DR. CHRIS VAN ZYL
Dr. Chris van Zyl is the Head of the Management Department in the Faculty of Management Sciences at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. He holds PhD, MBA and Honors degrees from the University of Stellenbosch as well as two more qualifications in the medical sciences. He has more than 21 years of experience as an academic in Higher Educational Institutions. He is passionate about the mapping of the Namibian Entrepreneurship Ecosystem which is an ongoing project. He is currently a team member of an international consortium of universities that are funded by DAAD to establish renewable energy mini-grids in some identified rural areas of Namibia that could contribute towards the creation of entrepreneurial opportunities for rural societies.
Entrepreneurs need an encouraging environment within which they could innovate, prosper and grow their enterprises. This environment is referred to as an
ecosystem. In an optimally functional entrepreneurial ecosystem, different actors interact dynamically with some other actors in the system to create value or profits.
The different actors within an entrepreneurial ecosystem are categorized according to their respective value propositions or functions that each performs, in other words each actor performs a specific set or a combination of value addition functions. For instance, the provision of specialised professional services, the manufacturing of products and distribution of certain products, etc.
The entrepreneur is central within this entrepreneurial ecosystem. Other important actors within the ecosystem are political leaders and policy makers, competitors, suppliers, customers, labourers, educational institutions, banks, venture capitalists, general society with its norms, values and beliefs, necessary infrastructure, non-governmental organisations and support professionals such as accountants, attorneys, etc. In ideal conditions, the entrepreneur (or the customer alternatively) should have easy access to all the contact details of all the actors in the ecosystem and should be able to communicate freely and unrestricted with each and every other actor within the ecosystem. This is not the case in Namibia since access to complete information is fragmented and in some cases not available at all. There is no single and complete database of information available in Namibia which provides contact details of all the relevant actors in the Namibian entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Entrepreneurial ecosystems are dynamic and change over time. This process could be explained by the industry lifecycle concept. In the industry lifecycle concept a start-up enterprise goes through an initial emerging stage, then proceeding through a growth phase, followed by a maturing phase and then goes into a decline phase. Innovation and an adjustment of the way things are being done is usually necessary to prevent an enterprise from becoming redundant. Innovation-driven entrepreneurs have effective methods how to access key resources in order to revitalize their enterprises. They access it through social networks and by applying mental processes that are focused on, for instance, growth and sustainability of their enterprises. The networking capabilities of these successful entrepreneurs in the ecosystem keep themselves motivated and connected to other actors in the ecosystem based on good relationships. Thriving ecosystems do not have high entry barriers or barriers for access to the necessary resources for actors. Entrepreneurs in thriving ecosystems usually know where to find all kinds of required resources that they need for their enterprises. Strong ecosystems allow entrepreneurs to quickly find knowledge and resources they need in order to succeed in their enterprises. Well connected ecosystems have huge opportunities for crowdfunding or crowdsourcing.
Access to resources is critical for entrepreneurs to maintain the integrity of ecosystems. Capital structure and capital heterogeneity are significant aspects for the maintenance and viability of entrepreneurial ecosystems. The role of capital connectors as actors in the ecosystem to link the capital resource needs of entrepreneurs to capital providers in the system cannot be underestimated.
Successful entrepreneurs and ventures contribute towards employment creation, political and socio-economic stability. These actors usually create an environment where innovation could thrive and an atmosphere where attitudes towards self-sustainment are cultivated. The latter usually leads to the development of healthy competitive behaviours which is necessary for actors to compete for quality, price, availability and convenient access to products and services. Effective government policies and regulations, appropriate support and social factors as well as entrepreneurial education and training are all positively associated with worthy entrepreneurial performances.
The success of enterprises in ecosystems are largely dependent on the attributes of the entrepreneur. This leads to the question of how entrepreneurs could be equipped with the required qualities in order to succeed. The role of Higher Educational Institutions and Vocational Training Institutions as critically important actors in the entrepreneurial ecosystem cannot be ignored. Universities are known for their roles in the development of knowledge, technology and the commercialisation of intellectual property rights. Educational institutions have a responsibility to support their enrolled students, but also to provide attention to the upliftment of under-privileged portions of society as potential contributors to entrepreneurial ecosystem successes. The university’s role in personal and economic development for social inclusion of under-represented members of society is a fundamental input to stimulate greater involvement of society in ecosystem activities.
The role of the university to engage rural or small communities for inclusion in entrepreneurial ecosystems would have some benefits for these societies. They would get access to a variety of resources; be sensitised to transformative cultural and attitudinal needs for adaptation and inclusion; improved coordination and cooperation for access to markets for their products and access to potential investors and social entrepreneurship opportunities. Access to relevant technology is a necessity for rural enterprises to fully utilise the benefits associated with being in continuous contact with other actors in an entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Mapping an ecosystem is essential for getting the local communities within the ecosystem engaged and committed. How does one go about to map an ecosystem? The first requirement is to find the relevant information about all the actors in the ecosystem. Secondly to categorise and organize the information. Thirdly to create an ecosystem map and to share it with other actors in the ecosystem.
Namibia University of Science and Technology has identified the need to map the Namibian entrepreneurial ecosystem. This process would be a continuous process since ecosystems are dynamic and change regularly over time. The actors in the Namibian entrepreneurial ecosystem will be categorized according to the Region, formal or informal sector of the economy, industry and sub-industries, etc. A unified database will be created and maintained by the university and be made available to all other stakeholders in the greater Namibian ecosystem for comment, updating and sharing. In this way the university will attempt to assist in the sharing of information which could improve the entrepreneurial activities in Namibia.