Teaching enterprise the Robin Hood way

Rama Chakaki is the chief executive and co-founder of Baraka Ventures, which offers entrepreneurship mentoring at no cost. She speaks about how the company's business model makes that possible.

Rama Chakaki, the chief executive and co-founder of Baraka Ventures, says her group specialises in social entrepreneurship. Jaime Puebla / The National
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A Rama Chakaki is the chief executive and co-founder of Baraka Ventures, which offers entrepreneurship mentoring at no cost. She speaks about how the company's business model makes that possible.

q What services do you offer?

One, we offer workshops to the public, mostly entrepreneurs. They're run twice or three times a month and those workshops are kind of awareness-raising. Two, we have delivered in partnership with universities an entrepreneurship programme. They tend to be paid for by the university. They're relatively low-paid, but I see it as a subsidised programme. They take an entrepreneur from A to Z in a six-week period in how to set up a business. Three, for a few select entrepreneurs who come to us, if their business is in line with our investment approach, we will come in as equity partners. If not, then we will deliver free services to the best of our capability.

q So you effectively become a partner in some of the businesses?

It depends on the degree of commitment we give them and they give us. For some entrepreneurs we will purely become a sponsor. In their marketing services they say we're sponsored by Baraka, so that comes back to us as marketing, but we're giving them a service in lieu of that. There are only two in the past that we've actually become partners with. We are very selective with who we become partners with because obviously that's a lifetime commitment for both of us.

q How can you afford to help entrepreneurs for free?

It's a Robin Hood model, so we take from the rich and give to the poor. What hasn't been free is when universities come to us and say we have a class on entrepreneurship and we would like you to teach it. We run consultancy programmes with government organisations or large institutions and they pay for those programmes and then we offer the services as and when we can to the entrepreneurs free of charge.

q Is it achievable to help entrepreneurs for free, while still making money yourself?

I think so. We are still refining the model. We are getting help from advisers on how we could do it and do it better. Perhaps if we collaborate with other similar organisations we could do that, but our aim is to be able to do more of these services and figure out how the few that are for-profit ventures will turn sufficient profit to offset the other work that we do. We're doing this for a long-term investment, rather than to make a quick buck.

q How do you choose the projects you invest in?

We specialise in social entrepreneurship, which is an area where someone is trying to solve a social problem using business means. It really varies in terms of what social problems they're looking at, but the approach is consistent. They're using entrepreneurial means, they're using business means to solve the problem as opposed to pure charity.

* Gillian Duncan