Pat Pillai. Picture: TEBOGO LETSIE
Pat Pillai. Picture: TEBOGO LETSIE

RENOWNED international businessman Rich Benton has lauded SA’s emerging entrepreneurs as being among "the best in the world".

Mr Benton — one of the founding directors of the UK’s Capita Group and chair of the Global Social Entrepreneur Network — advised SA to groom budding business brains in their formative years.

His assessment does not seem to be far off as the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2014 report showed that in 2001, 19.7% of the country’s adult population saw opportunities to start a business, while this figure rose to 37% last year. Mr Benton was speaking on Thursday at the launch in Johannesburg of a R35m initiative by LifeCo Unlimited, the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and Standard Bank to fund more than 100 social entrepreneurs in SA.

"The role of social entrepreneurship in promoting sustainable economic growth has now become a global focus," he said.

"South African entrepreneurs are among the best I have come across. There is a huge social need in (the country) for health, jobs, housing — social entrepreneurship can solve all of these things."

Social entrepreneurship is a new wave of enterprise operation which is premised on a model that not only promotes value through wealth creation, but also factors in the effect on society and the environment.

LifeCo, which is the implementing partner of the R35m fund, is run by former e.tv news anchor Pat Pillai.

The IDC has invested 80% of the capital and Standard Bank 20%.

On Thursday Mr Pillai urged social and environmental entrepreneurs to apply for funding and support.

Last week Telkom launched a R100m development programme aimed at supporting small enterprises, while a few months ago Business Partners announced a R300m initiative for the construction sector.

The rise in funding opportunities for small businesses with scalable ideas has contributed to a boost in entrepreneurial activity.

Small business activity in SA has grown in line with the country’s gross domestic product, which almost tripled from $143.8bn in 1996 to $404.3bn in 2011.

For small businesses the gains have been all the more impressive given that, before democracy, myriad restrictions, laws and by-laws prevented black entrepreneurs from entering the business world.