Building Social Capital For Start-ups
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"I have been in business for a long time," says Andrew Robinson is co-founder and executive director of SiSebenza. "In that time I have learned that entrepreneurship is not only stifled by financial constraints. The lack of access to social capital or networks is often just as damaging."
This is exacerbated in South Africa by its history of racial exclusion. Even if cash is made available by the government’s Department of Small Business Development or institutions like the Development Bank of SA or the National Empowerment Fund, far too many small, businesses are doomed to fail because their owners are not in the “right” business networks.
"SiSebenza, the company I have co-founded with my friends and fellow entrepreneurs, will go a long way to fixing this shortcoming in the South African economy," he says.
How SiSebenza can help
The SiSebenza team brings together the experience of its founders:
- Andrew Robinson is a serial entrepreneur;
- Bonang Mohale, the industrialist, patriot and business activist;
- Marc Lubner, the philanthropist and social entrepreneur who is living his purpose by uplifting disadvantaged communities throughout South Africa.
- Gary Woolf, the international property developer and investor responsible for changing the skylines of many South African cities.
SiSebenza was founded to bring people together to create change and they believe that their innovative approach to solving business problems, diverse skills sets and formidable networks will make this happen.
SiSebenza offers hope in an otherwise gloomy economy.
SiSebenza’s approach is not to develop its own disruptive business models, but rather to work in partnership with large, successful, well-funded global start-ups, bringing them into the tough African market. In investment jargon, these startups are known as unicorns if they are valued at >$1bn and minotaurs if they have raised >$1bn in capital.
SiSebenza’s aim is to create an Africa where every individual has equal opportunities. "We live and breathe Africa – we understand what African entrepreneurs need because we are them," says Andrew Robinson.
The first of the global companies that they are working closely with is US-based global co-working phenomenon WeWork. Together with Gary Woolf’s ALW Properties, SiSebenza brokered the deal for the first local WeWork location which comes online Q3 2019 at the new Link in Rosebank, Johannesburg.
They also have access to further prime office space for the shared office environment and are hoping to finalise further possible leases across South Africa’s other major cities.
"We have been collaborating with WeWork since they decided to break into the South African market and are very excited about the impact that they will have," explains Andrew. There are many different co-working operations out there, but WeWork has special benefits – it is coworking on steroids. It builds communities as opposed to just selling office space.
Connecting local entrepreneurs with WeWork
SiSebenza provides a conduit for local entrepreneurs who want to take advantage of the brilliant networking and tech-driven co-working model that WeWork offers. The Link is an incredible building in a prime location and, coupled with WeWork’s offering, it is going to be a phenomenal place to build businesses.
"When starting out, often the hardest thing to do is build a network and a community. When you join WeWork, through SiSebenza or directly, you get a ready-made network of like-minded people with an ethos to collaborate and support each other," explains Andrew.
There is no favouritism – you have the same network and access, irrespective of background, without the traditional gatekeepers.
A large percentage of WeWork members are Global Fortune 500 companies, and members get to sit and interact with them. Most people never have that opportunity. WeWork draws its membership from around the world and is growing rapidly. If you’re sitting in Jo’burg you can access the best from around the world. If, for example, you want to go to India you can have a ready-made office, a network, and a supply chain.
"WeWork is only the first of the big, paradigm-changing companies that we are going to be working with and bringing into the local market. We are entrepreneurs too, and our plans are ambitious. Watch this space," says Andrew Robinson.