Riversands Incubation Hub. Photo: Supplied

JOHANNESBURG – In the three years since the launch of Riversands Incubation Hub, the large-scale business incubator, an impressive turnover of just more than R500 million has been generated by the entrepreneurs on the programme.

Since Riversands opened its doors in September 2015, more than R190 million has been paid by small businesses in remuneration to their staff, while 978 permanent and 1 772 short-term jobs have been created. And since January 2017, Riversands has had an average of 94 percent occupancy rate.

Riversands Incubation Hub, which offers a campus with mini-factories and workspaces, has grown exponentially since 2015. 

Riversands chief executive Jenny Retief said: “We started with only five businesses, and now we are home to over 150 businesses. The growth has been exhilarating and kept us on a continual development curve.” 

Entrepreneurs at Riversands – including 76 women-owned businesses – are a combination of established and start-up businesses, benefitting from subsidised mini-factories, workshops and office premises on the upmarket, secure business campus with access to key business support services. 

Sectors include ITC, manufacturing, media/branding, catering, textiles, consulting, professional services, cosmetics, medical, engineering, energy, construction, printing, education, waste management, PPE and uniforms.

An exciting outcome has been the value of the entrepreneurial community that has evolved at Riversands.  

“With so many energetic, creative and talented entrepreneurs in close proximity they are quick to find synergies between them.  Clusters have emerged creating valuable opportunities for collaboration,” said Retief.

Retief is bullish about the future at Riversands over the next three years, despite the challenging macro-economic environment. 

“Businesses with good value propositions for their markets will scale up and build creative muscle. We see many success stories in this space, and these will gain momentum in the coming years,” she said.

Riversands Incubation Hub is one of approximately 280 incubation programmes for entrepreneurs in South Africa, straddling all sectors and stages of business development. Retief says there is a place for all of them. 

“Entrepreneurs are the bedrock of the economy, and South Africa needs hugely increased numbers of entrepreneurs if we are to transform the economic landscape,” said Retief.

The overall vision of Riversands Incubation Hub is to grow the economy to become more inclusive and demographically representative. 

“The team works tirelessly to assist business owners to grow to become more profitable, and of course, that means they hire more staff,” said Retief. “At the same time, we are clear about the importance of keeping Riversands reflective of the real world so that business owners build the skills and business habits to continue growing beyond incubation.  This sometimes means tough love messages along with support.”    

The need and difficulties of accessing funding are frequently raised as a barrier to small business growth.  

Asked how Riversands was addressing this problem, Retief said: “Funding is not in short supply, but qualifying for it is. Our focus is to help prepare businesses to become investment worthy, understanding that the sustainability of any business is based on financial discipline, meeting customer needs, persistence and resilience.” 

Helping SMEs bridge the gap between themselves and the many players in the funding space is an ongoing focus. A highlight is Riversands’ annual FundEX event which helps entrepreneurs and funders find one another. The event has grown from strength to strength across the three years and includes innovative funders offering new solutions to address the gaps in the SME funding landscape. 

“There is a vast amount of untapped entrepreneurial talent in South Africa.  Assisting those entrepreneurs unlock their potential and grow their businesses is our most powerful weapon in the fight to radically reduce unemployment and defeat the scourge of poverty.”  The impressive performance of Riversands over the last three years is testimony to that.