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The Business Place is hard at work
27 June 2007

Nearly 2 000 people visit The Business Place each month, seeking advice on setting up their own enterprises.

The City is to forge stronger ties with the Business Place to boost entrepreneurship

The City is to forge stronger ties with the Business Place to boost entrepreneurship

I

T's been four years since the City of Johannesburg and Investec agreed jointly to subsidise The Business Place (TBP). The City and the financial services company entered into a participation agreement and signed a memorandum of understanding to run the agency. TBP is an information hub that trains aspirant entrepreneurs to run small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) efficiently. It gives legal and financial advice to budding micro enterprises and offers support and referrals to its protégées.

And a chunk of money has been injected into the project for at least the next three years. To date, Investec has provided over R19-million and contributes an average of R4,5-million a year, says Sean Dinat, the programme manager of SMME development in the City's economic development department.

Part of the agreement entails the City attending board meetings as invited observers, while TBP reports on its operations. It is in the central business district, at an Investec-owned building; there is a satellite centre in Kliptown, Soweto. Alexandra is also home to The Business Place.

The relationship between Joburg and Investec goes back to 2002, when the City sought a place that could equip aspirant ent repreneurs with skills and information on establishing small, medium or micro enterprises, says Marcel Newsome, the manager of TBP.

He explains that the TBP franchise began in Canada, long before it came to Joburg - he brought the idea to Jozi in 2002. The City spotted an opportunity to assist emerging entrepreneurs through TBP in 2004, and immediately invested operational funding in the agency.

TBP consolidates "various ways that agencies can support our clients in growing their businesses. We also have an Umsobomvu Fund to subsidise entrepreneurs who want to establish businesses."

Built on a relationship
Newsome says TBP's relationship with the City is one of give and take, adding "we value what each party contributes in the relationship". Being associated with the Metro means "we get the City's blessings and this gives us credibility and access to its network. We get a lot of support from it."

Budding entrepreneurs at the opening of the Business Place premises in Alexandra

Budding entrepreneurs at the opening of the Business Place premises in Alexandra

Dinat says that the City chose to sponsor the initiative because "the development of a healthy, vibrant SMME sector has been identified by economists as a critical driver for economic growth, job creation and transformation".

More than 1 900 people visit TBP monthly seeking information on business matters, he asserts; an estimated 700 participate in the business development workshops on offer.

"We are a dynamic centre and we can relate to our clients," Newsome says, adding that the centre does not view visitors as students because "60 percent of [them] are in developing stages, with 25 percent already running established businesses, and only 10 percent in fully grown stages of business management".

The model used to empower clients with business skills is user-friendly, he says - hence more people visit TBP.

Every year the City contributes almost R2-million to TBP, of which the lion's share goes to the Joburg CBD branch; in 2006, the central Johannesburg TBP received R1,2-million from the City and R600 000 went to Kliptown. This year almost R1,4-million was injected into the CBD branch.

"Forty percent of the money pays the salaries of the nine navigators [tutors], 35 to 40 percent goes to training and workshop costs, and the rest we use for administration purposes."

TBP hosts 21 workshops every month, usually charging a nominal R5 to R10 to get participants to commit to undertaking the training, Newsome explains. "We give them the opportunity and access to business training."

Most of those who have been trained at TBP are in manufacturing, construction, information and communications technology, and tourism businesses.

"Nothing really is required to join TBP. We do all the training and courses free of charge."

Its success stories include a woman who set up a tourism company that takes people for tours around the city. "We also have another woman, who started a business in China and is now running an African and Chinese restaurant in Soweto, which is rather weird but interesting."

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