Township SMMEs business accelerator to be launched in Soweto

Three women, Tlhogi Ngwato, Yonwaba Pangeni and Lufuno Muthubi-Mthethwa, have put their heads together to develop what they now call the ‘Kasi Xcelerator’, a programme set up to help give township-based SMMEs and service providers a major boost.

Kasi Xcelerator (KX) will be launched at an entrepreneurship expo in September.

It is described by its founders as an innovative new platform that has been designed to bridge the gap between township businesses, the private sector and government, in order to promote the growth and development of sustainable township economies.

Explaining how it all works, Ngwato said: “Our aim is to provide a platform that will fulfil three crucial needs for township businesses.”

“Firstly, we want to provide an investment hub; a place where large companies can gain insight into township markets and, in turn, where kasi entrepreneurs can access funding in order to either grow existing businesses or establish new ones.

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“Secondly, we want to facilitate knowledge sharing among township businesses, and also provide a formal means for them to access skills development and mentorship.

“Finally, we want to give entrepreneurs and innovators a means to showcase their offerings and so to grow their businesses.”  

KX will be an integrated business accelerator that will stimulate investment in and facilitate support for township-based businesses, while also providing investors with access to township markets.

Ngwato and her partners, Yonwaba Pangeni and Lufuno Muthubi-Mthethwa, were inspired to develop an accelerator for township businesses by the potential these enterprises have to alleviate poverty, create employment and sustain communities.

“Our starting point was the fact that as much as half of South Africa’s urban population lives in townships,” says Pangeni, “and these are the people who have been hardest hit by the events of the past two years.”

“With unemployment currently at 34.5%, many families are struggling to survive and entrepreneurship of some kind is the only viable means to earn an income. On the other side of the coin, township markets are attractive to many investors, but they sometimes find it challenging to access and navigate them.”  

Targeting youth unemployment

Youth unemployment is a particular concern, as 63.9% of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are jobless (Quarterly Labour Force Survey, Q1 2022).

“A large number of them have never worked in the formal economy, so support for young entrepreneurs is a cornerstone of the programme,” the founders explained.

While it is difficult to estimate the size of the township economy, some commentators have suggested that it accounts for as much as 6% of GDP.

This is fertile ground for an initiative designed to stimulate investment, support business development and empower township-based innovators, enterprises and communities. 

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The Kasi Xcelerator Showcase

It is with this ambitious goal in mind that Kasi Xcelerator will kick off with a one-day showcase, which will run on 1 October at the Soweto Theatre followed, by a six month accelerator programme in 2023.

Sponsored by the MTN Business, the Soweto Theatre and Soweto TV, and supported by Google Hustle Academy, Green Scooter and Torque Media, the expo will be open to 50 businesses, which will have the opportunity to participate in a rich programme of business development activities.

The focus will be on the nature of entrepreneurship. Participants will focus on identifying gaps in the market and ways to fill them, as well exploring how to test the viability of markets, and to map solutions to the gaps in those markets. 

This will include exciting talks and presentations by industry leaders, sponsors and other stakeholders, as well as a courtyard market, which will be open to businesses that wish to showcase their offerings.

A wide range of entrepreneurs, from spaza shops, hairdressers, mechanics and B&Bs to small-scale market gardeners and farmers, producers of homeopathic and traditional medicines, and enterprises operating in the retail, manufacturing, recycling, engineering, construction, hospitality, transport, financial services and ICT sectors are invited to register their businesses for the programme.

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MTN Business, which recently launched a first in the market Prepaid bundle for  small and Informal businesses will have a strong presence at the expo and will be inviting young entrepreneurs in particular to find out more about the opportunities available to them in mobile communications.

“The township economy presents abundant opportunities for both investors and kasi entrepreneurs, who are known for their can-do and inventive approach to business,” said co-founder Muthubi-Mthethwa.

“With Kasi Xcelerator, we are aiming to empower these entrepreneurs and support the reinvigoration of township communities.

“In short, we intend to play a critical role in unlocking the untapped potential of township businesses and in driving the kind of innovation that empowers both individuals and communities.”