A couple of months ago, I wrote an article on the benefits of entrepreneurship. Interacting with entrepreneurs from home and abroad afterwards, I got thinking about how to kick Mauritian entrepreneurship up a gear.
What we have
New business ventures need money. We’ve covered that. Both the public and private sectors have set up ways to fund the rise of Entrepreneurial Mauritius, the latest this week.
A host of institutions provide capital in the form of debt or equity: MCB, SBM, MBGS, DBM, SME Partnership Fund, NRF Equity Investment… these are now familiar names. Angel Investment is also gaining ground. Structures such as Eclosia or South Business Angels now provide entrepreneurs with both money and experience in running businesses. I could delve deeper into this but there’s about one article per month on the topic.
However, focusing on money alone won’t turn Mauritius into a nation of entrepreneurs. It’s a very intuitive idea: money doesn’t create money – people do. How an entrepreneur uses his capital determines whether it grows or dwindles. Today, there are good ideas that can’t get funding, projects with financing that are failing due to a lack of basic know-how.
What we need
In my first article, I said entrepreneurship will force you to acquire key business skills. What perhaps I didn’t make clear enough was how essential this working knowledge base is even as you scramble to get your business off the ground. How many entrepreneurs never got financing because they couldn’t show investors a proper business plan? How many small businesses failed to grow because they thought more volume automatically meant bigger profit margins?
Structures like the Ebene Accelerator or even some business angels help entrepreneurs bypass this issue on-the-go. But these measures are, by nature, palliative. Some institutions like IFE offer courses on entrepreneurship. These are excellent initiatives – but we need more of them. Not everyone can afford a university level class and free, high-quality training structures are essential to the development of an entrepreneurial Mauritius.
We can start early too. In the US, initiatives to teach entrepreneurship to children and teenagers have been around for a while now – with proven results. Launching school-level programs isn’t just about creating a taste for entrepreneurship; it is also about giving the next generation a basic toolkit that will enable them to design better projects early on. It’s time saved on business development and yes – time is money. Every day spent slaving over that cashflow forecast is a day lost for the business.
But free training? Entrepreneurship classes? It’s a waste of public money that could finance more loans, or more teachers even! Besides what kind of entrepreneur needs classes? All those legendary entrepreneurs like Richard Branson, they made it through grit and hard work. They didn’t need training to succeed, right ? In a sense, yes. But this is 2014, not 1972.
Entrepreneurial Mauritius cannot simply be about helping a woman sell homemade pickles out of her kitchen. It should also be about giving her child the tools to sell those pickles to every shop in Mauritius and then export them to over a billion clients in Africa. We cannot, we must not hold ourselves to the standards of the past. If we aim to be a nation of entrepreneurs, we aim to be the best there is.
We need investment, yes, but not just financial – public and private actors must now come together to educate and train our entrepreneurs for tomorrow. We need to invest in people.