Branson centre supports entrepreneurs with growth

Tsoanelo Modise

Tsoanelo Modise

A Johannesburg business owner says that since receiving mentorship and training by the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship five months ago, he has already seen an increase in productivity resulting in a 20% growth in his software development business.

The centre, which is an initiative of the Virgin Group owned by entrepreneur extraodinaire Sir Richard Branson, started off four years ago as a school but has morphed into an entrepreneurial centre over the past two years.

It seeks to assist existing entrepreneurs with training, mentorship, computer facilities and networking opportunities.

According to its chief entrepreneurial officer, Tracey Webster, some 514 business owners have already been assisted by the centre since inception.

“We focus on existing entrepreneurs who want to expand or need hands-on training or mentorship, or we try to assist by brokering funding for them because we do not provide funding,” says Webster.

This is exactly the reason that sent Tsoanelo Modise, owner of IntDev CRM, in the direction of the centre to seek business advice and mentorship.

“I was stuck in my business. I had run out of know-how. I then drove past the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship and went onto their website because I had heard about it before,” says Modise.

He then applied online for assistance, was called in for an interview and was accepted as a Branson Centre Entrepreneur.

Webster says once entrepreneurs are accepted as part of the centre’s training programme, they also have access to the 14 computers at the Johannesburg-based centre; this includes internet and printer facilities as well as meeting rooms.

“There are certain criteria which must be met before being accepted as a Branson Centre Entrepreneur. The business will must be an existing business, must be registered and must be operational, since we are not an incubator,” says Webster.

Two different training programmes are offered by the centre. The first training programme, the foundation course, which has a duration of six weeks, focuses on business basics such as strategy, marketing and communications and understanding cost and financials.

“Once these have been completed, business owners have to do a-minute-to-spin-it ,which is basically a one minute pitch focusing on selling your business,” says Webster.

The trainees then go away for a month to develop a business plan by using what they have learnt. This business plan can then be used to access sometimes much-needed finance.

The advanced course is aimed at business owners who want to grow and expand their businesses and who ideally have already developed their business plans.

This course, which is made up of two half-day classes for 12 weeks, focuses on four themes: to create, communicate, deliver and realise the the value of the business.

Business owners receive training on innovation, understanding operations, business ethics and social media.

“Not all businesses will move from the foundation course to the advanced course immediately as every business is in a different stage. Some are not ready for the advanced course,” says Webster.

On completion of the 12-week course, business owners do a pitch named after Branson’s famous quote and autobiography “Screw it, let’s do it”.

During this pitch, they have 15 minutes to impress captains of industry, who are invited to listen to and choose the top six business owners.

These six business owners are then each assigned a mentor for six months to provide ongoing business support and advice.

Webster says all this takes place at no cost and that the centre’s overhead costs are covered by the Virgin Group, but that additional activities require fundraising.

She says they would like to replicate the centre’s business model by opening more branches throughout the rest of the country so that they can assist more business owners, but that they require funding from corporate partners to do so.

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