Small businesses are the future of the South African economy – and focus needs to be on innovative entrepreneurs. This was the word from The Tomorrow Entrepreneur event held in the Maboneng Precinct last Thursday┬ánight.

The inaugural event focused on entrepreneurship as a key driver of the modern economy, in the wake of the recent global financial crisis.

Danie Maritz, associate director at Deloitte Consulting, began by explaining that small companies of between five and 15 people will be responsible for generating up to 60% of South Africa’s GDP – but that many entrepreneurs will create up to 10 companies in a decade, and see only a 20% success rate.

“Any small business is only three to four months from failure,” says Maritz. For this reason, start-ups need to be “doers” and not just “dreamers”, taking concrete action to set ideas in motion.

“The key for entrepreneurs is to prototype rapidly and fail early,” he says.

Agility and flexibility are needed to satisfy the increasingly demanding customer, and entrepreneurs can no longer wait for years to get their ideas out there.

Steven Cohen, MD of Sage Pastel, cites common sense as a key factor in successful entrepreneurship.

“Take a normal idea and do it well, instead of trying to complicate things,” he says.

Low barriers to entry are big disruptors in the industry, and entrepreneurs that create simple, uncomplicated solutions are having a big impact in the space.

“Technology is a big enabler,” says Cohen. “But it won’t replace common sense and entrepreneurial energy. Stay focused and true to your vision. People want the basics, and they want it to be easy.”

Warren Larkan, Marketing and Communications lead at Microsoft BizSpark, highlighted the importance of seed engines and accelerator programmes in the growth of start-ups – and the role major industry players have in developing the sector.

“Don’t be scared to be associated with big companies,” he says, pointing out that initiatives such as BizSpark can help get a small company off the ground.

Another key focus for innovators and entrepreneurs is social media and the way it can grow a small business.

Mark Sham, direct of Vivid Marketing, says that through social media small businesses look big, and then become big.

Social media is both cohesive and measurable, and amplifies the business voice. However, says Sham, entrepreneurs need to remember that they can soon become lost in the “white noise” of social platforms.

“You are just one of many status updates in a newsfeed,” says Sham. “It is important to remember that social media is a way to speak with customers, to engage and build relationships, rather than a tool for selling.

“Engaging content is content people want to engage in,” says Sham, emphasising the fact that small businesses and start-ups require both a content strategy and an interesting approach when it comes to standing out to customers bombarded with information on a daily basis.

The Tomorrow Entrepreneur carried through with the entrepreneurial theme by using former car guard turned sushi master, Vusi Kunene, and coffee roaster and barista Sihle Magubane, to cater the event. The evening was held at the OPEN Offices, co-owned by local entrepreneur Wesley Wilkinson.

“Entrepreneurship is all about leveraging opportunities,” says Jaun-Claude Pienaar, owner of Apex Media and a sponsor of the event.

Ultimately, successful entrepreneurship is about meeting needs and keeping customers happy in the simplest way possible. Innovative entrepreneurs will drive the economies of the future.