Johannesburg - Charismatic entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, has given South African small business owners a thumbs-up.
Speaking to Fin24 on Wednesday, Branson said he was encouraged by the initiative taken by entrepreneurs housed in the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship.
"It is very encouraging to see businesses emerging and being supported. I still remember what it was like when I was a struggling entrepreneur trying to get noticed; it is hard work," he said.
Branson was attending a fashion show put on by entrepreneur Lesego Malatsi, the managing director of Mzansi Designers Emporium at the Fashion Kapitol which is part of the Branson Centre.
Established in 2006, Malatsi's business includes a designer showroom in Soweto and employs 13 people. Malatsi has also undertaken to donate 20% of all annual profits to charitable and development courses.
Asked how international investors viewed Africa and the ability to do business with the continent, Branson was upbeat, saying that while in some countries corruption remained an issue, South Africa had always been a good place in which to do business.
Branson pointed to the example of the Siyadlala Football Academy, which organises five-a-side leagues and matches. It had taken a concept which had proven popular in South America and Europe and applied it here, with some promising early signs.
Entrepreneurs housed within the Branson Centre were upbeat about the support provided, which included mentoring and operational resources.
Selestino Gwezi, whose company develops and distributes safety footwear for industrial businesses, told Fin24 that before approaching the centre he had a vast number of product lines.
After his mentorship, he scaled them down and focused on specific industries such as mining.
Malcolm Deacon, who operates Agents Diary, a start-up company which develops software for the residential property market, was equally optimistic. He said that through his business mentor he had been able to enter into negotiations with a major global software developer, which could be a major catalyst for his business.
"Today is a demonstration of the Branson Centre's strategy in action," said Judi Sandrock, the chief entrepreneurship officer at the centre.
"All of the entrepreneurs who participated in today's showcase are great examples of how to launch and grow a business with the support of fellow entrepreneurs and mentors."
Jean Oelwang, CEO of non-profit foundation Virgin Unite, said one of her observations was the importance of incubating small businesses with a combination of networks, skills and resources.
Having seen these initiatives in action across the globe, she noted that experienced entrepreneurs have a significant role in helping to build up small business communities.
This, she said, highlighted the benefits experienced business mentors provide when they start working alongside less experienced entrepreneurs.
"One of the things we have found is that the best business to start is one which is being run by a person with a track record," Oelwang said.