Cythia Nyamai, a journalist-turned entrepreneur, is busy preparing her guest-list for a monthly mentorship club that will be held this week. She seems excited by the idea of reaching out to small business owners like herself with information to grow their ventures.
“I am a product of mentorship,” says Ms Nyamai with a smile. “I got to where I am because someone held my hand.”
As she plans her big day, Njeri Rionge, executive director, Ignite Consulting, and her mentor is on the other side of town preparing to open an annual two-day mentorship programme dubbed “Ignite”.
Ms Rionge co-founded a number of business ventures, including Wananchi Online. Her list of speakers includes big names in the Kenya telecommunication and IT business. To get a place, an SME owner has to pay Sh10, 000.
Business mentorship has in the recent past become a growing niche that entrepreneurs have seized to make money, although with a more justifiable approach as fruits of their work become visible. These mentors go out to share with new entrants the experience in business and skills they have gathered over the years.
The question of how much success one ought to have realised in business to begin mentoring others notwithstanding, Rishi Khubchandani, the general manager of Grofin a private equity firm that has financed 40 businesses, says the SMEs sector is under serviced and needs assistance.
“What businesses miss out on is pre-investments consultations. There is lack of this in the market. Currently I only know of two small companies that give the service and this are Open Capital and Genesis Consult. They are small but they are doing great,” said Mr Khubchandani.
His concern is that small business do not know how to go about with strategic business development, creating partnership, dealing with strategic investors and financing.
According to Mr Khubchandani, SMEs need someone to support them, especially when it comes to making important business decisions like buyoffs, mergers and acquisitions.
In the past few years, a number of SMEs in Kenya have attracted buyoffs from blue chip companies of which 90 per cent have died while a few can be seen marching towards growth.
How then can a small business make a decision that will ensure its survival or get its full worth after a buyoff, merger and acquisition?
This is the subject that Benjamin Lyon, Director KOPO KOPO, an IT firm that aggregates mobile payment data for small and medium sized firms (SMEs), admits he often gets nostalgic about.
As he and his business partner sit at their office at iHub, an IT incubation centre on Ngong Road, Nairobi, Mr Lyon says the idea of scaling their venture one day often crosses his mind but mergers, like loan, is one thing that remains a challenge.
Mr Lyon considers himself a green entrepreneur with no idea how to go about amalgamation. Although he seems to have some ideas what he would look out for before merging, he says, like other business owners, he lacks adequate information and would rather “seek counsel on what to look out for” from an expert.
Looking at the decisions small businesses need to make, mentorship forums, clubs or one- on- one mentorship, according to Mr Khubchandani, is the way to go and perhaps the only way to provide service to an industry that has been overlooked.
“The SME space is largely under- serviced and any organisation that can provide what these businesses need is welcome in whatever area, be it marketing, sales, strategic partnership or financing,” he said.
“Symposiums are important avenues for people who are just starting out in business to hear and learn from established enterprises that have walked a similar path. I imagine how much I would have benefited from such a forum when I was new in business. Such environment offers entrepreneurs a chance to assure themselves that their ideas are sound and businesses are viable so they start off on the right footing,” said Njeri.
According to Ms Nyamai, attending business forums to hear from those who have made it is one step in the right direction. “I think it is important to have a mentor, someone who will hold your hand and guide you,” says Ms Nyamai.
“When I was a practising business journalist, I covered challenges that businesses go through but now I am really feeling it. I had no idea how to negotiate with my business partner abroad but luckily my mentor took me through the steps of negotiating.”