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Existing and aspiring entrepreneurs received a positive boost following the announcement of a partnership between Seda, the Masisizane Fund and the Old Mutual (South Africa) Foundation, which aims to provide SMMEs with non-financial as well as critical financial support.

The partnership is a timely intervention that will assist to alleviate the plight of enterprising unemployed people who want to start businesses. According to a 2008 Department of Trade and Industry survey, at least 65% of jobs created in the South African economy can be attributed to the small, medium and micro enterprises (SMME) sector.

The partnership specifically focuses on stimulating job creation and ensuring sustainability within this sector by promoting, supporting and developing SMMEs as well as connecting these enterprises to critical financial support.

Each partner brings a different element of expert support to the initiative. Non-financial support services will be provided by Seda, which offers entrepreneurs access to information, advice, mentoring, contacts, guidance and tailored training programmes through its national network of 42 branches. In addition, aspiring and existing business owners can secure direct consultation on business concepts with the business advisors at any one of Seda's branches.

"We're very excited about this new partnership which will greatly assist in supporting SMMEs to ensure future sustainability and growth. The financial assistance provided by the Old Mutual Foundation and Masisizane Fund perfectly complements the comprehensive range of support services offered by Seda. This partnership reflects our mission to develop and promote small enterprises in co-ordination with other role players, and furthers our vision of offering a holistic support package to SMMEs to enhance their competitiveness," says Seda's Chief Executive Officer, Hlonela Lupuwana.

Financial aid will be offered in the form of grant funding and soft loans, provided by the Masisizane Fund and Old Mutual Foundation respectively.

"This partnership means that aspiring entrepreneurs, preferably women and youth can approach a local Seda branch and be assisted with business advice and ongoing mentorship using the criteria that has been provided by Masisizane and the Old Mutual Foundation. This stands to increase their chances of getting access to the funds they need to make their dreams a reality," says Charmaine Groves, CEO of the Masisizane Fund.

Groves explains that Masisizane's overarching objective is job creation through sustainable enterprise development in the second economy, and Seda's is to provide the tools and know-how for SMMEs, both start-ups and existing businesses.

"This would enable entrepreneurs to increase their success rates when applying to institutions like Masisizane for funding and other business support, while shortening the process of evaluating applications and improving the long term sustainability of the enterprises through mentorship provided by Seda," says Groves.

Lupuwana adds that the partnership will go a long way to addressing one of the major current challenges facing SMMEs, namely access to funding.

"Access to services, especially finance, has been a key challenge to aspiring and thriving small businesses. It is beneficial for Seda to form this joint initiative in helping to alleviate this shortcoming in this sector," Lupuwana says.

About Seda, Masisizane and the Old Mutual Foundation

Seda is an agency of the Department of Trade and Industry. It aims to be the centre of excellence for small enterprise development in South Africa by developing, supporting and promoting small enterprises to ensure their growth and sustainability in co-ordination and partnership with other role players.

The Masisizane Fund is a Section 21 (non-profit) organisation that provides soft loans for enterprise development, skills capacity building and financial education.

The Old Mutual Foundation is a registered trust that provides grant funding for enterprise development, skills enrichment, capacity building and maths and science education.