Small Business Development Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams assured delegates attending a United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) meeting this week that South Africa’s ecosystem is geared toward supporting innovation and entrepreneurship. Speaking at a special innovation seminar hosted by UNIDO and the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), Ndabeni-Abrahams said that the government has changed its approach to SMMEs and innovation.
The seminar included a special focus on partnerships to boost innovation in SMEs and start-ups, particularly in Africa. The organisations also launched the UNIDO-ISO Handbook on Innovation Management Standards, which focuses on small and medium-sized enterprises and how to initiate or improve innovation dynamics. Ndabeni-Abrahams said that the government was implementing reforms aimed at improving efficiencies in the country’s network industries, cutting red tape and putting in place an ecosystem needed for innovation-led growth.
“Our evaluation of the previous two national strategies has shown that as (the) government we were too inward-looking,” she told the seminar. “We did not place enough emphasis on mobilising and leveraging all roleplayers behind entrepreneurship and small enterprise development. “The National Integrated Small Enterprise Development (NISED) Masterplan corrects this by taking an ecosystem approach, enabling various public and private actors to operate in a targeted, collaborative and coordinated manner.”
According to Ndabeni-Abrahams, her department viewed entrepreneurship and innovation as two sides of the same coin. She explained that the department had a national system of innovation. It drew in the government, knowledge and innovation institutions such as state research organisations and higher education institutions, together with industry and business.
“We have adopted a differentiated model in which different kinds of innovation and entrepreneurship support are provided to innovators and entrepreneurs at various stages of business growth,” the minister said. “This includes step-by-step guidance to early stage start-ups from ideation through to scale-up. This includes access to technology, incubation and acceleration for free business development services, and access to finance including blended finance, loans and links to angel investors, venture capital, and crowd-funding.”
Ndabeni-Abrahams also said that pitching opportunities, hackathons and innovation challenges were critical to connecting early-stage entrepreneurs with financial, technology and market access support. “Of particular significance is the support to connect start-ups to technology networks including universities, research institutions, science councils, intellectual property and innovation agencies, and local and international industrial technology suppliers,” she said. The minister encouraged UNIDO to participate in the digital community platforms the department was developing, including its Innovation Bridge and the SMME SA portal.