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Race still shutting out entrepreneurs, says TV 'dragon'

Oct 18 2018 19:00
Carin Smith, Fin24

Durban - When considering the entrepreneurial mindset in South Africa, one must remember the country has "two stories", explains Vusi Thembekwayo, CEO of Watermark Pan-African Capital.

He is also one of the 'dragons' in the South African version of the television programme for budding entrepreneurs to try to obtain investment, Dragons’ Den.

Thembekwayo and his fellow 'dragons' took part in a panel discussion on what it means to be a game changer. It formed part of the annual congress of the SA Council of Shopping Centres (SACSC) taking place in Durban this week.

"SA is a country of two stories. The reality of a young black person growing up in poor circumstances is different to that of a young person growing up in an affluent suburb like Bryanston," Thembekwayo told the audience, consisting of role players in the retail and property industry.

"It means the majority of SA’s people - from a race perspective - are still unable to participate in the economy.

"We talk about black participation in the economy, but we should also talk about black socialisation around it."

He said it was hard, when someone who only grew up seeing entrepreneurship as something for short-term consumption, to switch his or her mindset to understanding what it means to be a growth entrepreneur.

Empowering women

Polo Leteka Radebe, the only woman in the group of five SA 'dragons', is the CEO of Identity Partners.

She argues that there is a patriarchal society in SA, where girls are taught to behave in a subservient manner.

"That is why, when I walk into a room, I ensure that I show in my posture that I am confident," she said.

"It is very important for girls to see women role models in positions of power and leadership."

Pitch with integrity

In evaluating business pitches, she looks for honesty, integrity and authenticity.

"When I do my due diligence on a business pitch, I will discover if you lied to me and then you will be an investment risk," she explained.

"Entrepreneurs often assume it is all about pitching. You must understand the type of funding you are looking for. Capital funding is not the same as applying for a loan. Do your own due diligence too."

While she believes the government is "making the right speak" about entrepreneurship, she is not happy that the corporates are just "sitting on cash" and are "not willing to play their role in entrepreneurship in SA.  

Thembekwayo agrees.

"One of the things I find fascinating about big corporates in SA is that they do not invest in innovative projects, because they think these will fail," he said.

"Yes, you will fail and fail, but you cannot win the Lotto if you do not buy a ticket. Much of the innovation for big corporates in SA is imported and we are not creating our own spaces of innovation."

Another one of the 'dragons', Gil Oved, goes as far as to say failure is necessary.

"You cannot get wisdom from listening to a few TED Talks. Unless fail at least once, you will not understand the pain and hardship of picking yourself up again and to learn about tenacity," said Oved.

  • Fin24 is a guest of the SACSC at its congress.  

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