Microsoft has used the National Small Business Chamber’s (NSBC) myBusinessExpo in Midrand yesterday to unveil several initiatives to support and create small businesses in South Africa, including an SME online hub that will provide free support and resources, and an affordable all-in-one small business solution.
The online hub is a cornerstone of Microsoft’s SME4Afrika initiative, which aims to bring 100 000 SMEs online in the next three years and help them gain access to the solutions and services they need to be successful and grow their business.
The hub will see Microsoft and three key partners – the NSBC, the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) and mobile operator Vodacom – provide relevant skills and services to local SMEs. SMEs will be able to gain access to a range of business and IT solutions, and get advice through a “Click 2 Chat” service.
The small business solution announced at the Expo will see ABSA, together with Microsoft, Mustek and several other partners, provide a comprehensive package for local SMEs. The solution includes a PC, laptop or slate, Microsoft Office 365, broadband access, Pastel myBusiness Online, premium access to the ABSA procurement portal, premium access to NSBC and financial advice.
The name of the solution will be revealed at a joint Microsoft/ABSA small business roadshow in April, which will take in most major and secondary centres across the country.
Microsoft’s Small Business lead, Tracey Newman, says the wave of investment in local SMEs is in line with the aims of the company’s 4Afrika programme, which was announced earlier this year.
“Part of 4Afrika is a real commitment by us to building sustainable businesses. We want to inspire a new generation of business owners and create a spirit of entrepreneurialism through ongoing mentorship and support for small and micro-businesses,” said Newman.
“Our approach is multi-pronged: we’ll provide support for SMEs through the SME4Afrika initiative; incubate 200 technology start-ups every year through the BizSpark programme; and ignite 100 000 small businesses through our SME portal.”
As a “welcome offer,” the SME4Afrika partners will provide free domain registration for the period of one year and free tools for SMEs interested in creating a professional web presence with free basic email and online document storage. The hub is expected to open in May, and Newman aims to see 100 000 small businesses sign up for the hub within the next three years.
Through SEDA, Microsoft will help prospective entrepreneurs conduct viability assessments of the small businesses they want to create. With the support of MICT SETA and the government’s Jobs Fund, the company will also place one IT student in each of SEDA’s 43 centres across the country, where they will receive on-the-job-training on technology and other SME-related issues with the opportunity to become fully-fledged SME business and technology advisors.
Finally, through additional funding through 4Afrika and the Jobs Fund, Microsoft’s BizSpark programme will be scaled up significantly over the next three years to incubate as many as 200 local technology start-ups per annum.
“What we are doing with the Job Fund and 4Afrika resources is to put programmes in place to see how we can take these small businesses by the hand to support them really succeed,” says Newman. “We project that if we can put 600 businesses through our model in the next three years, we can not only create 600 new businesses, but around three jobs per entrepreneur, which is a further 1 800 jobs.”