As corporates and smaller firms around the world reel from the effects of the global economic downturn, Shell LiveWIRE International – a network designed to inspire and develop enterprise in young people – has released results of a survey that everyone but an entrepreneur will find amazing.

According to the study, one in three entrepreneurs says his or her business confidence remained unchanged during the depths of the recession; while more than six out of ten expect their businesses to perform “significantly better” over the next 12 months.

The message is clear: “Entrepreneurship will save the world,” says Mark Levy, Co-founder of Linkbook. “It is the foundation of real innovation and the key to taking advantage of the massive opportunities that currently exist in South Africa and the African continent, even as the world picks itself up from the recession.”

Having started and successfully run ten businesses across a variety of industries, Levy should know. “There is a huge difference between working for someone else and working for yourself,” he says. “And, contrary to what many think, it isn’t just about taking risks. It’s about finding gaps in markets and coming up with ways to meet those needs.”

A father of two, Levy comes from a family of entrepreneurs. “I suppose it’s in my blood,” he says. “I never really had any thoughts of doing anything but working for myself.” A short stint in a bank as a teenager confirmed his need to be in a dynamic, unrestricted environment.

“I think all businesses start out in the entrepreneurial realm. However as they grow, there’s a need for more governance and corporatisation, which can stifle innovation. What I do believe they offer, though, is intrapreneurship – the creating of opportunities for entrepreneurs.”

The explosive growth of multimedia communication and information technology (IT) has helped those aspiring to become entrepreneurs. Easy reach to the masses – and the source of opportunities – is one of the major contributions to business that IT has provided. Levy believes this, too, has enabled more people to exercise their entrepreneurial spirit. “This is one of the things we see our latest offering, the Linkbook, enabling people to do.” From a single conversation in a hotel room overseas, work began on the sourcing of the Linkbook, as well as its customisation and simplification to make it the ideal entry-level computer for the masses.

“This is a ‘highlight opportunity’ for me,” Levy says. “In a continent where education is both vital and life-changing, the Linkbook offers the ultimate in opportunity in an affordable, ready-to-go-online package.”

It’s an example of what Levy believes true entrepreneurialism to be: Have the idea, find the gap and follow through. It took a full year from that first conversation to the launch of the Linkbook. “That’s the ‘perspiration’ part of the deal,” he says. “Seeing the gap was simple. There is only an estimated 10% PC penetration in South Africa, meaning millions of people are unable to take advantage of the phenomenal opportunities the internet offers. We knew that the two key areas here were affordability and ease of use – and the Linkbook brings both.”

The lightweight, 8.9” screened computer comes pre-loaded with local content dealing with education, starting your own business and a host of other valuable information. Internet and e-mail access – with all its information and opportunity for learners – is a click away.

“I have started many businesses, but this is the one that I feel I would most like to be noted for,” says Levy. “This is the one we know can make a massive difference to people previously unable to afford the costs involved in owning a computer and getting online access.”

The Linkbook is available on contract through Vodacom at just R199.00 per month, putting it well within reach of learners and entrepreneurs who need to be accessible to their learning institutions and potential clients. The cost of the Linkbook itself works out to R40.00 per month.

“I believe that part of my responsibility as an entrepreneur is to encourage free enterprise and innovation, and the Linkbook does just that. My business partner and I also mentor the heads of each company in our Group, and we encourage a spirit of enthusiasm for new ideas.”

According to Professor Robert D. Hisrich, Ph.D., of Thunderbird School of Global Management in the USA, large corporations that benefit the most from bailouts won’t save the world from economic crisis. “The entrepreneurial community is the one that is going to bring the economy back. They will make the greatest contribution in net employment and the greatest contribution in new products and services.”

Levy and his associates know this. They know, too, that they key to successful entrepreneurship is not only about ideas and opportunities, but about sticking with the entire process, however long that takes. “Failure is part of the journey and should never be a reason to quit. Ideas don’t become successful products over night, but grow incrementally. My advice to other entrepreneurs? Reputation is everything. Integrity and long-term thinking enables you to build a successful business – and not at anyone else’s expense.”

This article was published on Women Inc, the complete resource for the working woman. Women Inc offers articles on entrepreneurship, management, personal effectiveness and issues beyond the workplace (www.womeninc.co.za).

Small Business Forum

The Small Business Forum is an independent network of entrpreneurs and small business owners established to encourage and support the creation, growth and development of small business in South Africa.

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