Dubai: Despite the best intentions, local mentoring programmes for small business owners have been confined to sage advice being handed down by experts at conferences or seminars. As such, these tend to be one-dimensional and the benefits are largely short-lived.
What is lacking are mentoring initiatives run by entrepreneurs who have been through the grind and made the transition to running successful — and self-sustaining — businesses. That may well become a thing of the past if a grouping of business owners has its way.
There are nascent plans by the local chapter of the Entrepreneurs' Organisation (EO) to implement a programme that would actually go on to make a difference for business owners still finding their way.
At the global level, "The Entrepreneurs' Organisation has initiated the EO Accelerator that helps develop those who currently lie below the $1 million revenue figure and develop them into potential members of the future," Ashish Panjabi, president of the UAE Chapter and chief operating officer of Jacky's Group, said.
"This hasn't been rolled out by the UAE Chapter just yet, but could be something regional chapters embark upon in the future."
The Accelerator programme provides for a series of quarterly "learning" events where those who sign up are provided with the tools, the knowledge set and the skills to nurture their business past the critical $1million revenue goal.
To participate in the Accelerator initiative, the business owner must be the founder of an enterprise with annual revenues of between $250,000 and $1 million. The UAE Chapter came into being eight years ago.
Indeed, the core of the entity's being is passing on knowledge to make the learning curve less steep for those who are treading the same path. "EO thrives on peer-to-peer learning and the only way to share the experiences of all these entrepreneurs is to have programmes in place that enable this to happen," Panjabi said. "If this isn't done, it becomes a mere networking club and no different to other business or social clubs."
There are more than 50 members in the UAE Chapter, who represent self-owned businesses located in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. Members represent businesses as varied as shipping to manufacturing and there is even a dentist and a lawyer.
"The classic trap that many organisations fall into is recruit too many members too fast and they become mere subscribers as there isn't a proper process to initiate them," Panjabi said.
Another thing the entity will not be doing is open its doors to start-ups. "The challenges faced by a start-up entrepreneur and an established one are quite different," Panjabi added. "Thus, in a peer-to-peer learning environment that EO fosters, the value-add that both sets of entrepreneurs would expect may not be achieved by having them in one group."
"Start-ups are thinking about initial funding, viability of their business model and establishing themselves whereas an established entrepreneur is thinking about professionalising their organisational structure and systems, looking at future growth or even exploring exit opportunities."
Members are placed in groups of six to eight persons as part of the ‘Forum' process, where peer-to-peer issues confronting them can be dissected. "To get experiences of that kind of diversity is something that most of us struggle to find," Panjabi said.
Coping with challenges
It would be a different set of concerns that a local entrepreneur would have to face up to this year based on whether his business is a start-up or has reached a certain operational maturity. "For start-ups, access to funding would be the biggest concern in 2012," Hassan Al Hazeem, the vice-president and president-elect of the Entrepreneurs' Organization — UAE Chapter, said.
"However, for established entrepreneurs, the challenges are more diverse. Achieving growth in spite of market conditions, deciding on an exit strategy, and developing a professional organisation are a few such challenges."
Top priorities for 2012
- Learning: To continue having the learning events that are relevant to entrepreneurs.
- Membership: To continue attracting quality members who live the five EO values — Boldly Go, Trust and Respect, Cool, Thirst for Learning, and Make a Mark.
- Forum: Continue enhancing the Forum experience as the value of this peer-to-peer experience sharing has been the number one reason for members to keep renewing their memberships.