Entrepreneur education in South Africa — We got it all wrong

Oct 18 · 3 min read

“When you compare South Africa to the rest of the continent, it is clear that we are well below the African average in terms of entrepreneurial intention and activity.”[i]

This is very disconcerting. Why is it so? The guys at Heavy Chef decided to find out what was at the root of the problem. They wanted to know How entrepreneurs learn: Where we learn. When we learn. How we learn. What we learn. Who we learn from.

So they conducted “The largest and most comprehensive study into the learning habits of entrepreneurs in South Africa ever…”: The Annual Heavy Chef Entrepreneur Education Survey.

2963 ‘entrepreneurs’ of all stripes across South Africa answered 62 questions across six categories.

When the answers were analysed, there were some big surprises, in particular that small business owners’ lived reality often differed markedly from the commonly-held conventional wisdom about them.

Why this matters: Much of the learning ‘content’ that is provided for entrepreneurs locally (eg in ESD programmes or incubators) is written by people who are not involved on a day-to-day basis with small business owners, or it is adapted from international material which South African entrepreneurs often don’t experience as useful to them.

Louis Janse van Rensburg, Author & Editor: The Annual Heavy Chef Entrepreneur Education Survey

Indeed, the research shows that most (69%) entrepreneurs in general — urban and rural, new and established, young and old — prefer to learn “informally by myself”, often because of necessity, largely because of ‘logistical constraints’ like cost of data. And 71% say that they “never or rarely attend entrepreneur events.”

They are hungry for knowledge but lack of time is a challenge. So, they learn where and when they can. “2am is the best.” Entrepreneurs learn in snatches; they find Google & YouTube most valuable, preferring short, how-its-done videos. Most (68%) can’t afford to spend any more than R5k a year on learning.

A significant majority (76%) of first-generation business owners rely on family and friends and other entrepreneurs “who understand their world” for knowledge. And more than a third depend on a mentor for guidance. Nearly two-thirds have never taken a formal entrepreneurship course, but young, female and informal business owners in particular, would like to.

Most SMME owners are happy with their management and technical skills and believe that they are competent problem-solvers. What they really need is marketing (76%) and money management (66%) skills.

The survey revealed that “Entrepreneurs learn best while working on their business.” Almost 9 in every 10 learned through “practice, trial and error.” Whatever they learn and however they learn it, it must be relevant to their business — right now. Knowledge is precious so, when they do share what they know, it must be “face-to-face, on a one on-one basis.”

If you are in any way concerned with learning for entrepreneurs, the insights gained from this research into the real-world of the business owner should be extremely valuable to you. The key take-outs according to Heavy Chef are: make the learning relevant to its context, make it always accessible, ensure that it has immediate value to the user, and very importantly, make the learning fun!

Rick Ed

Mentor, trainer and business advisor at DoBetter.Business

[i] heavychef.com/surveys


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