W. Devin Wagstaff and Dr. Kristie Seawright, Romney Institute of Public Management
In an effort to overcome the challenges that many entrepreneurs face in bridging the chasm between theory and reality, Don Clarke has piloted an entrepreneurship mentoring program that seeks to help business owners apply the interventions discussed in the classroom to their individual businesses. In 2004, Clarke pioneered his entrepreneurship mentoring program, which combines traditional classroom instruction taught by student interns with a unique mentoring program that helps businesses apply the principles discussed in the class.
Preliminary results indicate high success rates among the businesses that participate in the training program; however, this mentoring method had not been evaluated in a formal study. The question still remained, “Is this particular method an effective vehicle for helping businesses overcome the disconnect between textbook learning and entrepreneurial practice?” This thesis is a first stage, exploratory examination of Don Clarke’s entrepreneurship mentoring program. The evaluation examines the statistical data of selected businesses provided by Chasqui Humanitarian, and open responses taken from participant and mentor surveys. Based on the data and open responses, the evaluation identifies several critical factors to the success of the entrepreneurship mentoring model:
• The classroom instruction combined with consultation visits
• Mentors (both permanent and program)
• Institutional knowledge of common business problems and interventions
• Financial records
• Goal setting/accountability measures.
Through this exploratory study of entrepreneurship mentoring in South America, I have identified several critical factors that influence the success of this program:
• The program model of combined classroom instruction and consultation visits is essential in helping entrepreneurs transfer knowledge gained in the classroom into the daily activities of the business.
• The mentors (both permanent and program) provide the additional follow-up and accountability needed in the difficult transition between theory and reality. Permanent mentors also add stability and institutional memory to the program that allows the program to continually improve itself.
• Don Clarke’s business experience is a critical factor in the success of the program because of the mentors’ general lack of business management experience. The initial visit to each business and the weekly telephone conference with the mentors provides the needed expertise for proper business mentoring to take place.
• Financial records are a key tool in helping business owners become self-sufficient managers. Record keeping allows the mentors and business owners to understand what is happening in the business and identify the changes needed to improve. As business owners understand the financial records, they have the ability to analyze their own business independent of the mentors and can then successfully apply the all the principles taught in the class.
• Goal setting and accountability provide the framework for overcoming the inertia of change. As the entrepreneurs learn goal setting and accountability skills, they create a method for continual self-evaluation and improvement. The mentors train business owners to set and evaluate goals on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, which will bring success when perpetuated beyond the program.
Questions for further research
The results of the research have provided valuable insight into the ability of entrepreneurship mentoring to provide assistants for entrepreneurs in bridging the gap between the classroom and the business; however, it also uncovered several more unanswered questions that would require further research.
• How long is continued follow-up necessary for entrepreneurs to assimilate a new skill or principle into his/her business routine?
• What are the determinants that affect whether a specific intervention will be carried out indefinitely or be forgotten after the mentors no longer follow-up on it?
• What steps can the entrepreneurship mentoring program take to ensure that the alumni have a support network that will help them continue to innovate and apply the principles learned in the class long after graduation?
• What are the effects of this program on student mentors and their future business activities?
• How does the program affect the employees of the participants?
• Can the progress of the participants be measured against a control group of businesses who are not enrolled in the course?
Evaluation of the model in the areas of intervention and evaluation
Based on the statistical data, the participant and mentor surveys, and the historical review, it can be seen that this program combines the university style learning of developed nations with the mentorship relationship method to help entrepreneurs in the developing world overcome the challenges that limit their economic horizons and stifle the economy in peripheral areas.
The combination of instruction and mentoring offers the necessary personalized instruction and follow-up that improves the likelihood that entrepreneurs will put principles into practice that will improve their business. The persistent nature of the follow-up visits and the accountability help business owners break bad habits and create positive habits that strengthen the owners’ management abilities. This model helps overcome the specific challenges that entrepreneurs in developing areas face in starting, maintaining, and improving their businesses.
As the program continues to develop and mature, the changes made in each individual business will begin to accumulate and create a positive impact on the lives of those involved and eventually, the local economy. This program is based on changing one individual at a time and caring enough to provide individualized training to each entrepreneur. As the Greek philosopher Archimedes stated, “Give me a lever long enough, and I will move the world.” The entrepreneurship mentoring model is the lever that has the power to move individual entrepreneurs out of the subsistence plateau and into a successful future.