Understanding South African start-ups: insights and advice from successful entrepreneurs

For most of 2020, South Africa, like many countries around the world, has been in the grip of the escalating coronavirus pandemic. The need to create and
nurture resilient high-growth businesses that generate employment opportunities went from being important to critical. The economic consequences of the virus have compounded South Africa’s pre-existing weak GDP growth. Unemployment was already stubbornly high at levels between 25% and 30%. Small businesses are at the forefront of job creation and the need to understand what has made small businesses succeed in South Africa has never been more important.

With this alarming context, we undertook a study of
a selected number of entrepreneurs who have built high-growth businesses in South Africa in the past
25 years. These entrepreneurs were selected from private equity firms’ portfolios, as well as JSE-listed companies. Collectively, the companies founded by the entrepreneurs who were selected and interviewed employ a staggering 312,957 people – an average of 12,518 jobs per entrepreneur.

For this study, we designed a flexible conceptual framework to guide the inquiry. We did not set hypotheses. These imply preconceived assumptions of cause-and-effect relationships between variables. Instead, drawing on the prior work of diverse and influential thinkers on the topic of entrepreneurship, such as Dr Richard Maponya, Bill Gross, Scott Shane, Olav Sorenson, the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) and data analytics provider CBInsights, the research team created a model that incorporates different themes associated with entrepreneurship.

In the end, the framework captured five layers, with the aim that each layer would illuminate a particular aspect of the overall entrepreneurial project: the individual; the social context of the entrepreneur; the business; the industry; and the economy in which it operates. The scope of such a framework is ambitious but not unprecedented, as we found when reviewing authoritative literature on entrepreneurship.

Please read more on Understanding South Africa Start-Ups here