eKasiLabs, The Innovation Hub’s vehicle to promote the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in Gauteng townships, recently hosted MEC for the Department of Economic Development, Environment, Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr Parks Tau and other stakeholders involved in Township Economy Revitalisation for a panel discussion to promote the progress of the eKasiLabs programme and to discuss solutions to the problems faced by entrepreneurs in townships. The event was also attended virtually by the CEO of Gauteng Enterprise Propeller, Mr Saki Zamxaka who formed part of the panel discussions.

“The eKasiLabs programme was developed in support of the Gauteng Township Economy Revitalisation Strategy. It is focused not only on providing access to working infrastructure for township-based entrepreneurs but also offers a range of capacity development interventions such as business mentorship, technical skills training, networking opportunities and assistance to market access,” says CEO of The Innovation Hub, Advocate Pieter Holl.

MEC Parks Tau encouraged the public and private sectors to collaborate with township-based entrepreneurs, facilitating growth from micro, small and medium businesses to big, established businesses.

“I have a problem with the notion that when it comes to the township, it becomes micro, small or medium,” says Parks Tau. “The intention is not for the township entrepreneur to stay small. We want them to grow big. Township entrepreneurs should think beyond small,” he adds.

There are many opportunities for township entrepreneurs to be involved in large business processes. “Entrepreneurs should take advantage of the opportunities afforded to them,” says Tau. “We need to move from just innovation to acceleration,” he adds.

At the event, MEC Parks Tau and the panellists discussed challenges that South African entrepreneurs in townships face, such as scaling up of their businesses access to market and access to technology.  Across the world, people with access to internet and technology were able to adjust their lives when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. This was unfortunately not the case for most township entrepreneurs.

The panel discussion was dominated by the issue of including township entrepreneurs into the supply chain.  Two of the biggest challenges are procurement and the access to state funding.  “Our entrepreneurs do not have the history required to obtain state funding and they do not qualify for procurement processes, because of a lack of experience. Government and other agencies should look at these criteria for township entrepreneurs to ensure a fair playing field,” says Ms Nothile Mpisi, GM of eKasiLabs.

Since 2014, ten eKasiLabs have been set up across the 5 corridors of the Gauteng Province through collaboration with various partners, including academic institutions and local government municipalities. Of all the eKasiLabs, the Soweto eKasiLab is the most developed incubation centre in terms of infrastructure, developed entrepreneurs and lucrative solutions to date.  eKasiLabs across the Gauteng province has created over 635 jobs, recruited 565 entrepreneurs with 147 of those entrepreneurs with innovations that are currently in market.

“We are excited for what the future holds for eKasiLabs and the incubatees at The Innovation Hub. We strive to provide opportunities for our local township entrepreneurs, to help them flourish and grow into big enterprises”, concluded Holl.