Mentor aid for entrepreneurs

The Life: New programmes in the region help entrepreneurs find matches with mentors.

Just like a mirror: Nermeen Hassan says mentoring an entrepreneur is the best thing she has done.
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A mentor is often essential for the aspiring entrepreneur. But how to find one?

There are programmes emerging in the region that help connect up-and-coming business owners with the wisdom of their elders, creating relationships that can be fruitful for both parties.

Nermeen Hassan says mentoring an entrepreneur is the "best thing" she has ever done - and she has done some interesting things.

As the business development manager at Dubai World Central, Ms Hassan has been at the forefront of developing the new Al Maktoum International Airport, planned to be the world's largest in volume and size.

"I was looking for something else in my life and I found it in mentoring entrepreneurs," she says.


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Ms Hassan currently counsels an entrepreneur in Syria trying to set up a consultancy for small to medium-sized businesses.

The pair were brought together at a workshop organised by the Mowgli Foundation, a not-for-profit based in the UK with operations in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

"As mentors, we are supposed to be just like a mirror, trying to ask the right questions at the right time to either confirm the entrepreneur's thoughts or make them think further," Ms Hassan says.

The private equity company Abraaj Capitalis working withWamda, an internet service for entrepreneurs it helped set up, to launch a website called Mentor Match in the UAE.

The concept will be similar to dating sites that match people of similar interests, with Mentor Match aiming to bring together entrepreneurs and mentors with similar backgrounds. A date has yet to be set for the website launch.

Mowgli's method is slightly different. It provides the introductions and gives training and support to entrepreneurs and mentors for a full year after they meet. Mentors are interviewed and assessed before being invited to a two-day training workshop.

"It was an intense process," Ms Hassan says of her experience in Syria last September. "Mowgli did an amazing job of preparing us."

After the first two days, she and eight other mentors spent a day mingling with nine entrepreneurs looking for guidance.

"We were asked to hand in two cards with a name written on each," Ms Hassan says.

These were the entrepreneurs the mentors felt they might not work with effectively. So, based on these responses, Mowgli then paired mentors with entrepreneurs they were more compatible with.

Hussein al Natsheh met his mentor through Mowgli in 2009 and was so inspired by the programme, he has become a mentor himself at Jordan's Queen Rania Center of Entrepreneurship.

"Mentoring is a win-win situation," Mr al Natsheh says. "You give back and the entrepreneurs get the support needed to further their business."

His mentor helped him to develop a business plan for his software and analytics company, Ciapple, based in Jordan. The mentor was a former McKinsey consultant who had set up his own business.

Together they developed a plan and entered the Mena 100 Business Plan Competition, in which they finished as one of two runners-up.

"For someone like me who has no partner to chat to, it's good to be taken through your business plan," Mr al Natsheh says.

"Psychologically, you need to bounce ideas off each other. We still made mistakes, but in the end you make decisions and try to make the best one with the people around you."