In addition to the export incubator it initiated in October last year, which will be formally launched later this year as part of its 125-year birthday celebration, business promotion organisation the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) will also launch a Small and Medium-Sized Enterprise (SME) Youth Desk and SME Women’s Desk in continuing its quest to help SMEs become successful.
The SME Youth Desk and SME Women’s Desk will be dedicated to promoting the businesses of small companies run by young people and women.
The export incubator – a collaboration between the JCCI and Standard Bank – was initiated to offer black South African entrepreneurs the opportunity to be trained and assisted in selling their products or services to foreign markets, says JCCI CEO Joan Warburton-McBride.
She adds that the chamber plays an important role as a resource for SMEs by providing them with business training, information, services and links to local and international entities.
“JCCI assists entrepreneurs to identify opportunities in South Africa and in the growing economy of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).”
Warburton-McBride says the advantage of chambers of commerce is that they are able to inform SMEs about regulatory and legislative changes within their operating space.
She explains that small business owners do not have the resources to acquire the skills, knowledge and information they need in the marketplace. Therefore, chambers play a powerful role, both in terms of benefiting the SME sector and helping to grow the economy.
State of the SME Sector
Warburton-McBride tells Engineering News that, to date, the impact of the newly established Department of Small Business Development has not been felt. “We have not seen any developments or improvements, but we understand that the Ministry has not been fully resourced or funded yet.”
She adds that it would be ideal for all Ministries within the economic cluster to work together under the leadership of the Department of Trade and Industry to avoid the duplication of initiatives and to reduce costs.
“However, we do look forward to working with the Ministry. We will certainly support it and we will continue to offer our support to other stakeholders in this area.”
Warburton-McBride points out that some critical factors continue to hinder the SME sector, such as the ongoing electricity blackouts and unplanned load-shedding. “Take, for example, a shop owner – once the load-shedding kicks in and the lights are out, they have to close shop and they lose out on revenue for the day.”
The much-contested e-tolls have also affected consumers and businesses and, for SMEs, these additional costs are a heavy burden to bear and can affect the bottom line significantly, says Warburton-McBride. “In fact, one of our transport members mentioned that their monthly travel costs had increased by R20 000 a month as a result of the e-toll tariffs, which is a massive cost to carry as a small business.”
However, she adds that there has been certain uplifting developments in recent months, such as the recent petrol price drop, which has resulted in some relief for businesses.
Warburton-McBride believes that, while the economy is currently under stress, the future of the SME sector in South Africa is exciting, especially with the prospect of economic growth in the SADC region.