Changes sweep across Entrepreneurship Intervarsity Awards

Published On: 13 February 2024|

The fifth Entrepreneurship Intervarsity Awards saw a few firsts and an end to a year-long process on 1 December 2023, as Universities South Africa (USAf) showcased and celebrated the entrepreneurial talents of 24 national finalists drawn from 25 of South Africa’s 26 universities.

Dr Norah Clarke (above), Director: Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE), who, in 2016, was tasked with setting up a platform for entrepreneurial development across the university sector, announced that she was leaving the programme. She said what were little pockets of activity at the beginning of this journey in 2017 had by now morphed into a connected whole and cohesive entrepreneurship community – much like a family – across all higher education institutions.

The hugely successful Intervarsity event has since become one of EDHE’s biggest annual highlights, pitting the best student businesses against one another for the most coveted Student Entrepreneur of the Year award. The EDHE programme, funded by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), is administered under USAf, the representative body of South Africa’s 26 universities.

Among the firsts for this ever-evolving programme, EDHE added a seventh Community of Practice to its existing arsenal, this time for the pioneering Economic Activation Offices that are a vital link connecting all entrepreneurial activities across university domains. Also introduced to the Intervarsity in 2023 was a new category, of Research Based businesses.

Entrepreneurship interconnects teaching and learning, research and community engagement

Welcoming participants to the Intervarsity finals, Dr Phethiwe Matutu (below), CEO of USAf, underlined the importance of this event. “The higher education sector’s role is to ensure improved economic participation and social development of our youth and adults — and to enable them to produce and exploit knowledge for economic and societal benefit.”

Dr Matutu: “Entrepreneurship is one of the relatively new areas within most institutions. However, this awards ceremony has continued to showcase the work of universities in advancing the entrepreneurship agenda. This touches on all three mandates of universities: teaching and learning, research and innovation and community engagement.”

Some universities, she said, served their immediate communities through capacity building and strengthening their businesses in various ways – all of this is done through the entrepreneurship function of the university. The USAf CEO said she was pleased that the awards ceremony included the recognition of Economic Activation Offices (EAOs) – thus extending her gratitude to Standard Bank, the main sponsor supporting the introduction of EAOs on 14 campuses across South Africa in 2024.

“The real complexity becomes the fragmentation of the mandate of the universities. We know that within universities it’s not easy to have a proper interface between teaching and learning, research and community engagement. So USAf, through the EDHE programme, combines these functions. Through the various EDHE events such as the annual Lekgotla, various structures have been established, and the people representing them get to sit under one roof.”

To the Intervarsity finalists, Dr Matutu said: “Being present here, I hope, will unlock doors for your own personal development, and business development.” The USAf CEO said the EDHE team had “crisscrossed the country to ensure maximum participation and excellence in these awards, providing the necessary support to universities.

“I’m extremely proud of and grateful to the team,” she concluded, turning to thank Dr Clarke for her foresight, dedication and energy in taking the EDHE programme to where it was today.

DHET Support

Mr Shiba Diketane, Deputy Director: University Capacity Development Programme (UCDP) in the DHET, from which the EDHE programme is funded, commended what he called “the collective wisdom that has permeated our discussions over the past 7 years” around the development of entrepreneurial capacity in higher education – resulting in “a remarkable journey of exploration and discovery.

He said EDHE was at the centre of UCDP – a transformative programme that ensures our universities become entrepreneurial, become the seed beds for producing quality academics who, in turn, can “produce quality graduates ready to participate fully in our inclusive economy.” This was done through capacity development of staff to become entrepreneurial in how they teach and undertake research.

Mr Diketane (right) said this meant enabling students to leave university with more than just theoretical knowledge and “with the energy to enter our economy, ready to start off their own businesses and come up with initiatives that will be meaningful in terms of contributing to our economic development”.

Transforming the curriculum was crucial to ensure it responded to economic growth challenges, created employment and addressed issues relating to social cohesion.

“At DHET we have noted massive progress in the implementation of this programme over the past seven years. We’ve listened to testaments on the power of partnerships and collaborations; we’ve noticed the remarkable work of communities of practice and how they are cultivated within EDHE to share best practices. They have played a pivotal role in shaping the content and direction of this programme.”

He added that the contribution from business leadership and thought leaders had played an important guiding role. Entrepreneurship, Mr Diketane said, is a game changer addressing key social and economic, local and global challenges relating to unemployment, crime and the inequalities which remain at the centre of society.

Regarding the development of entrepreneurship capacity, he said the DHET was working closely with key partners including USAf, the Department of Science and Innovation and social partners “to put together ideas for our next three-year cycle of UCDP support,” thus ensuring that entrepreneurship remains central to academic conversations in higher education.

“Deputy Vice-Chancellors remain instrumental in coaching and introducing a host of initiatives that are driven through a range of academic development projects with a view to strengthening structures for entrepreneurship development.”

Turning to USAf, Diketane said pledged to support EDHE’s next three-year cycle. He reiterated DHET’s massive support for budding entrepreneurs across the system, and wished them well.

Look how far we’ve come

Dr Clarke, saying this was her last public talk in her role as Director, said the EDHE programme had “come full circle” and it was time for her to leave. “Seven years ago, I was tasked with setting up a platform for entrepreneurial development across all the universities. There were three objectives: Develop entrepreneurship in students, teaching and learning and research. Develop entrepreneurial universities. There was no how, just what.”

As it entered Phase 3, EDHE needed to ask how universities would independently take ownership of entrepreneurship development – and continue to do what it already does. “There’s psychology behind these Intervarsity awards: we had to find a way to encourage and motivate universities to take ownership of their studentpreneurs, to incentivise and support them, to know they exist.” She said EDHE was firstly about the people and secondly about how this powerful tool that is entrepreneurship can be used.

“Entrepreneurship has now been established as a real ‘thing’. There were tiny pockets across the universities. Now it is all connected. All our gatherings are like a big family reunion where everyone knows each other. “

Sponsors’ support

Ahead of studentpreneurs pitching their businesses to a panel of judges on the day of the finals, the organisations supporting the Intervarsity offered messages of support.

Ms Itumeleng Dhlamini (right), Social Innovation Specialist at the SA Breweries Foundation, said this was her favourite initiative. “On Tuesday I spent a day with young farmers who are exceptional: smart, skilled and passionate about the future of food production in this country. I realise these young people are innovative, disruptors overflowing with big ideas wanting to transform this country.

“For the first time in a long time, I am excited about the future of this country. It is in good hands and I’m hopeful that we are on a positive path. Social media will tell you we’re doomed and have no future. This is not true. You are passionate and dying to make a difference.

Her message to stakeholders: “Let’s work collaboratively to support initiatives like EDHE to create an enabling and conducive environment for entrepreneurship to thrive. Let us create pathways and get out of the way so that our innovators and disruptors can get on with the business of making things happen and creating a sustainable future.”

Fellowship Selection Manager at Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, Mr Landi Mashiloane (left) said: “We invest in education and development of individuals and those with entrepreneurial potential. One responsible high impact entrepreneur can change the reality of a city or the country by creating job opportunities.”

This intervarsity competition, he said, is a transformational journey – one of challenges and triumphs in the face of adversity. “It’s also about nurturing innovation – which has the power to transform and contribute to growth. Each idea has the potential for change.”

He urged students to remember the African entrepreneurial spirit. “We need to embrace and celebrate it. Africa’s potential is limitless. Be ambassadors and leaders.”

Charmain Naidoo is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.