Writing a business plan is an intimidating challenge for even the most experienced business person – let alone an entrepreneur starting up a small business. Good news for entrepreneurs who want to get funding for their start-up or growing business is that the R50-million FNB Enablis Seda Business LaunchPad competition no longer requires a full business plan to enter.
The 2009 competition – now in its fifth year of identifying South Africa's most promising small business entrepreneurs – has introducing a sophisticated on-line system which assists entrants to submit a summarised start-up or business expansion proposal.
This is easier, faster and more concise than a conventional business plan – while containing all the key business information needed by the judges.
However, in certain provinces where the provincial government is partnering with the initiative, provincial competitions will still distribute printed entry forms to ensure that aspiring small business owners who lack affordable computer access can still enter.
This year for the first time the Small Enterprise Development Agency – the main government agency responsible for small business development — has come on board, joining FNB, Microsoft and Khula Enterprise Finance as the main competition partners.
The chief executive of the Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda), Hlonela Lupuwana, says Seda is supporting the competition "in order to ensure that individuals who do have real entrepreneurial qualities and a good idea can take "the fast lane" to getting their business ideas on the table and to the bank".
Heather Lowe, head of enterprise development at First National Bank, says the competition gives entrepreneurs a unique opportunity to have their business proposals "carefully and confidentially" evaluated by professional business experts.
"This competition is not for people who have the collateral and experience to walk in to a bank and get funding; the intention is that the competition will identify promising entrepreneurs and businesses who would normally have difficulty in securing funding, and assist those who qualify with loan guarantees or equity finance."
Enablis chairman, Bheki Sibiya says: "This year, 20 winners will be selected from all four corners of the country to receive great business prizes, including computers, software, electronics, business mentorship and, of course, fast-track access to the special small business funds run by Enablis in partnership with FNB and Khula Enterprise Finance."
According to project director Martin Feinstein, who launched Enablis in South Africa, winners will also receive mentorship from alumni of INSEAD, one of the world's most prestigious global business schools.
"The aim is not just to assist the winners with funding, but to provide finalists and winners with access to a range of support networks and services that will help to take them to the next level. Many people will benefit just by using the competition system to get their raw ideas into a coherent and presentable form."
A number of provincial governments will be running supporting competitions or support campaigns, including Mpumalanga, Gauteng, Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Limpopo.
The Department of Economic Affairs and Planning in Mpumalanga, together with the Mpumalanga Economic Growth Agency (Mega), will be running competition workshops in every district and Mega has allocated R5 million in available funding for winners from the province.
Gauteng Enterprise Propeller will be awarding additional cash prizes and business support to the top Gauteng winners, while the Eastern Cape Provincial Government will be promoting the competition throughout the province.
Microsoft, one of the competition's key partners since the competition began, will be providing additional prizes for entries where the entrepreneur makes innovative use of information technology.
Feinstein says there are also special "cross-industry" categories to identify creative business ideas which are linked to the 2010 Soccer World Cup, as well as those which have the potential to create new employment.
The competition is open to small business ideas and expansion plans in the following industries: agriculture, business, professional and personal services, construction, craft, creative and cultural, information and communication technologies, manufacturing, green business, media and marketing, tourism, transport and logistics.