The Technological Higher Education Network South Africa (THENSA) Online Entrepreneurship Programme comprising of 51 students from the Durban University of Technology (DUT) was officially launched at the DUT Hotel School Conference Centre, Ritson Campus in Durban and also online on Wednesday, 27 October 2021.

The eight week programme facilitated by THENSA in partnership with Munster Technological University (MTU) in Ireland, will provide the students with skills and knowledge necessary to start and run a successful business. The THENSA Online Entrepreneurship Programme offers an opportunity to create a new generation of young people who will become job creators within their own communities, giving them the kind of opportunities that will make an impact in the growth of South Africa’s economy.

Delivering the welcome remarks, the Director: Technology, Transfer and Innovation (TTI) at DUT, Professor Keolebogile Motaung, who was also the Programme Director at the launch welcomed the esteemed guests who consisted of the DUT Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof Thandwa Zizwe Mthembu, Irish Ambassador to South Africa and key funder of the programme, Ms Fionnuala Gilsenan, the DUT Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Engagement, Prof Sibusiso Moyo, THENSA Chief Executive Officer, Dr Anshu Padayachee, Research Fellow in Entrepreneurship at MTU, Dr Naill O’Leary and Solutions Architect, Mr Willie Cloete.

In her capacity as one of the THENSA Online Entrepreneurship Programme leaders, Prof Motaung said it was her pleasure to welcome all the guests and participants to the launch of this exciting programme.

“Durban University of Technology (DUT) in partnership with Munster Technological University (MTU) and Technological Higher Education Network South Africa (THENSA), really appreciates you for attending this event, it means a lot to us. I am so excited since DUT is the first University of Technology and the leading University of Technology in Africa to pilot the THENSA Online Entrepreneurship Programme. We are looking forward to this exciting programme and thank you so much to THENSA for collaborating with DUT to pilot the programme,” said Prof Motaung.

In a recorded message DUT Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof Thandwa Zizwe Mthembu welcomed the announcement of this important partnership within MUT and THENSA that will benefit 51 DUT students.

“Thank you so much for the leadership, Dr Anshu Padayachee from THENSA and her team, and thanks to the partnership between THENSA and MTU that made this possible. This partnership and the entrepreneurship programme it brings is yet another important milestone in the growing list of activities we are implementing in our deliberate quest to produce entrepreneurs by design and not just by default. Universities South Africa and THENSA are doing a lot to support our universities to re-orientate our education for knowledge and ensure that it is also for impact in the broader society. Innovation and entrepreneurship are at the heart of growing and transforming societies and economies of the world. We need our young people to be enviewed with the entrepreneurial mindset and to be equipped with high level entrepreneurial skills,” said Prof Mthembu.

He further added that recent developments in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) as emerged suggest employment will shrink, businesses and industries that have always provided jobs has shrunk if not gone under, careers that have always been attractive and lucrative have lost their shine, if ever there are still jobs available in those careers. Prof Mthembu stated that it is against this background that DUT bears the concept of innovation and entrepreneurship.

Speaking about this online programme, Prof Mthembu highlighted that it was unique and invaluable, especially in the context of the COVID-19 era. Unlike many entrepreneurship programmes that place huge emphasis on theory, producing the business plans and the like that are put in nice shelves that are never implemented, Prof Mthembu added that this programme is designed to be practical and impactful.

“It encourages students to develop an entrepreneurial mindset and approach as they prepare for the workforce, with this international focus it provides a great opportunity for exposure to multiple perspectives and cultures of business thinking and business doing from society and economies that have once and still are as challenged as South Africa is. I now encourage our 51 chosen students to take this opportunity very seriously. Only a few of our students will ever have the privilege to participate in a programme like this one, with exposure to an international environment. They must be disciplined and diligent throughout the duration of this programme. You must invest your time and energy and immerse yourself in this training, for that is what you will need to change your own life, the lives of your family and the lives of your community. Will you please make DUT and South Africa proud,” noted Prof Mthembu.

Irish Ambassador to South Africa and key funder of the programme, Ms Fionnuala Gilsenan commended THENSA for devising this programme. She said she is delighted that MTU is partnering with THENSA and DUT in developing this particular programme.

“We, at the Embassy are very pleased to support this partnership and are very glad to see such a large take off. Feedback and your experience with this course will ensure that the course is relevant to the needs of South Africans and meets your needs. There is huge potential of partnerships between Irish and South African universities and we as the Embassy of Ireland are very keen to support such partnerships and exchanges between our universities,” Gilsenan said.

She acknowledged all the parties who were involved in implementing the Programme both from MTU and THENSA.

Giving the background and purpose of the online programme, THENSA CEO, Dr Anshu Padayachee thanked the Ambassador, Ms Fionnuala Gilsenan for funding this programme which took 18 months to be developed by the team of Data Architects from MTU and Mr Willie Cloete from South Africa.

She explained that the reason THENSA looked at the issue of an online programme is that COVID-19 has really had an impact on everything people do.

“What we decided to do is to look at the entrepreneurship programme that we were already doing on a face to face basis and converting it to an online programme. The rationale for this is to reach the far flung areas of our country. This is not just to benefit the University alone but the rest of the universities. THENSA member institutions through their community engagement programmes will assist communities as well with this entrepreneurship programme that is online. It is a very exciting programme and I want to thank my staff for working so hard in ensuring that we can get this off the ground this week. We selected DUT because we have had a lot of contact with your Innobiz DUT Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. As part of our benchmarking, we took a few people to Dublin, Ireland to look at how we can deal with entrepreneurship, etc. and we came up with the idea of going totally online only because people in the far flung areas of our country cannot get access. They have to come to an institution to get training,” Dr Padayachee explained.

She said it is an interactive programme and the DUT students will be delighted with the kind of entrepreneurs they are going to be seeing on this programme. Furthermore, Dr Padayachee noted that the eight weeks’ duration of the programme is sufficient time to complete it, saying upon completion the selected students will obtain a certificate endorsed by MTU, DUT and THENSA, which she mentioned is a great step in improving their CVs. She also thanked Prof Motaung for taking up the challenge to lead the first pilot and hopes this group of students will be the leaders and the mentors of others who will take on the programme in the near future.

To keep the students engaged, Prof Motaung held a robust question and answer session after each speaker, where the students with the right answers received prizes.

Research Fellow in Entrepreneurship at MTU, Dr Naill O’Leary said their task was to deliver a comparable online mobile accessible entrepreneurship course during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the course structure consists of definitions and generating ideas, Business Model Canvas, idea assessment and research, hiring-conscientious and leadership, learning to learn, presenting research, making a decision and the next steps. He assured the students that the programme is taking the innovative evidence based approach and that is it very rewarding to work on it. He thanked the model learners, the team and those taking the pilot.

Giving his message of support, the Solutions Architect, Mr Willie Cloete said he was excited to be part of this initiative, adding that he believes that the launch is a small start to something even bigger, with an expected impact in entrepreneurial space but also education as a whole. He said the messenger based platform they developed provides a platform for lecturers and learners to interact around content within a structured delivery framework, telegram is the current messenger communication of choice, serving as a communication channel, including zero messaging costs.

Students participating in the programme, Zenani Dlamini and Ben Ngaleka expressed their appreciation for being given the opportunity to be amongst the first group to participate in this programme and were confident that the course will help them in improving their businesses for the better.

Giving the vote of thanks, DUT’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Engagement, Prof Sibusiso Moyo thanked everybody who has been involved in the programme, THENSA, MTU and the Irish Ambassador.

She recognised DUT Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof Thandwa Zizwe Mthembu’s leadership. “To have programmes like these you need not only a leader who is willing to take risks but you also need to have a strategy supported by adequate resources in terms of the right people with the right skills, appropriate infrastructure and financial investment to ensure the University establishes sustainable programmes that will benefit our students and society at large. The programme is aligned with our strategy, ENVISION2030, which intends to ensure that by 2030, “Our people will be creative, innovative, entrepreneurial and adaptive to changes in the world”. Through our Society Perspective, we aspire to become an engaged University that positions itself to leverage new knowledge and solutions for societal impact. To deliver this programme we have used our strategic partnerships with THENSA, our Irish Partners and the Irish Ambassador. We expect the first cohort of the 51 students to work hard and complete the programme successfully and spread out the word to the rest of the students who may not be aware of it”, said Prof Moyo.

Prof Moyo extended her gratitude to Prof Motaung (Director: TTI) for the positive energy she brings to the University and for supporting the students and staff in innovation and entrepreneurship and pointed out that as DUT we were fortunate enough to attract a researcher who is also a practical entrepreneur.

“Our students must take advantage of all the resources the University has put in place and the resource persons. Thanks once again to THENSA, Dr Padayachee and her Professional Team for ensuring we delivered on this programme. Thanks also to our DUT Support Teams from Audio Visual, Corporate Affairs and ICTS,” added Prof Moyo.

Pictured: Prof Keolebogile Motaung, TTI Director at DUT and DUT’s DVC: RIE, Prof Sibusiso Moyo along with the participants of the THENSA Online Entrepreneurship Programme.

Simangele Zuma