Friday, 17 September 2010

South Africa's Entrepreneurs

I went along to a book launch at GIBS last night, for “South Africa’s Greatest Entrepreneurs”, published by Nigerian author Moky Mokura.

The book profiles “22 of the most successful and dynamic business visionaries” who have changed the shape of South Africa in their time. The entrepreneurs featured are: Sol Kerzner, Alan Knott-Craig, Koos Bekker, Herman Mashaba, Mark Lamberti, Adrian Gore, Raymond Ackerman, Pam Golding, Nkhensani Nkosi, Jenna Clifford, Whitey Basson, Mark Shuttleworth, Donald Gordon, Eric Ellerine, Natie Kirsh, GT Ferreira, Robbie Brozin, Carrol Boyes, Brian Joffe, Gary Morolo, Ndaba Ntsele and Anant Singh.

GIBS clearly has entrepreneurialism at the centre of its foundation, being the brainchild of Professor Nick Binedell’s entrepreneurial spirit. Working in the technology space in particular, how to find, fund and facilitate entrepreneurs is an ongoing discussion. I don’t think everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur, (which is a good thing, in my opinion), but I do agree it’s an essential part of driving a developing economy, building new foundations for future businesses.

On Thursday night it was mostly a collection of white, middle aged men who took to the podium to describe their experience of being an entrepreneur in South Africa, and with limited time, the insights were also a bit limited unfortunately. Aside from the usual rhetoric about working 24x7, the high chances of failure etc., it was sometimes hard to tell the difference between a successful entrepreneur and a successful business leader.

What was great to see was that Moky had persuaded the profiled entrepreneurs who attended the book launch to donate an hour of their time to mentor an aspiring entrepreneur. That’s the real resource – the direct and dedicated insight, which will be incredible for anyone who bids and wins for that time. I guess even the genuine entrepreneur can still do with advice and direction from experience!

With that in mind, what was missing for me was the younger generation of entrepreneurs, the up and coming. I know the book is a reference tool to those who have succeeded over the years, but I also think that their stories have been told before, albeit not in this form in a single place. For me it’s about trying to find the entrepreneur that you haven’t heard of yet, who may have a new experience, different advice, given the environment that today’s entrepreneurs are working in is completely different.

Having said that, a book dedicated to South African entrepreneurs does at least show (to the outside world, the doubters), that the country is producing top-class talent, has the history of success and a foundation of knowledge to build on.

I think we all still have something to learn from these entrepreneurial titans, but I’d be intrigued to see what a different collection of people and experiences the same book might produce in five years time.

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