Why the GCC’s future entrepreneurs need mentors

There is something inherently admirable about being an entrepreneur. Many of us have looked in awe at friends or relatives that have successfully navigated the challenging path of setting up their own business. We’ve dissected magazine articles that attempt to unravel the elusive formula for entrepreneurial success. Popular culture often perpetrates the idea that all entrepreneurs are successful, destined to be millionaires if not billionaires. While entrepreneurship may definitely be a lucrative career path, it is rarely a walk in the park.

The unpredictability and risks that come with entrepreneurship often scares the majority of people who like a safe 9 to 5 office job. Nevertheless, it will always be a crucial component of any economy, and particularly one that encourages innovation. New ideas for successful businesses drive economies forward, supporting industries and creating jobs.

Recognizing the importance of the development of new small to medium sized businesses in the economy, the UAE has proactively turned the spotlight on this area. According to a recent article in The National newspaper, the Ministry of Education has begun introducing classes in entrepreneurship and innovation as part of an optional curriculum in 15 universities, with the possibility of making it compulsory for students in the future.

A considerable number of students has embraced these initiatives, expressing interest in becoming new business leaders. Echoing students’ desires to expand their knowledge of entrepreneurship, professors have in turn expressed their fervour at closing the preparedness gap by promoting entrepreneurship education, training and experience.

While these steps are crucial in supporting new business set-up, one very important tool is often overlooked: mentorship. Mentorship is often the enabler; the invisible spell that transforms aspiring and budding entrepreneurs into business moguls. With mentors themselves often being entrepreneurs that have built their empires through trials and hardships, they have invaluable and relevant insights to share.

The challenges of setting up a business aren’t always intuitively understood. As teams grow and projects expand, business leaders are compelled to spread their attention wide. They often find themselves battling with strategic decisions while simultaneously coping with trivial administrative tasks, often ending up in familiar news stories on sinking start-ups.  

This is where mentors are most needed. They offer a unique outlook with a neutral perspective cultivated through experience. Many famous business leaders are living testaments to the importance of mentorship. Bill Gates has often turned to Warren Buffet for guidance, while Oprah Winfrey has regularly sought advice from Maya Angelou.

Mentor Global Consultants’ experience in the management of people development programs and initiatives has continually demonstrated the importance of mentorship. Projects that we have executed in the UAE have shown how dramatically transformed mentees were after shadowing and emulating mentors. Our integration of technology applications that manage and cement the mentor and mentee relationship has also helped to maximise the value of mentorship.

A recent project we completed with Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development demonstrated once again these tangible benefits. Emariti entrepreneurs were paired with successful business leaders who provided guidance on the setting up of new businesses. The 6-month mentorship project was a valuable part of an incubation program for these start-ups, and aimed to provide direction to the ambitious new business leaders on their entrepreneurial journey.

The mentees involved said that the program provided not only a boost of encouragement and confidence, but valuable guidance in areas such as business registration, marketing, cost management and business networking. The support of experienced professionals helped save time and money and keep initial momentum going. Some of the entrepreneurs were able to successfully launch their business before reaching the completion of the program.

The Khalifa Fund project was another real-life example demonstrating the value of shared experience and knowledge. While entrepreneurial spirit is the necessary seed and training and education are important catalysts for the creation of new businesses, one fact undoubtedly stands; that mentors can play a pivotal role in the development of the next generation of successful entrepreneurs in the GCC region.

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