Telkom has launched its R100-million FutureMakers fund – a programme that aims to help entrepreneurs to build successful businesses.
Telkom group CEO Sipho Maseko says the organisation wanted to find a different way of running such a programme.

“We asked ourselves what is the societal impact we can have; how can we do things a scale; and do things that truly transformational? We asked how could we help people to lift themselves up to become very successful?

“We thought there must be a different way to approach this: to co-invest in businesses of the future, in a way that will not only make money but will impact the communities and society as a whole.”

To start with, the programme will target about 100 Internet cafes in the townships, with about 1 000 entrepreneurs impacted.

“More importantly, over time, we want to have enterprises and businesses that will be less dependent on Telkom.”

The programme is not just involved in enterprise supplier development, although many of the entrepreneurs will end up in the Telkom value chain. “Although we want to broaden our supplier base we want to contribute to the economic growth of the country as a whole,” Maseko says.

He says Telkom hopes to create a virtuous circle, creating businesses that can help to create businesses and so on.

The programme is aimed at technology entrepreneurs, with the ultimate goal of democratising access to technology.

“We believe that if we do not democratise access to technology we will not change the South African economy,’ says Ian Russel, chief procurement officer of Telkom.

“It’s clear that technology is increasingly the first barrier to entry for any business,” Russel says. “But it is also the fastest moving area of business.”

Helping to future-proof small businesses is one of the primary goals of the programme, he adds.

The programme has a four-pillar strategy built on partnerships and underpinned with a robust infrastructure.

The four pillars are:
* FutureFund – an initial investment of R100-million is in a dedicated investment fund to be managed by IDF Managers. This will be available to SMEs either for start-ups or for growth. This could be increased if there is a need.
* Future Hubs – focused areas where people can go to set up new businesses. These are in partnership with Wits University’s Tshimologong precinct and Bandwidth Barn.
* FutureProof – technology will be made available to entrepreneurs in partnership with Cisco, Microsoft, IBM, SAP and Accenture. More partners will be brought in as more people want to get involved.
* FutureSource – creating genuine, sustainable, long terms business opportunities for the enterprise. A number of business development partners will help to guide and mentor entrepreneurs.

Russel explains that Telkom is already executing on the FutureMakers programme and there are a number of entrepreneurs already supported.

The programme is long terms structured investment from Telkom in driving solid businesses.

Lindiwe Zulu, minister of small business development, agrees that partnering is the best way to create a conducive environment for small business.

SMMEs in the ICT sector are the companies we need to pay attention to, she says.

The department will soon table its first budget, with R3,2-billion earmarked for small business development over the next three years.

However, Minister Zulu points out that this is a drop in the ocean considering the need in the sector, and she welcomes initiatives like FutureMakers that have the same goals.