Mapping the UCT Entrepreneurship Ecosystem

10 July 2020 | DVC A/Prof Lis Lange

Dear colleagues and students

I am writing with some exciting news about how the University of Cape Town (UCT) is pushing the boundaries of education to support our students and staff.

Entrepreneurship has become increasingly prevalent in the 21st century, and to become successful in this widely varied field a person requires a specialised set of skills. This is perhaps even more relevant in a country like South Africa where unemployment rates remain high and people are increasingly opening their own small businesses to earn a living. In this context, creating opportunities to learn about and develop entrepreneurship both as a skill set and a social value has become an essential aspect of the education we offer at UCT.

In 2018, with support and funding from the Vice-Chancellor’s Office, the UCT Leadership Lekgotla endorsed a project aimed at supporting the growth of entrepreneurship at our university – the UCT Innovation and Entrepreneurship Project, which is located in our Careers Service department in the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED). As a first step, the project steering committee commissioned a qualitative research study in 2019 to map UCT’s entrepreneurship ecosystem. Having a good understanding of this ecosystem will allow the institution to better support its diverse entrepreneurship offerings to both students and staff.

The report from this study is now available and I would like to encourage you to engage with it.

Read the summary of key findings of the UCT Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Study.

What follows is a summary of the eight key findings:

  1. Mapping the UCT entrepreneurship ecosystem
    The study ambitiously sought to present a map which would allow for both gap analysis and creating awareness of existing initiatives.
  2. Systems of entrepreneurship within the ecosystem
    One of the key themes that emerged was the different “systems of entrepreneurship” that exist within the UCT ecosystem. Each of these systems of entrepreneurship call on different approaches to validation, funding, development, support and education.
  3. A model to guide the support of entrepreneurship at UCT
    This model emerged from the research by combining the system of entrepreneurship with dimensions of support, which can be drawn upon to holistically guide the ongoing support of entrepreneurship at UCT.
  4. What works against entrepreneurship at UCT?
    The UCT environment was described as “politicised”, very “disciplined”, “theoretical” and “regimented”, which the participants felt was not always beneficial for entrepreneurs.
  5. How is entrepreneurship fostered at UCT?
    The study found that UCT influences the thinking of students and researchers, widens their horizons to think more broadly, and provides many things that student entrepreneurs could leverage in the future, e.g. networks, education and resources. As a result of this, innovation is unlocked.
  6. Pockets of excellence exist across the university entrepreneurship community
    Innovation and entrepreneurship exist within some surprising spaces. Groups within the Faculty of Humanities are actively preparing their students for the gig economy. A group within the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment have aligned with global standards geared towards optimising commercial readiness, and donor research funding is being applied for with a view to later commercialise spin-offs to ensure financial sustainability. At a practical level, access to UCT resources, such as unlimited broadband and many online tools, is further unlocking innovation among student entrepreneurs.
  7. Defining the UCT entrepreneur
    Participants were asked how they would identify a UCT entrepreneur in a crowd. The study grouped responses into four elements: intellectual, emotional, beliefs and values, and their outward appearance, which is defined as “This person is unconventional, unique and independent.”
  8. Recommendations put forward by participants
    Throughout the research, recommendations for how the institution might appropriately better support entrepreneurship among UCT students and staff were made. Nine of these recommendations are presented in the summary of key findings. Recommendations include the need for a more coordinated and centralised approach to entrepreneurship at UCT, an increase in opportunities for student entrepreneurs to network, and adding an element of entrepreneurship to some degrees. Please read the summary of key findings of the UCT Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Study for the full list of recommendations.

I would like to thank the project steering committee for this valuable piece of work, and I look forward to supporting their next steps and initiatives in order to continue the meaningful capacitation of our student and staff entrepreneurs. If you would like to know more about the UCT Innovation and Entrepreneurship Project, or would like to find out how to participate, please contact

Warm regards

Associate Professor Lis Lange
Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning

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