Allon Raiz, the typically upbeat co-founderof Entrepreneur Organisation (EO) South Africa, attributes the successful launchof the organisation to some fortunate coincidences. This despite its difficultbeginnings.Founded almost 20 years ago in the US, EOis an international body with 6 000-plus members and 120 chapters in 40countries around the globe. Members are united in their common desire to growtheir businesses, learn from others and share their experiences. Two membersfrom affiliate body YPO (Young Presidents’ Organisation), Bernard Seef and Clive Silberg, initially identified Orrin Klopper and David Dworcan as potentialfounding candidates for EO in this country. Raiz’s name was suggested toKlopper by a mutual contact. “When he asked if I was interested in joining themand I asked who ‘them’ was, he told me it was himself and David, who happens tobe married to my wife’s sister. It was a serendipitous coincidence,” says Raiz.
Previously known as YEO (YoungEntrepreneurs’ Organisation), the organisation had already been launched inSouth Africa a few years back, but had failed. “When we applied to theinternational body to launch in South Africa again, we were told that if wewere serious about it, we had to raise US$50 000 first. That meant we had tocome up with half a million rand.” The three put together a value propositionand started knocking on doors. “Everyone we spoke to said it soundedinteresting but we couldn’t tell them who our members were or how many we hadbecause we didn’t have any!” says Raiz. “Eventually, after a year of no’s, wemet with Angie Chapman from Ernst & Young, who saw the light and providedus with sponsorship. Finally, we had the money we needed to launch.” Havingraised the funds, the founding members managed to get the requirement for theUS$50 000 quashed. “Now that we didn’t have to pay the amount, we had funds tostart something that could offer real value to members,” he adds. EO SouthAfrica was so successful in its founding year that it won the worldwide awardfor Best Start-Up Chapter.
The organisation has over 40 members and isgrowing at a rate of about three new members a month. Application criteriainclude being a founding member or major shareholder of a business that does anannual turnover of at least R8 million, and being 45 years of age or younger.Applicants go through a selection process and board interviews.Looking at EO’s membership offering, it’snot difficult to see why people apply. There are three legs: education,networking and something called forum. Raiz explains the education offering:“Locally, EO holds two events a month, one with a guest speaker of the likes ofGidon Novick or Tony Lamberti, and one more technically oriented event.Internationally, members can attend travelling universities where they areexposed to the world’s top entrepreneurs and business authors. They can alsotake part in the Birthing of Giants three-year programme and a mini-MBA offeredby top US universities.” In addition, each member is matched with a mentor fromthe World Entrepreneurs’ Organisation (WEO), all of whom are doyens of businessin their particular industry.
The networking opportunities provided by EOare unparalleled. Locally, members have access to everyone in EO as well asmembers from YEO and WEO. Internationally, they have access to a database andcontact details of all EO members worldwide. “You can contact the president ofan EO chapter anywhere in the world and ask to be set up with a particular member,” saysRaiz. “Forum, in my mind, is the most valuableand unique offering,” says Raiz. Eight to ten entrepreneurs from different(never competing) businesses make a forum, which stays together over manyyears. “You hold a weekly forum which is a very structured process ofengagement. You get to know each other and confidentiality is paramount. Youmay not talk about forum, who the members are or what was discussed in anyway,” he explains. “For people who know the loneliness of entrepreneurship,forum provides a space to talk about burning issues that you may not be able todiscuss with anyone else. You can take your problems there and for an hour, agroup of great business minds will help you to find a solution. It’sunbelievably powerful,” he adds. EO provides entrepreneurs with a place tocall home where they can grow, share challenges and interact with likemindedpeople. Fees amount to R16 500 a year which provides access to all EO servicesand events both nationally and internationally.