Standard Bank’s universities’ partnership helps build a new generation of entrepreneurs

Published On: 29 July 2022|

Standard Bank’s investment in the Universities South Africa (USAf) Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) programme has led to the establishment of Economic Activation Offices (EAO) at 10 South African public universities. EAOs prepare university students for entrepreneurship, helping young South Africans identify independent business opportunities and reducing dependence on the country’s constrained job market.

“The creation of small businesses across South Africa can help unlock our country’s economic potential, and combat persistent unemployment,” says Ben Pretorius, Head of the Education Sector at Standard Bank. Currently, however, “the resources available to entrepreneurs are often not suitable for start-ups, or just too expensive, or unsupported, in the ideation phase,” he adds.

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As part of Standard Bank’s education initiatives for 2022 and beyond, the African financial services group is looking to enable and equip young entrepreneurs with the right tools and support to actively develop and grow their own businesses, as an alternative to formal employment,” says Pretorius.

According to Statistics South Africa, the country’s unemployment rate increased to 34.9% in the third quarter of 2021, the highest level on record. In this environment, and also as large organisations seek to rationalise in tough times, sufficient new jobs are unlikely to come from the formal sector alone. Instead, new employment opportunities will also need to be generated by entrepreneurs, especially small, media and micro enterprises (SMMEs).

Mr Richardt Kok, EDHE’s Stakeholder Manager, reports that through its Communities of Practice programme, the EDHE is successfully incubating entrepreneurial activity and opportunities at university level through its tried, tested and functioning EAOs. “Integrating these efforts more closely with universities’ curricula holds the potential to deepen and extend the impact of EDHE structures on entrepreneurial development and job creation at South African universities,” says Kok. To this end, additional EAOs will be piloted at other South African universities, “forming the nuclei of a national entrepreneurship and independent job creation system,” adds Kok.

Functions of EAO’s include:

  • Working closely with Technology Transfer Offices (TTOs), business incubators, centres for entrepreneurship and other existing entities within universities
  • Facilitating and coordinating support, networking and information sharing across the broader university communities
  • Providing information to entrepreneurship ideas and developments at member universities

The first ten EAOs invested in by Standard Bank in 2022 are located at:

  • Cape Peninsula University of Technology
  • Durban University of Technology
  • Nelson Mandela University
  • Sol Plaatje University
  • Tshwane University of Technology
  • University of Limpopo
  • University of Cape Town
  • University of Johannesburg
  • University of Venda
  • Walter Sisulu University

All these EAOs provide support to students involved in each universities’ entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystems. Their activities focus on facilitation and coordination of support, networking and information sharing across the broader university as well as the local business communities and economies in which universities operate.

“Looking ahead, EAOs will seek to both formalise and streamline entrepreneurial activities within the institutions while accelerating their integration with national entrepreneurship programmes and resources,” says Kok.

By strengthening the entrepreneurial ecosystem within and around these institutions, universities will serve as critical hubs for the formation of a more entrepreneurial culture amongst South African youth. They will also “serve as points of innovation, giving rise to new business concepts and service ideas suited to tomorrow’s economy and the future world of work,” adds Pretorius.  While the Standard Bank USAf investment is currently operational at 10 universities, the programme will be extended to other South African universities in 2023 and 2024.

With the Group’s purpose to drive Africa’s growth, “Standard Bank has a vested interest in empowering the youth of the continent, especially by focussing on education as a tool for entrepreneurship,” adds Pretorius. While the value of education cannot be understated, academics alone are not enough. Entrepreneurship, or the skills to turn ideas into great businesses, is the key ability required in today’s economy.  “As we grow this network of EAOs, we will build a culture of enterprise from a young age so that people enter today’s marketplace brimming with innovative ideas, aware of rich possibilities and, above all, equipped with the skills to realise these possibilities,” concludes Pretorius.

For further information on how to bring your great business idea to life, visit  Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education – EDHE