There can be few entrepreneurs who haven’tdreamed at some point of being able to sit down with the best business mindsand ask them a few pertinent questions, pick up a couple of tips, or get theirinsight into how to go about solving a particularly sticky problem. And therecan be no doubt that one-on-one mentorship and advice from those who’ve alreadybeen successful in business can help small businesses immeasurably. Theproblem, however, is how to access these leaders.
Endeavor, a global non-profit organisation,has come up with a solution. Started ten years ago in Chile, it identifies andsupports innovative, high-growth, high-impact entrepreneurs in emerging marketsaround the world and provides them with access to the mentorship, advice andintellectual capital of some of the most pre-eminent business leaders in SouthAfrica and the world. Greg Durst, MD of Endeavor South Africa, explains, “Ourfundamental ethos is about creating a sustainable middle class throughentrepreneurship. Around the world, Endeavor aims to transform the economies ofemerging markets by identifying and supporting high-impact entrepreneurs.Because the SMME sector creates 80% of private sector jobs in South Africa,this is where we have chosen to focus.”The organisation’s methodology comprisesthree parts: search and selection, entrepreneurship services, and education andoutreach. Through a rigorous search and selection screening process, itidentifies and interviews hundreds of entrepreneurs. “Typically, we focus onthose that are in the post start-up phase with a minimum of R3 million inrevenue or capital raised. They go through about 25 hours of screeninginterviews and we take about 10 to 12 through to an international selectionpanel where there is another set of screening interviews,” explains Durst,adding that candidates are assessed on their entrepreneurial initiative, rolemodel potential, business innovation, ethical fibre, development impact and fitwith Endeavor.
“When we talk about high-impactentrepreneurs, we mean a couple of things. Firstly, innovation is important.Their business should have a real potential to change or improve the way anindustry operates. It needn’t necessarily be a new or unique product – theymight have developed an innovative new business practice or be targeting a newcustomer niche. We focus strongly on innovation because we want to help createlong-term sustainable companies that can grow locally and internationally. Thesecond element of being high-impact is the ability to foster job creation, andthis is best achieved by companies that can grow and develop,” says Durst. The international selection panel has tovote unanimously in favour of a candidate in order for them to become anEndeavor entrepreneur and of the 700-odd interviewed to date, just 25 have beeninvited to join. But while the process is certainly rigorous, the rewards areimmense. Successful candidates have access to Endeavor’s local board – whichcomprises Adrian Gore, David Frankel, Vincent Mai, Jennifer Oppenheimer, IsaacShongwe, Hlumelo Biko, Matthew Brown, Paul Harris and Beven Nyatoro – and aventure core of 130 senior professionals and successful entrepreneurs whovolunteer to act as mentors to foster growth and development.
A dedicated account portfolio manager isassigned to each company, which also benefits from a customised 18-month workplan based on analysis from the world’s top business leaders; three-month’sengagement with MBA students recruited from top global business schools; accessto workshops and conferences with respected academics, top executives andentrepreneurs, access to closed business networks and the most current businessresearch tools; and investing and networking road shows. The global Endeavornetwork offers networking opportunities with other Endeavor entrepreneurs fromSouth Africa and six Latin American affiliates.In return, Endeavor entrepreneurs are askedto aggressively promote and support entrepreneurship, act as role models toother emerging high-impact entrepreneurs and foster a culture ofentrepreneurship in the country.“While we don’t provide funding, we doprovide Endeavor entrepreneurs with access to funders like FNB and HorizonPrivate Equity with whom we have strategic alliances. So in a way, we’re kindof like a venture capital firm without the fund. Instead of funds we investintellectual capital to catalyse growth. We call ourselves venture catalysts.“