This week the 100th mentor has joined VC4Africa’s Mentorship Marketplace! This online peer-to-peer platform connects entrepreneurs in Africa with local and global business experts, as a part of the VC4Africa community with thousands of members across Africa and the rest of the world. We had a chance to catch up with some of the 100 mentors and around 100 mentees on the platform focused on building successful African businesses.
Since the launch of the Mentorship Marketplace in April 2013, 58 matches have been made between entrepreneurs and business experts to date, of which around 15 have been closed successfully. In many other cases the mentoring process is still ongoing, and new requests are added every few days.
All entrepreneurs who have registered a venture on the VC4Africa platform have the ability to submit a request for mentorship support on the VC4Africa Mentorship Marketplace (vc4a.com/mentors). Once these requests are screened and posted it’s up to one of the VC4Africa mentors to step forward and to see what can be done to support the entrepreneur. The 100 mentors presently listed on the online marketplace are based in more than 25 countries. Most are in Africa, followed by Europe, the US and the rest of the world.
Many entrepreneurs have been positively impacted since the launch of the marketplace. “The platform gathers all Africa minded businesspeople in one place”, says one participating entrepreneur. “It gives us the opportunity to meet people who are in a position to change our enterprises”, says another. ”Participating made me understand what is in the mind of the investors, and this really helped me to improve my business plan and financial strategy.”
We also asked some mentors how they experienced the marketplace. “It makes the world flatter”, says one of the mentors. “I’ve met entrepreneurs I would not have met otherwise”. “Something I liked is learning from different cultures, but also seeing that sales models are universal”, says another mentor. “Sharing knowledge and experience is great.” They mention helping entrepreneurs implement new approaches, attract new customers, sign new agreements, helping with competitions and more. “I have learnt from my mentee and he has learnt from me too”, one mentor shares. “I developed a better understanding of Africa’s SME’s”, another one adds. ”Great to learn the different ways of support VC4Africa is planning and doing for the ecosystem”. “Africa is booming with ideas and opportunities. People here are looking for change, it is a good time to be in this space and VC4Africa is reconfirming that!”
Collinet Itoe, Founder and CEO of Africa Advanced Supplies Ltd., wasn’t too sure about the benefits of the marketplace at first: “When I signed up for mentorship on VC4Africa, I didn’t think it would be quite an interesting thing to do, because I haven’t had anyone coach me on the web before.” Collinet was matched to Karel Verbeek, CSO at the IT company Condigne in The Netherlands. After making first contact they set up meeting dates and began discussions on a weekly basis.
“Karel would ask questions and I would respond to his questions by mail or Skype. From time to time, I would also raise some difficulties I faced and he would provide me with solutions based on his experiences in my industry”, Collinet explains.
As they progressed, a clear picture emerged of the challenges Collinet faced as an entrepreneur in his industry in Cameroon. “Solutions to some of these issues were amazing and helped improve the way I do business now” he shares now.
“The single greatest thing I learned from my mentor was the ability to use existing clients as referrals when prospecting new or potential clients. That is the ability to convince an existing client to accompany me for a demo or deal closing meeting with a new customer. During such meetings, the existing client gives the new client facts on the reasons why he thinks the new client should use my solutions. Using this strategy, I managed to acquire two new clients in December. One was a hotel where I installed a hotel management system, and one was a supermarket where I installed a point of sales system.”
Today Collinet is very happy he joined the online marketplace. “It has been great working with a mentor and I won’t hesitate to continue, as we learn every single day. I believe with the right mentorship and goodwill from both the mentor and the entrepreneur, there is always room for new ideas and business growth.”
Karel Verbeek is CSO at ICT company Condigne, based in the Netherlands (EU), and before this has been a CEO, CSO and investor. “In 2013 I got involved with VC4A. The process of signing up was easy and there was a good follow up by the VC4A organization. This included also a personal conversation and screening.”
He explains: “Being a business coach is a good way for me to learn about ways of doing business in Africa – especially IT related. After I signed up, VC4Africa proposed a good candidate based on my profile and on the questions from the entrepreneurs on the online marketplace. The fit between company AAS and entrepreneur Collinet as a mentee and myself as a business coach is very good.”
He continues: “We reached the best outcome one can dream of: giving new ideas and models to AAS, which they implemented, which after hardly any time resulted in new business for the company! At this moment the level of coaching is very operational: I help them on an operational level by asking questions and giving them suggestions based on my experiences in other countries. Sales is in a way universal.”
What’s your story?
The match between Karel and Collinet is only one of many examples. Mentor Preetam Heeramun, a UK based Research and Product Development Manager, shares: “I was very excited when I heard about the launch of VC4Africa’s Mentorship Marketplace, which I thought was a very innovative idea. The process to get involved as a mentor was very simple, quick and efficient with me being able to start working with the matched mentee within almost a week of signing up. Support was easily accessible when required and I enjoyed the collaboration with my mentee, which lead to some positive results with his business.”
Mentor Preetam Heeramun shares as the single greatest outcome from his participation: “Exposure to valuable mentoring experiences, with enthusiastic and dedicated entrepreneurs within the VC4Africa community who really want to succeed.”
Entrepreneur Hugo Obi of Nigerian company Save and Buy adds: “When I signed up on VC4Africa’s Mentorship Marketplace I was looking for guidance and a sounding board for the funding of my start up. Once I was matched with a mentor, the working relationship became immediately fruitful and we were able to discuss my current needs in detail. The most valued part of the mentorship has been frank and constructive feedback. The fact that I felt like they genuinely shared my passion has been a bonus. It has been valuable to have someone to turn to for encouragement in the fundraising process.” Hugo mentions as the greatest outcome from his participation: “being encouraged to participate in competitions which have led to introductions and resulted in early stage funding”.
Entrepreneur Gilles Ajavon of the Senegal based company Ujamaa shares: “I was matched to a mentor based on his experience with Senegal, West Africa and his ability to speak French. My mentor Tom Komor’s qualities helped a lot in perfecting my startup Ujamaa’s business plan. The greatest outcome in my participation with VC4Africa’s mentorship program was to participate and reach the top 30 of the GIST Tech-I Competition 2012, followed by my admission in Buntu Teki by CTIC DAKAR, an acceleration program for startups.”
Of course there are always new milestones at the horizon. VC4Africa listed entrepreneur Collinet of Africa Advanced Supplies Ltd. adds: “My wish at the moment is to raise equity financing of about $50,000 USD to enable me to increase my sales force, market coverage in different cities, start production of supplies I currently import and keep a minimum level of stock. I would wish to double my performance in 2014. I am hopping to secure financing in exchange for shares in my company or as a short term loan.”
But the online marketplace also shows it isn’t about fundraising alone. When an entrepreneur faces a 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.
We invite you to get involved too! Want to help promising entrepreneurs build great companies? Get involved as a mentor! Interested in tapping a global network of experts for your business free of charge? Submit a request for mentorship support! (only for entrepreneurs who have registered a venture with VC4Africa) Once the requests are screened and posted it’s up to one of the VC4Africa mentors to step forward and to see what can be done to support the entrepreneur. For more info, see vc4a.com/mentors!