Taking a more selective approach to nurturing successful entrepreneurs

SOLUTION SPACE - 29 October 2019

“The launch of the new e-Track Programme at the Solution Space at UCT Graduate School of Business in partnership with the MTN Group marks a step-change in the way business schools in South Africa nurture the country’s entrepreneurial talent. After rigorous selection, the successful candidates will work towards building scalable, sustainable enterprises with global impact.” Associate Professor Mikael Samuelsson, Director, Solution Space.

Nothing inspires quite like the vision of a booming South African economy driven by the maverick vision, raw talent and sheer dedication of our upcoming entrepreneurs. For many years, their transformative role in the country’s future has been endorsed, celebrated and funded at the highest levels. Indeed, there is a strong argument out there that economic success, global as well as national, lies in the hands of small-to-medium enterprises (SME) and the entrepreneurs who run them.


But behind the hopes and dreams lurk some hard truths that can no longer be ignored. The fact is that the failure rate among start-ups and young enterprises averages between 50% and 90% over a period of three to five years worldwide. A study carried out at Harvard Business School revealed that even three out of four well-resourced venture capital start-ups in the US fail.

Inevitably, the attrition rate in Africa is even higher. Even among businesses that manage to survive, those that can actually support their owners and their families are rare exceptions. Sure, South African entrepreneurs have a higher success rate than their peers in the rest of the continent. But even so, the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation points out that only 15% of enterprises in South Africa make the grade and still account for only 28% of jobs while making up almost 99% of formal firms.


Having said all this, two factors remain constant. First: high-potential, well-resourced entrepreneurs will always have a vital role to play in propelling economic growth and creating jobs. Second: education remains critical to successful entrepreneurship.

According to Mikael Samuelsson, Director of Solution Space and Associate Professor in Entrepreneurship at the UCT Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB), what needs to change is the way educators approach the challenges of nurturing and teaching aspiring entrepreneurs.

“Traditionally, business schools have been tasked with training groups of line managers who can slot seamlessly into existing businesses without upsetting too many apple carts,” says Professor Samuelsson. “Today, in the age of innovation, educators are expected to identify and foster non-conformity, to nurture those comfortable with breaking rules and imagining new markets and products.”


But if we agree with Professor Samuelsson’s argument that business schools need to change their approach to identifying and selecting high-potential entrepreneurs, then business schools must start by pushing their role further to become more selective about who they choose to nurture and teach in the first place.

With this in mind, the Solution Space at UCT GSB has now taken steps to change the way that it selects and teaches entrepreneurs by partnering with the MTN Group to launch the Solution Space’s three-part e-Track Programme. Instead of spending time and resources on attracting entrepreneurs from outside the University of Cape Town (UCT), the programme focuses on attracting high-potential candidates from inside the UCT community. Ultimately, this puts the school in a better position to actually equip post-graduate students and alumni with pragmatic and practical entrepreneurship skills. Crucially, moving closer to home also means the GSB can now be more selective about who it chooses to accept onto the e-Track Programme.

As Professor Samuelsson concludes: “Being more selective might be uncomfortable and hard to do. But if we don’t do it, we run the risk of losing out on the opportunity to capitalise on the potential of high-potential entrepreneurs. And it is these individuals who are most likely to make a tangible contribution to value and job creation that will bring true and lasting economic benefits to this country.”

To learn more about the e-Track Programme, click here. Email us at solutionspacewaterfront@gsb.uct.ac.za or call +27 (0)21 406 1430.

Entrepreneurship | Global Business | Acceleration | Viability | Startup