Birthplace of small furniture manufacturers | Business Incubation | Small Business Connect

Iegshaan Ariefdien, business incubation manager at Furntech, says they lay the foundation for growth.

As part of our monthly focus on incubators, we spoke to the Furniture Technology Centre Trust, perhaps better known to some as Furntech. We spoke to Iegshaan Ariefdien, the business incubation manager, about how it is assisting entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.

What does your incubator’s name mean?

The Furniture Technology Centre Trust, trading as Furntech. We are a registered trust and our focus is on furniture manufacturing businesses and technical skills training for the furniture manufacturing industry, hence the name.

How would you describe your focus?

Furntech is in the strategic business of wealth creation (small business development) and human resource development (training) in the furniture and wood products sector. Our key objectives are to:

  •  Develop Furntech into a sustainable business.
  • Increase the number of startup small businesses by incubating new business and expanding existing ones.
  • Review Furntech’s capabilities in the context of regional and Africa’s needs, and align them with requirements in the sector.
  •  Develop the skills levels of sector’s employees and new entrants.
  • Develop a pool of suitably qualified Furntech staff.

Where are you based and from which areas do you recruit new incubatees?

Furntech has a national footprint. The individuals or businesses come from the areas where our centres are located (Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Mtata, Umzimkhulu and White River) and sometimes from surrounding rural areas.

Which businesses are best suited to join?

We cater mostly for startup and emerging businesses and those small businesses that operate from their backyards and garages who cannot afford the industrial equipment to grow their businesses.

How do they apply?

Business owners can apply through our website, email, phone or face-to-face at our centres.

They need to submit a completed application form with a business plan or business concept, a copy of their ID and, if the business is registered, business registration documents.

How long do businesses stay in your programmes?

The business enters a three-month pre-incubation period; hereafter, if it has met the milestones agreed upon, it enters a 24-month incubation period.

What are the two key elements of your support that sets you apart from other incubators?

Our technical mentoring and technical training, which are in-house, and our accreditation with the Fiber Processing and Manufacturing Sector Educational Training Authority (Seta).

How long have you been going?

We were established in 2000, and accepted our first clients in 2001.

How many incubatees are now in your programme?

We can accommodate a total of 74 businesses at our various centres.

What are your fees?

The fee is 10% of gross monthly turnover; for this fee, the business receives:

  •  Technical mentoring, coaching and advice.
  •  Advice and guidance on product design, materials and prototyping.
  • Assistance with product quality assurance.
  •  Advice on health, safety and environmental requirements for machines and the workshop.
  • Access to a fully equipped workshop with all the woodworking machines.
  • Technical training needs assessments and guidance.
  • Technical training that enables the incubatee to accumulate credits towards the National Certificate Furniture Making qualifications at the levels NQF 2 to 4.
  • A lockable private business unit to operate your business independently.
  •  Access to a shared showroom to display products.
  • Access to a shared administration area and computer for business administration.
  •  Access to limited internet.
  • Access to shared receptionist services.
  • Marketing of your business on Furntech’s website, at local and national exhibitions.
  • Facilitation of and direct business skills training and business mentoring.
  • Business and management support services.

What commitments do incubatees make before they enter your programme? And what commitment do you make to them?

The only commitment required from the incubatees are hard work, dedication and the desire to achieve success. Our commitment is to provide an enabling and protective environment, with people who are passionate and skilled to assist your business to grow.

What is the average sales of your incubatees after on, two and three years in your programme?

Our clients are in different business sectors. Their sales figures vary considerably and are dictated to by the industries they are in and their business size.

What is the best thing you have heard someone say about your incubator?

Alvin Raghunan, Director at New Harvest Furniture, said: “Furntech is the birthplace of our business. We are very grateful for this wonderful programme that we have been a part of.”

And the worst?

“The policies and rules applicable to workshop operation and usage of machines and equipment is too rigid.”

What was your biggest success thus far?

Winner and runner-up at the Department of Trade and Industry Annual Technology Awards since 2007.

And your biggest failure?

The closing of our George centre, which was located at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, which was more than 5 km out of town, with no public transport and no access to markets for clients.

Why are you involved in supporting new businesses?

Our incubation programme seeks to ensure that emerging and existing small businesses in wood products and the furniture industry overcome the challenges they face while at the same time laying the foundation for survival and growth of these businesses.

The programme addresses a number of socio-economic needs; these include:

  •  Creating jobs and wealth.
  •  Fostering entrepreneurial spirit in communities.
  • Diversifying local economies.
  • Building or accelerating growth of local industry clusters.
  • Creating business and retention.

What is your biggest wish for improving support to entrepreneurs in South Africa?

South Africa has some of the best strategies and policies in the developing world to grow small businesses and encourage entrepreneurship. However, the bottleneck is the lack of understanding and implementation. If we can have a co-ordinated implementation strategy to grow and encourage entrepreneurship, the small business sector’s contribution to South Africa will be phenomenal.