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 Every young person a winner in this business plan competition

 

 Whether you have your toes in the water already, or whether you are still standing on the side, there are few better opportunities to take the plunge into starting your own business than the upcoming Business Plan Competition for Aspiring Young Entrepreneurs.

For the hundreds of participants in the competition, which started this June and culminates during the Global Entrepreneurship Week in November, the programme is much more than going after the main prize. Every participant will benefit from the workshops, feedback and networking that the programme provides, says Christo Botes, executive director at Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS).

There are places for more than 900 young South Africans to sign up for this year’s programme. They will be joining thousands of young people in 177 countries which will each hold their own competition simultaneously as part of the global movement to foster entrepreneurship among the youth. The project takes place under the auspices of the IFC’s (International Finance Corporation’s) SME Toolkit, a free online knowledge resource containing thousands of advice articles, forms and tools for business owners.

As the South African custodian of the SME Toolkit, BUSINESS/PARTNERS is responsible for organising the local chapter of the competition, which will take young aspirant entrepreneurs through the process of compiling their own business plans.

The programme will choose six to eight regional winners and a national winner who will be announced in November, but the real value of the programme lies in the guidance and motivation that every participant will receive to compile a business plan.

In the first phase of the competition each participant will attend a day-long workshop on the basics of putting a business plan together. All the essential elements of starting a business will be discussed, including financial management, marketing, legal considerations and employment issues. The idea is that each participant takes away from the workshop a basic set of guidelines with which to compile his or her business plan. But Botes says that the benefits of the workshop extend much further.

In past years, BUSINESS/PARTNERS found that the workshop has had a major motivational effect on the participants, spurring hundreds of young entrepreneurs to put their ideas into action. Besides that, the workshop also provides a forum where like-minded young people get to meet each other, exchange ideas and get to start what can become important business networks.

The workshops have also proven invaluable to those participants who are not quite sure whether they are ready to start a business; it provides a thorough and realistic overview of what is required to start a business. After attending, a number of participants decide rather to gain a few years’ work experience first before starting out on their own.

“This does not mean that the programme has failed for those participants. On the contrary, it empowers by giving them the full picture of what it means to start your own business,” says Botes.

Even though every participant is a winner in the sense that they come away enriched, an extra level of excitement is built in through the competition that ensues after the workshops. Participants have a few weeks to write up their business plans and submit them. A panel of judges evaluates the plans and four of the best rural and urban business plans are chosen.

Botes says the reason for differentiating between rural and urban is that the playing field is often not level between the two spheres of South Africa. It is more difficult to start a business in a rural area because the economy there is less developed and the market shallower. Yet the social and economic impact of a rural business is so much more than the usually more sophisticated urban businesses. It is therefore important to acknowledge attempts to stimulate the rural economy.

The regional winners are awarded mentorship worth R6 000 to develop their business plan further and to get their businesses started. They also go through to the national round of the competition, which culminates during Global Entrepreneurship Week in November when a national winner will be announced. The national prize includes R25 000 cash, mentorship worth R12 000 and computer equipment.

* The SME Toolkit, under whose banner the competition is held, is available free of charge to all young entrepreneurs in South Africa. It consists of a growing collection of more than 2 600 advice articles. Botes says BUSINESS/PARTNERS, which has been appointed as the South African curators of the SME Toolkit, is always busy reviewing and updating the articles to ensure that they remain relevant.

South Africa has been identified by the IFC (International Finance Corporation), the parent body of the SME Toolkit, as the most successful user of the resource out of 64 nations for which it has been customised. So far, more than 2.5 million individuals have visited the site, viewing more than 6 million pages.

Go to http://southafrica.smetoolkit.org/ to access the Toolkit, and for more details on the business plan competition.

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