Research conducted by the University of the Western Cape found that about 70% to 80% of small businesses fail within the first five years of being formed. The vast majority of these businesses are started by black people.
This points to an urgent need to develop small enterprises if they are to mature into sustainable businesses that can make a significant dent in South Africa’s high unemployment rate.
Keenly aware of the challenges of entrepreneurship for women, GIBB, one of South Africa’s leading engineering consulting companies, has long been determined to close the engineering gender gap by upskilling and empowering female engineers.
The company recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the South African Water Research Commission (WRC) to develop a group of women water entrepreneurs – upskilling them in management to produce independent, sustainable water and sanitation enterprises and to transform the industry.
GIBB’s Environmental Services General Manager, Dr Urishanie Govender said the company prides itself in unlocking the potential of Africa’s young people and women engineers. “We ensure that deserving students and entreprenuers receive the strategic and technical support they need to achieve their career goals,” she said.
The enterprise development incubation process
In 2010, Nompumelelo Nzuza was a recently qualified architect with a masters degree, but was not getting the training she needed from her employer. She decided to take the leap into the unknown, resigning her position and entering the brave, new world of entrepreneurship.
Those were challenging times for the industry, with retrenchments afoot, but she decided to take the leap and set about doing small “private jobs”.
Now, Nzuza is one of the women currently part of the Women in Water Entrepreneurship Incubator.
“Running my own business has been tough,” says Nzuza. “But you get to a point where your work ethic and the quality of your previous projects leads to further opportunities. We have recently been landing further work from existing clients.”
“Being part of this skills development programme with GIBB has been a great opportunity,” she says. “It has allowed me to broaden my portfolio of work by partnering with a larger, more experienced business, to advance my skills, and to reach a larger client base.”
Nzuza said initiatives like the Women in Water Incubator were welcome, as were similar enterprise-development programmes for businesses in the built environment.
“Engineering has made great strides in supporting black females with bursaries and development,” said Nzuza. “The number of women entering building and engineering has grown. There’s room for more support in architecture, though – previously disadvantaged women make up only 3% of registered professional architects.”
Nzuza said she had found the incubation process with GIBB a great opportunity to form partnerships with powerful industry players. “I’ve been able to learn from them, so that one day I’ll have the skills to enter more specialised fields of architecture.”