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If you are a startup, well good news for you because Microsoft has unveiled what it is calling a “game-changer” for small businesses in South Africa.
Meet Biz4Afrika, an online hub that will give South African small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) access to a range of free products and services from Microsoft and other partners.
The company has made some aggressive pushes into Africa in the last year, first with its 4Afrika initiative, then its technology centre as well as its partnership programmes for around 600 tech startups around South Africa.
The hub is specifically designed to aggregate all the best resources — both IT and non-IT resources — available to local SMEs. The baseline services offered are free and highly relevant for South African SMEs looking to bring their business online and improve their general competitiveness.
The launch offer will provide SMEs the opportunity to get their businesses online for free for the first year. This includes a free .co.za domain, a free website, as well as free email and collaboration tools. The initiative is a collaboration between Microsoft, mobile operator Vodacom, the National Small Business Chamber and the Small Business Development Agency.
Microsoft believes so much in this initiative it sent its number two man, COO Kevin Turner, who says “Microsoft really believes in Africa and its future. We see Africa as the next big set of emerging markets”. Hence its 4Afrika initiative is the second biggest investment the company has made in recent years according to Turner. I guess Nokia is number one then.
Turner reckons the opening of the Biz4Afrika hub was a strategic component of Microsoft’s 4Afrika Initiative announced earlier this year, when the company committed to bringing one million African SMEs online in three years’ time. He also noted that this launch was the latest step in the company’s heritage of investing and supporting entrepreneurs across the world.
The launch follows research released last month by the Boston Consulting Group, which showed that tech-savvy SMEs created twice as many new jobs and grew revenues 15 percentage points faster over the past three years than SMEs using little technology.
“Our objective is to help more SMEs transition to, and benefit from, modern IT so they can improve their overall competitiveness,” said Turner.
“Our commitments under the 4Afrika banner are focused on actively engaging in Africa’s economic development, and for SMEs, this means providing training on how to apply technology to their business and helping them understand how they can benefit from a broad range of available devices and services.”
Here is how it works
If you are an SME and need help in one of the following nine areas, you and in luck: finance and insurance, accounting, legal, marketing, administration, business services, business opportunities, technology and people. The hub will also connect SMEs with existing online commercial marketplaces through which they can sell their own products or services.
The programme is free for the first 12 months but after that you going to have to pay (as of now Microsoft has not released its pricing for after the free period). This, the tech giant hopes, will give the companies the aid they need.
Microsoft will also place one IT intern in each of SEDA’s 43 centres across the country, where they will receive on-the-job-training on technology and other SME-related issues to become fully fledged SME business and technology advisors in needy communities. A further four interns will be trained to handle online queries.