Skills development initiative

Sales and marketing manager Simon Meyer, left, and chief operations officer Clyde Erasmus
Picture: Eugene Coetzee

PE firm setting up incubator to help others acquire design, engineering and business experience

A Port Elizabeth automotive and engineering company is positioning itself as a visionary for the industry, with plans to develop skills and small businesses through a newly established incubator.

By starting this incubator, Steelbest Manufacturing – which provides sheet metal production components for both automotive and non-automotive uses – is hoping to breed a new generation of designers, engineers and business leaders from its premises in Redhouse.

Chief operations officer Clyde Erasmus said the idea for the incubator, which will welcome 20 professionals and graduates in March, was born out of a desperate situation following the company’s inception in April last year.

“We came into the manufacturing game [because] there was a lot of business – but three months in, we realised there was no work out there,” Erasmus said.

“The challenge that dawned on us was that [we had to] prove our worth in the market.”

Besides being a BEE level 1 company, Erasmus realised they would need more of an edge over their competitors.

“[We thought] if we can design [our own products], we can manipulate the market and control what happens. That is where the idea was born.”

For this reason, the incubator would be divided in two parts, Steelbest sales and marketing manager Simon Meyer, who also manages the incubator, said. “We are creating two streams that we hope will meet,” Meyer said.

“On the one side, we will have pure designers, who will be taught to draw on different platforms – for automotive functions, but we’ve also kept it flexible to allow for maritime and aerospace engineering [possibilities].

“The second group will be existing SMMEs that we can assist. We want to put these two groups in the same space, so we can have a mix of businesses with good ideas and designers that can translate those ideas into prototypes.”

Meyer said each qualified designer could bring 12 job opportunities downstream – which he believed was a key selling point in getting financial support for the incubator from the Department of Small Business Development.

“Incubatees could work for other companies [after the programme], or join the SMMEs that form part of the programme, or we could even create a stand-alone entity of designers.”

The incubator will welcome 10 would-be designers and 10 entrepreneurs early next year, though the initial plan was to work with only 10 people in total, Erasmus said.

“We started something and saw a different, much bigger need.

“At the moment we are forced to source materials from Europe and translate them for [local] needs, but if we can design [products] in South Africa, with South African materials, we can create opportunities for our mills to provide steel to the country.”

Interested parties can still apply for a spot in the incubator programme. For more information, contact rsvp@steelbest.co.za by January 19.

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