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 Proving one could do "development" and make profits

 

 Since its inception in 1981, Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS) has aspired to "do good" for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), as well as "do well" for the business shareholders via its focus on financing and empowering SMEs in South Africa and select African countries. This, coupled with BUSINESS/PARTNERS "understanding that SME financing requires more than just money" has led to the company being awarded the Small Business Finance title in the 2015 Small Business Promotion Pioneer Awards, which took place at the International Learning conference in Cape Town on 28 May 2015.

The awards, which mark the 20th anniversary of small business promotion in South Africa (1995-2015), celebrate achievements in small business promotion since 1995, and aim to recognise institutions that have played a special pioneering role in the field.

Christo Botes, executive director for BUSINESS/PARTNERS, explains that for BUSINESS/PARTNERS, ‘doing good’ means that the company – through its full service offering of risk capital/finance, technical assistance or mentorship and business premises – has had a positive developmental impact on the societies within which it operates.

Christo Botes, executive director for BUSINESS/PARTNERS

Yet BUSINESS/PARTNERS also seeks to ‘do well’ by making profits – sufficient to provide shareholders with a real return on equity – thus ensuring a sustainable and positive developmental impact. “Since 1981, we have approved more than R15.4 billion in finance to SMEs in more than 70 300 transactions, and facilitated more than 570 750 jobs. Simultaneously we have been profitable every year and have grown shareholders’ equity from the initial capital of R178 million to R2.7 billion,” says Botes.

Botes explains that for entrepreneurs to generate wealth for themselves and their families, grow the economy, broaden the tax base and create jobs, a sound and healthy ecosystem underpinned by key elements is necessary. These elements include human capital, good governance and infrastructure, and a healthy, non-monopolistic, market economy.

It was the late Dr Anton Rupert’s understanding of these critical elements for a sound entrepreneurial ecosystem, as well as the difficulties he personally experienced when forming the Rembrandt Group, that led him to propose the idea for a joint venture between the public and private sectors to finance and support SMEs.

By February 1981, the Small Business Development Corporation Ltd (SBDC) was established with equal shareholding between the public and the private sectors. The main role of the SBDC was to provide investment capital, mentorship and affordable business premises to small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs), where the beneficiary businesses could be start-ups, businesses in the process of expansion or business acquisitions.

The dawn of South Africa’s democracy in 1994 marked the commencement of a restructuring process and protracted negotiations between its public and private sector shareholders saw the public sector reduce its shareholding from 50% to 20% in 1996. The company subsequently narrowed its focus and market segment to formal SMEs only.

Christo Botes, executive director for BUSINESS/PARTNERS, receiving the 2015 Small Business Promotion Pioneer Awards Small Business Finance title.

The SBDC then affirmed its position as an independent, private sector-run company and the conclusion of the restructuring process in October 1998 resulted in the company’s being renamed to Business Partners Limited, and cemented the company’s move into the niche SME market and the introduction of a range of innovative financing and investment products for SMEs.

In September 2014, the company repositioned to BUSINESS/PARTNERS to reaffirm its commitment and support for entrepreneurs. The company did this through not only investing in viable SMEs, but also by contributing much needed value-adding support services to SMEs. Their square peg movement, which was introduced as part of the repositioning, will see the company launch of a series of specialised funds, each focusing on the upliftment of a particular local industry (see here Funds launched to date).

“Since interception, we have always backed potential. Through our efforts, we continually seek to ignite the flame of entrepreneurship and encourage more people to become entrepreneurs – the most aspirational human endeavour of all,” concludes Botes.


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