One of the Durban University of Technology’s (DUT’s) mission is to excel through external engagement that promotes innovation and entrepreneurship through collaboration and partnership. Ensuring students understand the culture of building entrepreneurship, DUT has been instrumental in helping and guiding young and emerging entrepreneurs through the Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, situated at ML Sultan Campus.
The DUT Communications team spoke to the dynamic Dr Poppet Pillay – Director of the Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, who is at the forefront of the entrepreneurial desk, to find out more on how students benefit from such a key centre.
The Centre for Social Entrepreneurship was established at DUT in 2015 as a result of a partnership agreement between the University and the Department of Small Business Development (DSBD) to develop student enterprises at DUT, as well as sustainable enterprises along the value chain of the Footwear and Leather, Clothing and Textile and Agriculture sectors of the economy using an asset-based model that was designed by Dr Pillay.
However, when SEDA took over the Monitoring and Evaluation function for the Department of Small Business, the CSE had to align the model to the SEDA National Business Incubation model and adopt the SEDA key performance indicators (KPIs). So the CSE has two key programmes: one is the Rapid Business Incubation programme for supporting student and community enterprises and the other programme focuses on the enterprise projects in the three sectors mentioned above. The CSE therefore reports to SEDA and the University on both programmes and the objectives of the CSE are aligned to the National and Provincial Development Plan Targets as well as the DUT Strategic Plan.
She added that since its inception, they are always pleasantly surprised by student’s interest in entrepreneurship and the ideas they come up with for their enterprises. “But entrepreneurship and innovation are more than just ideas and it’s the actions and dedication that sifts the real entrepreneurs from those just interested in the concept. We believe that while not all students will become entrepreneurs we hope that through the workshops we offer that they would have learnt to think entrepreneurially,” she said.
Dr Pillay said the two main objectives of the Centre are to develop sustainable new enterprises that will address the challenge of the high level of youth unemployment in the country and for the CSE to become more self-sustainable and less reliant on SEDA funding.
She added that the Centre has been growing steadily and in order to cater for the growth, they have started renovations at the Centre to convert the space into a Rapid Business Incubator and Maker Space to be accessible to all students and staff. “This will be a very creative space where students from all faculties may spend their spare time generating and fine-tuning their ideas that can then be commercialised. The Maker Space in particular, will have 3-D printing equipment as well as laser-cutting machines for students to use,” she said.
Dr Pillay said that The Centre is collaborating with a Fab Lab specialist from Namibia that they were introduced through the International Office and are also collaborating with the Maker Space Foundation based in Durban in order to provide training and to support students with their innovative designs and concepts. “We are also working on developing other streams of income for the CSE such as working with industry and possibly running paying workshop on entrepreneurship over weekends,” she said.
In terms of future goals, Dr Pillay added the CSE need to have a coordinated approach where a course on entrepreneurship is embedded into the curriculum of every faculty at DUT and not just in the faculty of Management.
“Lecturers teaching entrepreneurship will be able to identify those students who have the potential to become entrepreneurs and refer them to the CSE incubator where we can then provide the support and mentorship needed for those students to develop their businesses,” she said.
The CSE uses the SEDA Rapid Business Incubation Service Flow model to take a student’s business from ideation stage through to commercialization over a period of 18 months. Taking into account that businesses don’t follow a linear pattern, the CSE team has developed three programmes to address the needs of the different stages of businesses.
These include Ideation Stage: This is for students and youths who have an idea but haven’t tested it. The workshops for this stage focus on participants having a better understanding of their business idea and whether it is viable. Tools such as the Lean Canvass Model and Design Systems Thinking are used to flesh out business ideas.
Pre-Incubation: This stage is for start-up enterprises that are still not making sufficient profit to be a sustainable business. For this group of enterprises, there is a workshop to assist incubatees to have a better understanding of their enterprises through the Growth Wheel tool and one-on-one sessions.
Incubation: The workshops for this group are different and focus on sustainability of the business through a combination of in-depth Growth Wheel workshops, mentorship programmes and site visits to evaluate the business within the environment within which it operates. At the end of 18 months, businesses graduate to allow new businesses to enter incubation.
“As the businesses develop and grow during the 18-month period, they graduate from ideation and pre-incubation stages into full incubation. The CSE has approached the Rotary Club in Durban to assist with mentorship and coaching of our incubates,” said Dr Pillay.
Besides being responsible for the development of the Centre as the Director, Dr Poppet Pillay is the Convenor for the Communities of Practice: Entrepreneurial Universities within the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) programme through USAF, and is supporting the development of the baseline research for all 26 universities in South Africa with the EDHE team. She serves on the Steering committee of the Provincial EDTEA Footwear and Leather Industrial Hub project in Pietermaritzburg and on the Stakeholder Forum of Innovate Durban. Dr Pillay believes that the learning from the above activities continue to shape and grow the CSE.
For more information, contact the CSE on 031-373 2208.
Pictured: CSE’s Dr Poppet Pillay and Snelisiwe Hlongwane, at an exhibition.