A winning formula at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University

Published On: 24 November 2021|

Professor Eunice Seekoe is a Deputy Vice Chancellor (DVC): Teaching, Learning and Community Engagement at the Sefako Makgatho University of Health Sciences (SMU). Chosen from a group of six DVCs, Professor Seekoe was last Friday named winner of the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) Rising Star DVC Award in recognition of remarkable progress in support of entrepreneurship at her institution in 2021. This was at the EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity finals that were hosted in Kempton Park, outside Johannesburg.

Professor Seekoe (above) explained why entrepreneurship was so important in the alleviation of unemployment and for the South African encomy. She also shared how she and her team went about creating a campus climate conducive to entrepreneurship at SMU.

What creates a climate of entrepreneurship

An Entrepreneurial culture – built around attitudes, values and skills – is created and fostered by individuals or a group within an institution. It helps build students’ self-confidence, letting them believe they can translate innovation and ideas into viable outcomes. It teaches perseverence: try, fail, try again.

But, we need to view this within the wider South African context of high unemployment and poverty. An entrepreneurial culture demands an emphasis on entrepreneurship and a shift in mindset that enables entrepreneurial innovation to generate jobs. EDHE provides students with opportunities to engage with the world of entrepreneurship while studying. An entrepreneurial culture helps students become economically active within the safe university space – to earn an income and learn how to become economically active, post-graduation.

Setting the mindset

“At SMU, we recruited students with innovative ideas for training. To help students and staff adopt an entrepreneurial mindset, we hosted programmes like the Entrepreneurship Development Programme that focuses on giving students essential business start-up skills. Experienced entrepreneurs gave lectures and shared their experiences; some asked to mentor and support our student entrepreneurs.

“We also invited government officials to talk about government’s support initiatives for entrepreneurs. We approached organisations about funding our students’ start-ups. Our university-wide campaign ensures teamwork among staff and students as part of their communities of practices. In this way, ideas and knowledge are shared. The goal is to send out graduates as employers, not job seekers.”

How I run my ship

“It is essential to lead by example; people learn by observation. I started by getting the university’s executive leadership buy into the creation of the entrepreneurship ecosystem and advocated for it in different senior management committees. We developed a business plan with a budget and identified structure and the infrastructure needs of entrepreneurship. This encouraged the university committee to see the need for the university to be entrepreneurial.

“I am involved in Entrepreneurship at both university and national level and make sure my team is fully aware of what I’m doing to develop entrepreneurship at SMU. The award I received is testimony to that. I trust that as I share it with my team, it inspires them to want to follow suit. I also arrange for us to visit external entrepreneurship programmes to see what others are doing. This exposure helps us set our own standards and helps visualise the level of excellence that I want from the team.”

What makes SMU a successful entrepreneurial campus

Professor Seekoe says SMU developed a commercialisation strategy aimed at increasing the third-stream income. This responsibility resides in her portfolio.

She says they follow the EDHE model of entrepreneurship which ensures that the university community is engaged though communities of practice (CoPs) in teaching and learning, research, curriculum, women, communities, and students.

“The university is building kiosks that students can rent out for different businesses.

We also have an entrepreneurship incubation hub and dedicated staff members committed to entrepreneurship development. These all make SMU an entrepreneurial campus.”

My proudest SMU programmes

  • We enrolled 135 students for training over six weeks in our entrepreneurship development programme (CoViD caused a drop in numbers). They’re on the road to entrepreneurship!
  • Our Students Entrepreneurship Week 2021 took a practical approach where students pitched their business ideas to a panel of judges, who provided feedback. Ideas were refined and projects were linked with potential funders… I am particularly proud of this project as it was organised and run by the students themselves. It also got full support of staff, who work to ensure entrepreneurial activities are supported at SMU.
  • We have a Women Entrepreneurship Project organised by our Golden Key society that, as the primary advisor to their SMU Chapter, I’m very proud of. It is an initiative sensitive to the struggles of young women and helps empower them by encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset. Supporting women in entrepreneurship is very close to my heart.

Professor Seekoe says she was thrilled to see many women receiving awards at the 2021 Entrepreneurship Intervarsity. “Women empowerment is important to me, and I try to ensure that women are supported through workshops and programmes.”

SMU is unique because…

SMU is the only Health Sciences University in Southern Africa. “We leverage off the fact that we produce health science professionals who will start businesses by opening practices. Therefore, we encourage our graduates to focus on creating jobs after their internship, and to think beyond just a medical practice but about opening private hospitals and health centres.

“This sets us apart from other universities. At SMU, we have incorporated this strategy into our approach: adding entrepreneurship within our revised graduate attributes. This is to ensure that entrepreneurship is embedded in the curriculum, which will be evident when they graduate. It will also benefit the university when the alumni creating employment start ploughing back to their institution in future.”

Further to the above, the university formed a formal partnership with communities. Through this relationship, SMU is looking to work together and support community small businesses as part of developing the quadruple helix model as government and private organisations are important stakeholders to the university.

Exciting but difficult challenge

Professor Seekoe said developing an entrepreneurial university is an exciting but not easy challenge. “I must thank staff on the EDHE programme for their support as we travel this journey together to ensure that we develop our nation and build our economy.

“I encourage my fellow DVCs to lead to ensure institutional success,” she concluded.

Charmain Naidoo is a contract writer for Universities South Africa