMEs by providing targeted and personalised support measures.
Specific support is provided in various areas, including infrastructure, funding, human resources and information services, through collaboration with government agencies, support organisations, financial institutions and research institutions. SME Support does this by providing advice through counters situated across Japan, as well as by phone and e-mail.
In addition, the organisation provides ‘security’ through a small-scale enterprise mutual aid system and business safety mutual relief system, for those who wish to be prepared for future ‘what-ifs’, as well as infrastructure for those businesses looking to improve their current facilities or move to new ones.
The SME Corporation, Malaysia, was established to spur the development of SMEs by providing infrastructure facilities, financial assistance, advisory services, market access and other support programmes. Known as the Small and Medium Industries Development Corporation (SMIDEC), its aim was to develop capable and resilient Malaysian SMEs to be competitive in the global market.
According to SMIDEC, an enterprise is considered an SME based on their annual sales turnover or number of full-time employees. This system of identification across various sectors and sub-sectors has enabled the government to formulate effective development policies and support programmes, as well as provide technical and financial assistance where necessary.
The organisation’s vision is to be “the premier organisation for the development of progressive SMEs to enhance wealth creation and social well-being of the nation”, while their mission is to “promote the development of competitive, innovative and resilient SMEs through effective co-ordination and provision of business support”.
They do this by co-ordinating policies and programmes, formulating broad SME policies across all sectors, and co-ordinating, monitoring and evaluating the effective implementation of policies and programmes across relevant ministries and agencies.
An information centre provides business advice, disseminates information on government funds and incentives, provides feedback on SME issues and acts as a liaison for domestic and international communities on SME matters.
In addition, the organisation nurtures and develops competitive SMEs through specific capacity building programmes and financial assistance, enhances the competitiveness of SMEs using the SME Competitiveness Rating for Enhancement (SCORE) diagnostic tool, provides infrastructure support for SMEs, and facilitates linkages with large companies and MNCs.
The SME development programmes implemented by various Ministries and Agencies are based on three main strategic thrusts which aim to strengthen the enabling infrastructure, build the capacity and capability of domestic SMEs, and enable access to financing by SMEs.
As Northern Ireland’s business development agency, Invest Northern Ireland aims to support new and existing businesses to grow and compete internationally, and to attract new inward investment into the country.
By providing business start-up advice, such as how to do market research, how to write a robust business plan, what to be aware of when employing people, and how to deal with tax, Invest NI gets entrepreneurs and small businesses off on the right foot, while also providing access to start-up finance. For those looking to set up a high-technology business, specialist support is also available.
In addition, Invest NI assists companies which are already in business but which want to grow, improve profitability and exploit foreign markets.
“We believe that South African entrepreneurs, small business owners and policymakers can learn a great deal from their global counterparts, as can they from us.
“With over 70 outstanding local and international speakers representing governments, small business support agencies, entrepreneurs, business membership organisations, academia, financial institutions, international development agencies and others, the ISBC will be a fantastic learning opportunity which will challenge entrepreneurs and small business owners to think in different way about their businesses,” concludes Bukula.