What do Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Mark Zuckerberg have in common? They all dropped out of school and founded successful businesses – Microsoft, Virgin Group and Facebook, respectively. But they also share another distinction: they are not known to have had mentors.
And so while they succeeded in the end, they lacked the startup foundation needed to guide them in the initial stages that comes through mentoring – and that perhaps explains why each of them had false starts before stabilising. Mentoring, the art of an experienced and knowledgeable person passing on the knowledge, experience and skills to a less experienced person, has been around for years but it has remained in traditional fashion of informal arrangement to have a successful person “mentor” others which, in the strict sense of the word, should be role model.
“There are many who may claim to be business advisors or even mentors today,” says Mr Daniel Huba, the Co-ordinator of the Regional Centre for Enterprise Development (RCED) at Inoorero University. “It doesn’t mean that if you are an effective business consultant that you can naturally become a business mentor.” Business Mentoring has an additional pillar to the technical skills – that is the soft skills, or the how of building relationships.
RCED is positioning itself as a mentoring trainer as it seeks to professionalise an area that is just beginning to make sense to many business people and start-up owners in Africa. Mr Huba says streamlining it into a profession will bring order to the business mentoring industry. The Centre was started early this year by Inoorero University, whose core academic mission is enterprise. RCED six months ago launched the mentoring course and the pioneering group of 25 mentors is set to graduate on December 16 and move to the Professional Business Mentors Network (PBMNet), where they will be expected to mentor at least five entrepreneurs each in the next 12 months – thus reaching 115 entrepreneurs in the year 2012.
The mentorship training is supported by the Royal Danish Embassy of Nairobi and is implemented in collaboration with International Labour Organisation – through the Youth Entrepreneurship Facility (ILO-YEF); Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE); Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA); Africa Youth Trust (AYT); Enablis Limited and Kenya Association of Women Business Owners (KAWBO).
“Those interested in training as business mentors identify an entrepreneur (mentee) they wish to walk along with during the six months of training,” says Mr Huba. “While on training the mentors are further grouped in fives and allocated a tutor who provides them support as they work on the mentees business.” The training assignments are based on real cases of the mentee’s enterprises.
At the end of the six months course, the mentors graduate and join the Professional Business Mentors Network, the industry’s professional peer organisation. The gaps among owners of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and the low success levels in local businesses point to a missing link in business advisory and mentorship. “From our continued engagement with the entrepreneurs through the Annual Enablis business Launchpad competition,” Mr Huba says, “we noticed that most of the MSMEs have no business systems, they are not particular on what value proposition they offer to their target market.
Others are either choking from cycles of loans or are not aware or prepared to access financial services.” With a huge pool of professional mentors, RCED hopes such cases will reduce as business owners will have someone to hold their hands and walking along with them even in turbulent times, especially during the startup stage before the business finds it footing. “Mentorship is necessary to all forms of businesses although it takes different forms,” says Mr Huba.
“For small businesses, mentorship helps in consolidating the business ideas, market and setting up systems, while for large enterprises it may be concerned with looking at the efficiency of their business systems, expansion of markets, and distinguishing their business ideas, among others.”