VC4Africa’s strength is in its member base. We strongly believe in a peer-to-peer approach and foster an open culture of learning and sharing. Mentorship has a critical role. When an entrepreneur faces a particular challenge we are convinced there are members within the VC4Africa network who have the answers and are willing to lend their insight, expertise and experience. Today we have a chance to catch up with David van Dijk, a VC4Africa officer helping us to further shape the mentorship program.
Please tell us about your background and expertise?
‘The past 15 years I have worked for large international companies in the field of shipping and logistics. I spent time in West Africa. I was based in Dakar (go my lions of Taranga) and in Abidjan. I was also in North Africa (4 years in beautiful Cairo) in addition to postings in India, Russia, the USA and my home country the Netherlands.
My experience is in general management, in running and growing companies, in working in different parts of the world and working with people from all kinds of backgrounds and cultures. I am exploring what it is to be an entrepreneur and managing start-ups.
My educational background is in Economics and Business. I recently completed a post graduate course in International Affairs.’
Why did you decide to join VC4Africa as an officer?
‘The reason I got involved is because I very much believe in the development of Africa via simple honest hardworking blood- sweat-and-tears grass roots entrepreneurs. They will be the key to the success of Africa more so then international organizations, NGO’s and the likes (of which some are doing great work).
The reason I want to stay involved with VC4Africa is also very much because of the positive vibe, the positive spirit of getting things done, looking towards the future and reaching for the (African) stars.
And then I am also learning a lot. I have a very ‘old economy’ background, handling export shipments of cotton from Mali or cocoa butter from Cote d’Ivoire or working with Chinese construction companies entering the African marketplace, but I have had little exposure over the years to for example smart mobile payment schemes or other new economy ventures (but am catching up… by now I know that MailChimp is not an endangered species and the difference between PHP and Flash).’
How do you think mentorship can support entrepreneurs?
‘In different ways. Probably the most straightforward way is in sharing knowledge. In some cases support can be by having someone, a neutral but experienced person, to bounce off ideas or someone to have a second opinion and is critical of certain plans and visions. There will be entrepreneurs who will have little benefit of a mentor and others who I hope will find great benefit.’
Can you tell us about the mentorship program at VC4Africa?
‘For now the program is simply matching entrepreneurs who have questions to seasoned business people who have experience in starting companies or experience in a specific field, say online marketing or financial planning.’
How is the program structured?
‘The current structure is very simple and little more then matching entrepreneurs with the right mentors. There are no fixed rules. A more elaborate and much more structured program will be the Booster program where the VC4Africa team really gets involved in working with the entrepreneurial team to get the venture investment ready. You could consider the mentor program a stage prior to the booster.
There is an ongoing discussion how and if we should ‘professionalize’ the mentor program, work with a more fixed format, more guidelines, make more tools available, etc. Ultimately the entrepreneurs should drive the changes and flag what is most needed rather then me or the VC4Africa team. Although we all think the mentor program is a key element to the future of the VC4Africa community.’
What do you like about?
‘I like the peer-to-peer concept. Entrepreneurs (predominately) in Africa helping out other entrepreneurs in (predominately) Africa. Helping each other get to the next level which in most cases will benefit both.’
If I am an entrepreneur, when can I make use of this program?
‘Entrepreneurs that have published venture profiles on the site can apply. Ideally the entrepreneur also has a business plan ready or at a minimum a more then rough outline. In terms of product or service they should be in a ‘go live’ stage. In my experience a mentor can be of most value when there are specific issues or questions. That also helps in matching the right mentor with the menthe i.e. say there are problems with how to reach your potential customers then we can try to match you with some one who has come up with a solid go-to-market strategy themselves. Too often I see an entrepreneur who is asking for a mentor just to have a mentor and little comes out of that.’
How do I apply?
‘Simply contact me. I will probably ask a number of questions and try to understand who you are, what the business is all about about and what challenges you face. Next is probably a Skype call. Meantime I am talking to possible mentors to see who we could approach for a good match. If all goes well, we match you up with a mentor and agree on a mentoring process. As a model, for the following 6 weeks we would facilitate a call every other Monday, evaluate and agree on next steps after the 6 wks, etc etc. Ideally with some pretty firm targets and deadlines, but that is largely driven by what the entrepreneur wants and what makes sense to the mentor.’
Any final message you would like to add for the community?
‘I think key in any program, and anything we do, is that the entrepreneur is in charge and stays in control. The mentor program is there to help in case needed or desired. But don’t expect a mentor to write your business plan, negotiate with investors or take over your business. That is not going to happen and at the end of the day the responsibility to make things happen will always be the entrepreneur’s responsibility.’
How can members contact you?
‘Via the VC4Africa site or via mail at firstname.lastname@example.org’
Thanks David. We look forward to following the progress of the mentorship program and to documenting success stories as they develop. Many times, the ‘non-financial’ part of building a great business is actually the most important and where something like the mentorship group could generate the most value.