Chemical startups get virtual support | Business Incubation | Small Business Connect

Pezisa Sobuza

Chemical technology businesses can expect a rise in support, as the South African Chemical Technology Incubator (Chemin) opens another centre. Small Business Connect spoke to incubation manager Pezisa Sobuza on what the incubator offers both on-site and through “virtual” programmes.

What is the name of your incubator? What is the meaning behind the name?

The South African Chemical Technology Incubator, or just Chemin for short.

How would you describe your focus?

Chemin focuses primarily on the incubation of chemical technology businesses in the downstream chemical sector. We support both high and low technology enterprises.

Low technology can be any consumer product from haircare to perfumes to cleaning detergents. Chemin also places a lot of focus on specialised, innovative and high technology businesses.

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

Chemin started off in Port Elizabeth in 2002 and has since expanded to East London, Durban and Midrand. The latest centre will be based in Mogale City. We recruit incubatees from all over. Our national footprint has enabled us to help a wider variety of entrepreneurs and provide specialised support services to a number of cities and, more importantly, to rural areas.

Which businesses are best suited to join?

All chemical technology-based businesses are eligible to join if they meet the entry criteria.

How do they apply?

To apply, candidates will need to contact their local office or the incubation office nearest to them and make an appointment with a project officer.

The project officer will then do a basic feasibility study and assessment to see if the candidate meets the incubation programme entry requirements.

How long are businesses allowed to stay in your programmes?

Our incubation programme lasts for three years. At that point, entrepreneurs should be fully sustainable and independent.

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

We are incredibly passionate at Chemin and create an innovative platform for incubatees to learn and grow. We help entrepreneurs to grow and reach their full potential.

How long have you been going?

Chemin was first incorporated in 2002.

How many businesses have been incubated with your support and how many of them are still going today?

Chemin has incubated 260 businesses since opening doors in 2002. There have been a total of 68 graduates, who are still in operation today.

How many incubates are simultaneously in your programmes?

Chemin currently has 140 clients in our portfolio across all of our incubation centres.

How much are your fees?

Chemin is a non-profit organisation and therefore incubatees pay a cost price for services they receive.

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

The incubatee commits to the programme and to using all the resources available to them efficiently.

When they sign up for the programme, we provide them with support such as training. They are expected to comply and work hard towards achieving their goals.

We are committed to helping in any way in which we can to develop these businesses to become fully sustainable businesses in their respective fields.

What are the average sales of your incubatees after a year in your programme? And after two years? And after three years?

In year one, entrepreneurs experience an estimated increase in revenue of about 25%, with a 35% increase in year two and about 50% to 60% plus after three years.

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

That we played an integral part in developing their business.

And the worst?

Not having incubation centres in certain areas which entrepreneurs can easily reach.

What was your biggest success thus far?

We have had many successes to date and every time a business graduates the programme we consider that business a huge a success.

Why are you involved in supporting new businesses?

We are committed to supporting entrepreneurs and to help facilitate economic growth in South Africa as well as help the government fulfil their mandate through job creation.

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

Our biggest wish has become a reality. We have recently received generous donations from Eskom and the Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda) for analytical equipment for our laboratories.

The result is that we can now offer a wider range of free services to our entrepreneurs which will enable them to innovate and grow their products for domestic sale as well as have export potential.