The Hope Factory: empowering women entrepreneurs

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According to Census 2011, 15% of South African households have female breadwinners, where a married woman is the head of the household. But as South Africa’s unemployment rate rises and it becomes increasingly harder to find permanent employment, Enterprise Development organisation, The Hope Factory, is finding that more and more women are looking to entrepreneurial endeavours to help them support their families.

While the reasons for this are the same as for men, The Hope Factory points to a report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) that found women to “show marked differences from men in characteristics such as their attitudes about entrepreneurship, the industries they operate in, and their ambitions for growth.”

It also suggests that women may face a tougher battle than men as “women entrepreneurs may not be sufficiently empowered or supported to allow them to contribute to new business startups.”

Research by Cape Town-based entrepreneurial community, Silicon Cape show that founders of South African startups are overwhelmingly white and male.

“The reasons for this may include cultural and societal attitudes and access to resources and opportunities. Policies that can promote societal attitude changes, and train, support and encourage women entrepreneurs will promote inclusiveness and fuel economic growth,” says the GEM report.

Annie McWalter, CEO of The Hope Factory believes that its approach of holistic and hands-on mentoring helps to provide some much needed support to the entrepreneurs on its programmes. McWalter says that The Hope Factory’s programmes include a large mentoring component. “Through this programme we assist each business owner with the issues that their particular business faces. We walk the business journey with our entrepreneurs,” she says.

The Hope Factory, who helps previously disadvantaged South Africans to establish and grow their businesses, says that it has seen more than 1000 people attend its various business and skills development programmes over the last 12 years. The programmes have an emphasis on starting and growing new businesses – approximately 60% of these businesses are female-owned or run.

The Hope Factory is also helping to sustain these businesses past the three and a half year mark and claims a great track record:

  • 48 new businesses were created and registered in 2012.
  • 148 entrepreneurs participated in its Entrepreneur Support Programme in 2012.
  • 86% of all these businesses now have a clear business strategy.
  • 92% of the businesses in its incubator programme, The Hope Hub, experienced a significant growth in turnover and 64% experienced a growth in profit.
  • 54% of general businesses on The Hope Factory Entrepreneur Support Programme increased their turnover.
  • 95% of all the businesses on its programmes now implement accurate financial record keeping systems.
  • 95% of all the businesses now adhere to a budget.

“Our experience has shown that mentorship is vital to grow small businesses and to help the entrepreneurs overcome challenges. We approach this from a personal, as well as a business and financial management development angle, as we believe that if you grow the person, you grow the business. This year our target is to equip and grow 190 businesses,” says McWalter.

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