Reed Exhibitions and Eskom’s 15-year collaboration to boost small business development again bore fruit at this year’s Small Business Expo (SBE) in Johannesburg.

Carol Weaving, MD of Reed Exhibitions, says the partnership, which sees the Eskom Development Foundation’s Business Investment Competition (BIC) finalists showcased at the leading SBE, thrusts South African small businesses into the fast lane – giving them exposure, networking opportunities and a chance to secure new business partnerships.

“The SBE is focused on building small businesses sustainably, and our ongoing partnership is delivering exceptional results for those small businesses who participate,” says Weaving.

The Eskom Foundation’s BIC and Simama Ranta School Entrepreneurship Education competition are key small business development initiatives that seek to help grow small business and drive economic growth in South Africa. At the SBE, finalists and winners in these competitions are given significant exposure to new business opportunities.

Eskom Foundation CEO Cecil Ramonotsi says the BIC and its partnership with the SBE identifies, rewards and supports growth in existing small black-owned businesses in key sectors. “The competition, and our partnership with the SBE, successfully boost viable small businesses, helping them to take their business to the next level,” he says.

This year, Eskom Foundation’s BIC finalists were inundated with interest at the expo, reporting that they ran out of business cards and had scores of business meetings lined up, with promising new business opportunities presenting themselves. The BIC and SBE proved to be an eye-opening experience for the BIC finalists, many of whom had never before participated in an expo such as this.

 The BIC, now in its ninth year, recognises promising and sustainable black-owned small businesses, awarding a total of R300,000 in growth funding to the overall winner. Besides the exhibition space, finalists are also given an opportunity to attend the free business development workshops during the expo.

The rare opportunity to engage with leading enterprises and corporates, and the high levels of interest from potential investors and business partners at the expo caught the BIC finalists by surprise: “The three days of exposure at the expo have been worth more than a year of marketing for me. By this time next year, I think my business will be twice the size it is now, thanks to interest generated through the BIC and the expo,” said Phindile Ncube, Director of Phakama Services Group, first runner-up in the BIC’s Engineering and Construction category.

Ncube said she was stunned by the entire experience: “When they called me to tell me I was a finalist, I was shocked, and when they called my name as first runner-up, I was like ‘what?’ Now no matter how many times I fall, I have to get back up because I know Eskom will be watching. I have to do great things because they are expecting it,” she said.

Both expo visitors and fellow exhibitors proved to be potential business leads, the BIC finalists said. “My entire market is everyone who is here,” Ncube said.

“I’ve never even thought about exhibiting at an expo before. As a business we were lacking on our marketing,” said Nyadzeni Makhado, founder of this year’s overall winner, Prodeliver Group. Prodeliver, based in Rivonia, provides logistics and mining services including transportation.  “The high volume and quality of interactions at the expo have made us realise that expos are definitely worthwhile,” he said.

“The media exposure we gained by winning the BIC has been phenomenal, and our stand in the exhibition area attracted a great deal of interest. Thanks to this exposure, I now have several business and investment meetings lined up that will open new avenues for growth. In fact, I have had so much interest that I believe I also need to get a social media presence and upgrade my site to help deal with enquiries,” Makhado said.

“Through the competition and the expo, I’ve secured industry-specific new business leads. On top of that, I managed to attend workshops on branding and learnt a great deal,” said Mbali Mavuso, founder of construction and manufacturing firm EBR.

“Everyone we spoke to at the expo has been relevant to us – some could provide services we need, and others need our services. I had 600 business cards printed for the expo, and they’ve all been handed out,” said Moses Matshiana, founder of Kgabu Projects and Construction.

“We opened our business in the George area because we saw a need there for well-made, affordable school uniforms,” said Letitia Frans of Sew Happy Primary Co-Operative. The co-operative, launched by Frans and co-founder Janine Bruce, was the second runner-up in the BIC Manufacturing category. “Because of the high level of interest we have received at the expo, we are starting to think it may be worth our while to expand our business to Gauteng too,” says Frans.

Peter Lengweng of South Side Plumbing and Construction in Eldorado Park and winner in the BIC Trade and Services category, said participation in the BIC and SBE would make a massive difference to his business. “Because of the expo, three developers have approached us to discuss new projects. I would not have been able to get that business without the expo.”

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