South Africa is crying out for entrepreneurs to grow the economy and, if the results of a recently undertaken programme at St Stithians Boys’ College are taken into account, 21 Grade 10 learners at the school could soon be providing the nation with a future crop of small to medium sized business owners.

“The results of St Stithians’ Business Incubator Programme, which we launched in May this year, have shown that young scholars-turned-entrepreneurs have the ability to deal with the reality of starting a small business in South Africa,” says Ryan Wiesner, head of the college’s Business Studies Department, who introduced the project to give practical impetus to the learners’ studies.

“The boys were required to develop entrepreneurial ideas and then create, register and run actual companies. Through this process, they came to appreciate the need to carefully select partners, write and develop business plans, and deal with all the administrative functions required to run a business. This included opening and administering a bank account, and performing accounting and payroll functions.

“The parameters of the project went far beyond the boundaries of a typical school business game and will see the boys further developing and honing their business skills as their businesses get underway and grow,” says Wiesner.

Sage Pastel provided the learners with full access to an extensive suite of business software including its My Business Online accounting program and VIP Liquid Payroll. Standard Bank provided support through their BizLaunch product which offers SMEs a comprehensive packaged ‘essential business basics’ solution, including a low-cost business bank account.

The learners were also coached on challenges common to the SME sector via the Standard Bank-sponsored The Business Coach video series.

“In today’s economic climate, it simply does not make sense not to present entrepreneurship as a viable career option to our youth, or to encourage them to study towards a professional qualification without arming them with the knowledge and skills required to start, manage and grow a business once they have qualified,” says Donovan Steenkamp, head of Customer Financial Solutions for Business Banking at Standard Bank.

“We originally partnered with Sage Pastel during the development of BizLaunch, which includes free access to their online accounting software, and were privileged to join forces again to co-sponsor the college’s Business Incubator Programme,” says Steenkamp.

The opportunity to start their own businesses has been taken seriously by the boys who have learned several lessons on their journey. These include:

* The need to allow enough time for the process of registering a business to be completed;
* Coming to terms with the fact that running your own business means putting in more than just lesson time at school, but requires dedication during weekends and school holiday time;
* That a business plan is an essential blueprint required to evaluate and plot your way forward; and
* Keeping track of cash flowing into and out of the business must be mastered if a business is to succeed.

“The boys have learned valuable life lessons. They now understand the challenges facing entrepreneurs in South Africa. They have an appreciation of the dedication required to develop a business and be your own boss. Above all, they have come to appreciate the role that SME owners play as a major driver of the economy and how they create more jobs than the corporate sector,” says Wiesner.

“In a highly competitive job market, a good education is essential. In the real South Africa, it is necessary to go even a step further. Business savvy is increasingly important, and not just for CEOs. Knowing how to manage finances, how to make money and protect your ability to keep making it in an unbalanced world are the most important skills we can give our children today,” says Steven Cohen, MD of Sage Pastel Accounting.

“There’s not a single business person who doesn’t benefit from understanding finance. Indeed, the most successful entrepreneurs have finance backgrounds, and I’m not just saying that because I’m one of them. It’s a fact, and it’s why we have given the St Stithians Business Incubator Programme so much support,” says Cohen.