The intensive nine-month programme is designed to support emerging black ICT companies, and includes elements of business education and company incubation to ensure that entrepreneurs who complete the programme have successful and sustainable businesses. Provincial Minister of Finance, Economic Development and Tourism Lynne Brown says: “The challenge around jobs is enormous; at present, unemployment stands at about 24%, which translates into about 500 000 people, of whom almost 80% are classified as youth. “The national government and the Western Cape government have recognised the importance of the ICT sector in dealing with the province’s development challenges. “The Western Cape Department of Finance, Economic Development and Tourism is committed to creating sustainable jobs and getting involved in projects such as the UUNET BWB Launchpad, which seek to create an environment to build broad-based black economic empowerment so that those previously excluded are brought into the mainstream of the economy, not only as workers, but as owners and active participants.” The province has donated R250 000 towards the project, a sum that will make it possible for ten companies owned by young historically-disadvantaged entrepreneurs to receive support for their ICT businesses.
“To truly support the development of black-owned IT businesses, we need to provide not only access to fundamental business-development skills, but also access to an environment that is conducive to the successful running of a company,” says Masedi Molosiwa, executive director of Cape IT Initiative.
“The two-pronged approach of providing both theory and a practical learning space will ensure that the participants have the best chance of success.” UUNET BWB Launchpad participants receive subsidised tenancy at the UUNET Bandwidth Barn and a budget for telephone, Internet and other facilities for the duration of the programme. Microsoft SA is sponsoring software for each of the companies through its Empower Subscription programme. The first three-month phase, which is now complete, focused on business planning and was facilitated by Cape Venture Partners (CVP), which assist the participating companies to turn their ideas into successful businesses. Through a combination of workshops and one-on-one mentoring sessions, the participating companies are guided through the business-planning process. CVP emphasises the importance of the value proposition and looking at the business from a customer’s point of view. “The completed business plans were presented to an independent evaluation board of funders and market specialists, who evaluated the potential of each business plan and provided feedback to the participants. “The companies now move on to the second phase of business implementation, where they are supported by relevant executive coaches and mentors to start living their plans,” says Molosiwa.
The nine participating companies have business models ranging from software development to PC-recycling, Web-streaming, live events and nightclubs. “Although the business models are different, the people on the programme have two things in common: talent and ambition. “Every person on this programme deserves to be here, and I hope that, in April 2005, they will emerge confident and capable business owners,” concludes Molosiwa. Once the pilot is complete in April, it will be reviewed by a panel which includes members of the Cape IT Initiative, the Western Cape government and UUNET.