Microsoft South Africa is offering small businesses access to online services such as email, a web domain and collaboration tools for free for one year, as part of its new Biz4Afrika program. As well as online services, the firm will also be sponsoring internships for business advisors in each of 43 regional offices of the Small Business Development Agency (SEDA) who will provide support for entrepreneurs who sign up for Biz4Afrika.
Biz4Afrika will be funded out of the 4Afrika CSI program which the company launched in February this year. COO Kevin Turner, who was in Johannesburg for the launch and is one of those tipped to take over the company after the departure of Steve Ballmer at the end of the year, said that 4Afrika is the second largest investment in a single region that the company has ever made.
“Africa is the next emerging market,” Turner said, “We recognise the richness and diversity that Africa has to offer and that a one size fits all approach won’t work.”
Turner explained that Biz4Afrika is a partnership between Microsoft, SEDA, the State Information Technology Agency (SITA), National Small Business Chamber (NSBC) and Vodacom.The company’s vision, Turner says, is to help unlock job opportunities by helping small business expand their IT capacity and ultimately make a dent on South Africa’s high unemployment figures.
“Technology unlocks growth,” Turner said, “Companies using high tech have four points higher job growth than those which don’t, and those who have adopted cloud technology have 14% higher revenue than those who don’t.”
Microsoft hasn’t yet finalised a pricing structure for companies who wish to continue using the Biz4Afrika service after the first year, although details should be available within a few weeks.
Speaking on behalf of Microsoft at the launch Yousef Abramjee, head of Crime Line and communications at Primedia, said that he believes small businesses are the primary engine of job creation, which is vital to reducing crime in the country.
“I believe that initiatives like this can make a difference,” he said.
Microsoft plans to expand the Biz4Afrika project to other countries on the continent at a later date.