Bonnke Shipalana believes that, in the same way that no-one learns how to swim by reading a book about swimming, so entrepreneurship is taught or learnt by doing. Born in Nkowankowa, Limpopo, to an entrepreneurial family, Bonnke holds a BCom from NMMU. His belief in the values and ambition of Power FM founder, Given Mkhari, led him to join Mkhari’s The Communications Firm as a shareholder and CEO in 2007. Bonnke is a motivational speaker and radio personality.
Entrepreneurship plays a key role beyond the direct exchange between consumers and producers. It also offers an opportunity to build solid relationships between states, reduce unemployment and increase a country’s GDP. We can never undermine the power and influence that entrepreneurs have in shaping the future of any opportunity-rich country.
However the question is, if entrepreneurship is so indispensable to the building of an economy, why is the shortage of entrepreneurs so pervasive, in South Africa especially?
In my 20 years as an entrepreneur, I realise that the type of entrepreneurship education that is currently provided is the opposite of that deemed necessary for success by investors, venture capitalists and funding institutions. By and large, we end up with trained, “desktop” entrepreneurs who are unable to apply their skills by establishing or growing their businesses, mainly because of a lack of funding.
Our education system focuses on the horse – which includes a traditional business plan, risk analyses, financial forecasts and the obligatory 4 P’s of Marketing 101. Investors, however, evaluate a request based on the jockey – experience, personal traits, networks, skills, professional recommendations and passion. Which is why the age old questions invariably come up:
- What is more important – education or experience?
- Are entrepreneurs born or made?
- Should one start a business without funding?
I’ve learnt that before one invests in a business or seeks business knowledge (education), one must invest in getting to know oneself, that is, one’s purpose.
Purpose is your unique reason for being on earth. It is a compass which one uses in order to navigate one’s way in life. Once you have a clear understanding of your purpose, you will be exposed to the core problems that only you were born to solve. And it’s through the solving of those problems that a business is built.
When one thinks of all the entrepreneurs who’ve changed the world and influenced the way we live, think and work, you realise that it was their desire to solve a particular problem that prompted them to start a business. So I believe that discovering your purpose is a necessary foundation for any entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurship education, on the other hand, represents solid and reliable building materials. Education plays an important role in creating the space in which the entrepreneur can showcase his or her talent. Unfortunately education that is not linked to your unique sense of purpose is one of the main reasons why, according to Bloomberg, 8 out of 10 entrepreneurs fail within the first 18-months.
A lack of purpose creates challenges for entrepreneurs when their businesses face economic, personal or other tests as they are unable to stay focused and hold on when business is bad.
Through my engagements with young people across the country, I’ve also found that a huge misconception by up-and-coming entrepreneurs is in thinking that mentorship can replace discovering your purpose and / or getting the right education. No-one in this world can discover your purpose or gain a qualification on your behalf. A mentor’s role is to help you avoid land mines and prepare you for business opportunities. This can only be achieved when one is already on the entrepreneurship journey – not when one is still contemplating going into business.
Asking someone to mentor you before going into business, is similar to buying car insurance when you haven’t had driving lessons or bought a car.
My personal advice to all students is that they first discover their purpose. On my personal journey I can recommend three ways to help in this:
- Vocational work experience and volunteering. I volunteered to at my uncle’s shop during weekends between the age of 8 and 12 and the experience was invaluable. I also worked at Edgars for four years during my undergrad.
- Starting a small business -I sold popcorn to my classmates when I was in Grade 5 then owned and managed four tuck shops at varsity
- Formal work experience – At 20, I sold all my businesses to join corporates such as SABMiller, Standard Bank, PepsiCo and Cell C.