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Shawn Theunissen - Ten Years Of Big Impacts

The year 2018 marks a decade of impact for Property Point, which has been a driver of transformation and small business growth within the property industry over the ten years since it was founded by Growthpoint Properties in 2008.

To date, Property Point has created 2066 full-time jobs and R865.6 million in procurement opportunities generated for the 130 SMEs that have participated in its two-year incubation programmes. These small businesses have reported 43% growth in revenue.

In April this year, Property Point celebrated its largest class of graduates so far. Twentyone thriving small businesses graduated from its robust two year incubation programme.

Shawn Theunissen, Head of Property Point, says, "We are incredibly proud to celebrate a decade of impact. From the start of our journey building sustainable small businesses, we focused on the need to see and measure our impacts. We believe if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it. We wanted to apply best practice impact measurement to see what we are delivering. Ten years down the line, consensus is that we have been able to fine-tune a lot of what goes into an effective business support programme, whether an incubator or accelerator. We have really been able to show an impact."

The seeds for Property Point were first planted when Theunissen received a scholarship to study in Denmark. At the time he was consulting to Investec.

Growthpoint, which was then managed by Investec Property Group, required help with their enterprise development efforts. Theunissen's masters' thesis became the basis for Growthpoint's enterprise and supplier development strategy, and ultimately Property Point.

In Denmark, Theunissen focused on user-driven innovation and concept making, which surmises that in order to innovate and disrupt you need to understand your user and your context.

This global thinking about innovation, married with the local context in South Africa and with Theunissen's own passion for developing people and businesses was combined to apply drive to an economic development programme for Growthpoint.

The research began with understanding the programme's users - the stakeholders. For corporates, it considered the value proposition of developing small business outside of the compliance environment, and local B-BBEE legislation. For small black businesses, which at that time were very much a minority in the South African economy, it assessed needs and obstacles.

What came out of the research was that a significant gap existed. Initial feedback from corporates was that small businesses are not compliant, they don't have the technical capacity to be able to deliver, they don't have the track record, and they needed to be trialled. From a small business perspective, the initial needs were access to funding, markets and mentors, and simply getting insight into the industry. They didn't know how to break corporate procurement barriers to create sustainable opportunities.

Property Point was developed to close that gap and its goals extended beyond growing small businesses to creating an environment that enables more opportunities for small business.

However, in developing its programme, Theunissen realised that barriers also existed at the psychological level and he started exploring the notion of unconscious biases. "Working with small businesses can be high risk. If a business is small and black-owned, the perception of risk can be even higher."

Tackling this challenge head-on, Property Point set out to change perceptions. After all, perception is reality. Its solution was to build the reputation of the businesses it works with - on both sides of the fence; with the opportunity holder and the small business itself.

"We really want to change the narrative around black business," emphasises Theunissen. To do this, Property Point encourages small businesses to sell their ability to deliver in excellence and to highlight their value proposition rather than their B-BBEE level.

"Building a reputation means promoting your track record, which underscores your credibility, capability and competency," he explains.

With its innovative approach and measurable results creating credible, sustainable businesses that are able to grow, create jobs and contribute positively to the economy, over the past decade Property Point has become a leading partnership platform for both public and private participation in small business development for the property sector.

Property Point has enjoyed a home with Growthpoint, a pioneering and entrepreneurial organisation that has spearheaded the ability to support small businesses and showcased opportunities for these businesses.

It has also attracted partners such as leading JSE-listed property company Attacq and the South African Department of Small Business Development.

"These leaders have aimed their focus on the end-goal of creating businesses that are thriving, growing the economy and creating jobs," says Theunissen.

Looking to the future, Property Point has the potential to become an initiative for the entire property industry and beyond, having established its own track record as a benchmark for providing entrepreneurship development with a focus on growing impacts.

Replaying his personal journey, Theunissen says, "Property Point is something that I am passionate about and proud of. As a father of four children, I always regard Property Point as my fifth child.

It is very rewarding to have put pen to paper and, ten years down the line, see how it has bloomed and grown. It is also gratifying to know there were other people who believed in and supported this idea. They were willing to put funding behind it, enabling it to grow to the extent it has today."

Theunissen teases that his unofficial title is Chief Potential Officer, because his role is seeing every opportunity of potential and believing in people. "I believe every business that has been part of Property Point has been gratified to see their growth, from where they started to now. I feel like the proud parent of every single business that has come through the process. It's not just the businesses that have grown, but the people too. That is the power of possibility. People have taken a risk on me to lead this process and now I get to do the same with others; it's incredibly rewarding."


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