Promoting Entrepreneurship in South Africa: Lessons from Successful National Start-up Ecosystems

Promoting Entrepreneurship in South Africa is crucial for economic growth and job creation. With South Africa now forecasted by the IMF to have the highest unemployment rate globally, this article explores the benefits of entrepreneurship in South Africa, including job creation and the prevention of brain drain.

To create an entrepreneurial culture, the South African government can provide funding and support for entrepreneurs, simplify regulations and procedures, and invest in education and training programs. The article discusses how the South African government can learn from successful entrepreneurial ecosystems in countries such as Finland, the UAE, the US, and the Netherlands. The article also provides specific recommendations for the South African government to encourage entrepreneurship, such as establishing startup accelerators and incubators, incentivising research and development, and promoting social entrepreneurship.

According to The World Bank, the following needs to be considered to enhance a national entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Promoting Entrepreneurship in South Africa

Job creation is one of the primary benefits of entrepreneurship. Startups and small businesses are significant sources of new jobs, which can help to reduce unemployment rates and drive economic growth. Entrepreneurs can create jobs not only for themselves but also for their employees and suppliers, and they often hire local talent, having a positive impact on the community. Furthermore, entrepreneurs are often at the forefront of industries that are growing and evolving, such as technology, healthcare, and renewable energy, meaning that their businesses can be sources of employment for a diverse range of skill sets and backgrounds. Thus, governments can create a plethora of job opportunities and enable individuals to achieve their professional aspirations by supporting entrepreneurship.

Creating an entrepreneurial culture in South Africa is vital for economic growth and job creation. Entrepreneurship can drive innovation, increase productivity, and create new industries. It promotes a sense of self-reliance, creativity, and innovation, which are essential traits for any successful business. By creating an environment that encourages entrepreneurship, the South African government can foster a culture of innovation, problem-solving, and risk-taking, which are essential for building a strong economy.

To support the creation of an entrepreneurial culture, the South African government can take several actions. Firstly, the government can provide funding and support to entrepreneurs, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to help them start and grow their businesses. The government can also work to simplify regulations and procedures to make it easier for entrepreneurs to start and operate a business. Secondly, the government can invest in education and training programs to develop entrepreneurial skills and mindsets among young people. By creating a supportive environment for entrepreneurship, the South African government can help foster a culture of innovation and creativity that will drive economic growth and job creation in the country. Although the government already supports entrepreneurship through organisations like the SEFA, The IDC, Wesgro and others, a more informed and strategic approach can be taken to create an entrepreneurial culture in the country, while working with Venture Capital firms will further enhance the impact of this strategy.

The South African government can learn from countries like the UAE, Finland, the US and the Netherlands, which have successfully promoted entrepreneurship. For example, the UAE has implemented policies that make it easy for entrepreneurs to start and operate a business, such as simplified registration procedures, access to financing, and tax incentives. Finland has invested heavily in education and research, leading to the development of a strong startup ecosystem, and the Netherlands has established a supportive environment for entrepreneurs, with a focus on innovation and sustainability.

Promoting Entrepreneurship in South Africa: Learning From Finland

In the quest for growth beyond its small domestic market, Finland’s entrepreneurs have developed many successful startups with global reach. To help South African entrepreneurs follow suit, the government can provide support for attending international events and offer funding programs for export strategies and market entry.

Finland’s startup ecosystem is robust, with various organizations supporting entrepreneurs. The South African government can establish startup accelerators, incubators, and innovation hubs, while providing mentorship, networking opportunities, and funding to help create a similar supportive environment.

Traditional industries such as forestry and construction have spawned successful startups in Finland. Encouraging innovation in these fields can be done by providing funding for research and development, innovation incentives, and support for startups.

Another key to supporting entrepreneurs has been the aggressive strategy of digitalization. Finland has successfully launched startups in the tech industry. To help South Africa in this regard, the government can provide funding for startups creating digital products and services, establish regulations that encourage innovation, and develop digital infrastructure.

Finland is known for its strong social entrepreneurship sector, with startups addressing social and environmental challenges. The South African government can support social entrepreneurship by providing funding, mentorship, networking opportunities, and regulations that promote social entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship is highly valued in Finland, with innovation being key to many of its successful startups. To encourage a similar entrepreneurial culture, the South African government can promote entrepreneurship in schools and universities, create programs that encourage entrepreneurship, and recognize successful entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurship support programs in the country also cater to rural areas, providing funding and resources to rural startups. The South African government can support rural entrepreneurship by providing funding, mentorship, networking opportunities, and linking rural entrepreneurs with urban ecosystems.

Finland’s focus on research and development has led to many innovative startups. The South African government can incentivize research and development by providing tax incentives or grants for businesses investing in R&D to encourage the creation of innovative startups.

Promoting Entrepreneurship in South Africa: Learning From the UAE

One of the strategies that the UAE has used to support entrepreneurship is establishing government-backed investment funds. These funds provide seed capital and early-stage funding to entrepreneurs and startups, which can help them get their businesses off the ground. South Africa can set up a similar fund to provide much-needed capital to aspiring entrepreneurs.

Another way the UAE has encouraged entrepreneurship is by providing tax incentives for businesses that invest in research and development. This strategy encourages innovation and entrepreneurship by making it more financially beneficial for businesses to invest in these areas. South Africa can introduce similar tax incentives to stimulate entrepreneurship and innovation.

The UAE has also simplified its business registration processes, making it easier for entrepreneurs to set up businesses. South Africa can streamline its business registration processes to reduce the time and cost of starting a business. This will help to encourage more people to start their own businesses and drive economic growth.

In addition, the UAE has created several initiatives to support innovation and research, such as the Dubai Future Accelerator and the UAE AI and Blockchain Strategy. These initiatives have helped to foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in the technology sector. South Africa can introduce similar initiatives to support innovation and research, which will help to create new businesses and drive economic growth.

The UAE also provides training and mentorship programs for entrepreneurs, such as the Dubai Entrepreneurship Academy. These programs help to develop the skills and knowledge that entrepreneurs need to succeed. South Africa can introduce similar programs to provide training and mentorship for entrepreneurs, which will help to cultivate a new generation of successful business owners.

Infrastructure is also crucial for supporting entrepreneurship. The UAE has developed infrastructure to support entrepreneurship, such as co-working spaces and incubators. South Africa can develop similar infrastructure to support entrepreneurs and startups, providing them with the resources they need to succeed.

Lastly, the UAE encourages businesses to engage in corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, including supporting entrepreneurship and startup ecosystems. The South African government can encourage businesses to engage in similar CSR activities, creating a supportive environment for entrepreneurship.

Overall, the UAE has created a successful startup ecosystem by adopting a combination of strategies, including investment funds, tax incentives, simplified business registration processes, innovation and research initiatives, training and mentorship programs, infrastructure development, and CSR activities. By incorporating some of these strategies, South Africa can create a more supportive environment for entrepreneurship and innovation.

Promoting Entrepreneurship in South Africa: Learning From The Netherlands

The Netherlands is one of the top countries known for promoting entrepreneurship, and South Africa can learn from their experience in implementing policies that encourage and support startups. By leveraging the policies and initiatives of the Netherlands, South Africa can develop an enabling environment for entrepreneurship.

One policy that South Africa can implement is to establish an entrepreneurship support system that provides funding and guidance to startups. The Netherlands has a network of incubators and accelerators that offer support and funding to entrepreneurs, as well as tax incentives for investors who support startups. The Dutch government offers startup funding through the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS), which provides tax relief for investors who invest in new startups. The government has also set up an Innovation Box program that offers tax reductions for companies that innovate. By implementing similar policies, South Africa can create an environment that supports innovation and the growth of startups.

The Dutch government has also made significant investments in entrepreneurship education to nurture the skills and mindset required for entrepreneurship. The government has implemented entrepreneurship education in schools and universities and provides mentorship programs for aspiring entrepreneurs. The Dutch government runs a program called ‘StartupDelta’ that offers training and mentorship to entrepreneurs, as well as organizing events to connect startups with investors. By introducing entrepreneurship education and training, South Africa can develop a pipeline of talented and motivated entrepreneurs.

Additionally, South Africa can simplify regulations and reduce bureaucracy to create an enabling environment for startups. The Netherlands has implemented policies to reduce the regulatory burden and make it easier to start and operate a business. For example, the Dutch government has established an online portal where entrepreneurs can register their business and access relevant information and services.

The Dutch government has also implemented policies to simplify tax laws and make it easier for entrepreneurs to comply with tax regulations. The Small Business Scheme simplifies the tax system for small businesses by reducing the administrative burden and lowering the tax rate. Under this policy, small businesses with annual revenues of up to €20,000 are exempt from Value-Added Tax (VAT) and are not required to file a VAT return. Small businesses with annual revenues between €20,000 and €25,000 can opt for the ‘Small Business Regime’ and pay a lower VAT rate of 2.5%. By simplifying tax laws and offering digital tools and resources, South Africa can reduce complexity, enabling entrepreneurs to focus on building their businesses.

Promoting Entrepreneurship in South Africa: Learning From The US

One area where the US excels is in access to financing, with a range of financing options available to small businesses, such as traditional bank loans, venture capital, and crowdfunding. To create a more robust ecosystem of financing options, the South African government can develop public-private partnerships to provide access to capital and create tax incentives for angel investors, reducing the perplexity of the process for small business owners.

The US has also created an enabling environment for small businesses by implementing policies that support entrepreneurship. The Small Business Administration (SBA) provides resources and support to small businesses, including counseling, training, and access to government contracts. The South African government can similarly create agencies or initiatives that provide support to small businesses and entrepreneurs.

The US has prioritized promoting innovation and technology transfer, investing in research and development, and encouraging the commercialization of new technologies. The South African government can incentivize innovation through research and development tax credits and establish partnerships between universities, research institutions, and private sector companies, enhancing access to technology and innovation processes for entrepreneurs.

By studying these countries, the South African government can identify best practices and develop policies and programs that are tailored to the specific needs of the country. Learning from the experiences of successful entrepreneurial ecosystems can help the South African government develop effective strategies to promote entrepreneurship, drive innovation, and create new jobs, ultimately contributing to the long-term growth and prosperity of the country.

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Matthew Musgrove

Matthew Musgrove

Matthew is an entrepreneur and business Advisor with a passion for change management and social empowerment. With a background in business accounting and advisory, as well clinical research project management, he strives to find strategic and sustainable solutions to business problems.



Mark Van Hoff comes from background of technical & production planning, budgeting & scheduling of major live events. As the first production co-ordinator at M-NET for Outside Broadcasts, Mark has managed major local and international productions including Miss South Africa, Miss World, multiple music events and major sports events, including the PnP Cycling Tour.Mark co-founded Van-Man Productions in 1994, Page to Picture in 2000 and Move Media Networks in 2007. All three companies have achieved domestic success and have been well-regarded in the South African production industry.



Oluwaseun Adewuyi who is the Group Chief Finance Officer (CFO) at Caban, is a Certified Chartered Accountant, with Fellowship status at both the ACCA as well as the Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, a UK Based industry body with a specific focus on the management of charities, not-for-profit organisations and NGOs.. Oluwaseun comes with strong business acumen and 20+ years of progressive experience in finance and operations management within well-reputed and high growth organisations Including Next Plc and Royal Mail. He has been heavily involved in impact investment across Sub-Saharan Africa and has been instrumental in the creation of a series of community schools in West Africa. Throughout his career, he oversaw a broad range of operations, including Business Strategy and Business Reorganisation, summarising the organisation’s financial status, and coordinating the preparation of tactical plans, financial forecasts, and budgets. Adept at developing and implementing effective internal control framework to maintain sound financial accountability.

tim scholtz


Tim Scholtz, who's is the Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Caban Investments, is experienced in implementing corporate governance guidelines, formulating risk management structures, process and cost optimization. Tim has a strong corporate background, having worked as COO at the South African Tourism board, was COO at the Nelson Mandela foundation and as a internal audit manager at Arthur Anderson earlier in his career.

Ben Botes


Ben Botes is Entrepreneur, VC, co-Founder, Author and Academic with a strong social conscience. Ben Involved with early stage and growth firms for the past 20 years and has been Co-founder of 9 separate businesses across Africa. Ben has directly and indirectly been involved in impact investment and the support of charities and non profits for the last 30 years. Ben is a regular speaker at the African Investment Conference in London and has been featured in Wall Street for Europe, The Guardian Small Business, BBC, the Mail and Guardian in the UK and BizCommunity, Channel 3 TV, Investors Weekly, The Cape Times, Radio 702 with John Robbie and Good Hope FM in South Africa

Dave Romero


Dave Romero is a venture capitalist and entrepreneur with a passion for making an impact. A qualified Professional Accountant, Dave has been a director in multiple financial institutions and was once the youngest Chairman on the JSE, in addition to being listed as one of Business Times’ Top 100 companies and the 40th fastest-growing company in South Africa. Dave is a core founder of the Caban Group, which aims to provide a comprehensive service offering to small businesses in return for equity. With a passion for nurturing entrepreneurs, Dave can often be found outside of the boardroom – offering advice, creating innovative funding solutions and building communities through sustainable practices.



Dr Ruben Richards is a truly inspirational South African leader. Through his peace-building seminars for criminal gangs, Dr Ruben has facilitated the longest ceasefire in the history of gang warfare on the Cape Flats. In addition to being Chairman & Founder of the non-profit Ruben Richards Foundation, Dr Ruben is an ordained cleric, company director, non-executive Chairman of Visual International Limited and was once the Deputy Director-General of the now-disbanded Scorpions.