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01 Jul 2016 00:00
Jonathon Naidoo (right) and the SmartXchange team, who help to build and support MICTe small companies
medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) are seen as key drivers of economic
growth, innovation and job creation. SmartXchange, an SMME incubator, is
producing significant results and garnering national and global attention.
in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, SmartXchange focuses on the media information
communication technology and electronics (MICTe) sector.
It is a not-for-profit
company, registered as Durban Technology Hub and trading as SmartXchange.
were originally an ICT incubator. However, when media and electronics converged
into the ICT space, we responded to these shifts,” says Jonathan Naidoo, chief
executive of SmartXchange.
2009, the World Bank released its global study of ICT incubators and
SmartXchange was one of five incubators identified as a replication model for
incubation in sub-Saharan Africa.
Focus on MICTe
in 2004, the organisation promotes and supports the region’s vision to be the
technology hub of Africa. Its mandate is to identify and assist in developing
quality MICTe SMMEs and to build a pool of skilled MICTe workers.
also focuses on developing localised solutions, as well as promoting
empowerment, so that the new generation of MICTe businesses reflect the
region’s demographic makeup.
are an innovation node and a business incubation centre. Our premises include
some of our strategic partners, test lab facilities, SMME financing facilities,
graduated small businesses and SMMEs that are currently within the programme. It’s
about creating an environment that stimulates innovation, attracts new ICT
projects into the region and supports local SMMEs,” explains Naidoo.
organisation runs programmes for incubation and innovation, skills development
and creating relationships with the MICTe industry.
Training for development
organises training to develop incubator SMMEs. “We cover every aspect of
business training,” says Naidoo. “There are various tools and accredited
training programmes, with training outsourced to certified providers.” There
are only eight SmartXchange employees, as well as interns.
training needs analysis is conducted for each business and SmartXchange invests
where necessary. Training is also based on the industry needs, identified by
the private sector and the SMMEs. Naidoo has access to provincial MICTe
requirements as the chairperson of the Vocational Education, Technical Training,
Knowledge Economy and Innovation Technical Task Team in
the KwaZulu-Natal Premier’s Human Resource Development Council.
runs a three-year programme, with a new intake of four companies every quarter.
There is a vigorous interview process with thorough screening. Naidoo says that
this is part of the business model, which has a 99% success rate of graduated
the mandate is to focus on youth, women and BEE candidates, the incubator doesn’t
turn genuine business cases away. However, when it comes to recruitment drives,
the focus is on the three priority areas,” explains Naidoo.
organisation also has a pre-incubation process for individuals with the right
qualities but who need to develop their business case.
pay an office space fee to belong to SmartXchange. This includes benefits such
as free internet and training. Naidoo says the payment shows the SMME’s commitment
and also regulates the space allocated to a business.
innovation is part of the incubator’s focus. SmartXchange has a Technology
Innovation Agency seed fund of R500 000 per year. It’s for innovative SMME
MICTe projects that address day-to-day community challenges. The funding
focuses on prototype development and there are currently eight innovation
projects being funded.
incubator is now launching a challenges portal. Industry will log its
challenges and MICTe companies will respond with a proposed solution. If the
businesses like an idea, they progress forward with the SMME.
was the brainchild of a multiparty consortium led by the eThekwini
Municipality. The founding partners included Siemens Business Services, Durban
University of Technology and the department of trade and industry.
continues to partner with corporates from the MICTe industry, tertiary
institutions and the government sector. “It is through partnerships that we can
contribute to sustainable jobs, economic growth and the competitiveness of the
province,” says Naidoo.
are seen as the pipeline for future clients and SmartXchange engages with final-year
ICT students annually. Naidoo says that, in reality, 60% of the graduated
students will be unemployed, so they are encouraged to turn their ideas into
2015, the 55 SMMEs in the SmartXchange programme created 322 jobs and had a
collective turnover of R163 774 326. Since 2004, the incubated SMMEs have
created 3 054 jobs while in the programme. The incubator graduates, on average,
six successful SMMEs yearly.
organisation has won numerous awards. These include the FNB KZN Top Business
Award – Finance and Business Services (2013), the Alec Rogoff B-BBEE Enterprise
Development Award (2013), the DTI/SEDA Best Performing Incubator of the Year
(2013), and the Elan Property Group KZN Top Business Award – Community and
Social Services (2015).
vision is to expand SmartXchange’s reach throughout KwaZulu-Natal. Naidoo then hopes
to take the model nationally to develop the MICTe industry across South Africa
and to focus on entrepreneurs from our many disadvantaged communities.
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