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If you are heading up a large scale business in this region, and your company is trying to jump on the now-popular “I support entrepreneurship” bandwagon, then this month’s note is for you.
Some hard truths:
- Entrepreneurs are businesspeople. They are people who are running serious businesses, they are not playing at running a business. Businesses need money to operate. Money comes from clients. That is the single most important factor that needs to be stressed.
- Entrepreneurs are not a promotional vehicle. Some of the multinationals operating in the Middle East are trying very hard to gain a reputation of being pro-entrepreneurship. That idea has become very fashionable in promotional circles over the past two years. You need to actually work with these businesses, not just “voice” support in a press release. Young enterprises need money to operate and to continue to scale.
- You do have a budget. If you’re going to craft some “CSR” type activity, why don’t you put your budget to work with a startup or a SME? It may take some creative thinking to do something impactful with a limited budget, but that budget, however small, is going to go a long way for a business that’s bootstrapping. Call up a startup founder and ask them to craft a proposal for work- you’d be surprised at the multitude of options they can offer your company.
- Giving away prizes isn’t supporting entrepreneurship. Please do not approach us to contact our startups for your “startup competition” if you are not serious about awarding the winning company. Giving them some certificate and a prize like a tablet or a booth at your event is not supporting entrepreneurship; it is a PR move. How would you like it if one of these “competitions” gave your company a piece of paper and an iPad as a reward for your business model and enterprise ingenuity? It is insulting, and worse, it’s useless and does nothing to improve the state of the business.
- There is always a way. If you have enough money to keep a glitzy PR agency on retainer, then you have enough money to support the entrepreneurial ecosystem. There are a few multinationals who are at the very least sponsoring ecosystem events, and that are actively trying to find innovative ways of working with startups. These companies are showing you the way it can and should be done.
- Startups can sense your intentions. When founders get requests to back something that is supposedly “supporting” the entrepreneurial ecosystem, don’t be surprised when they decline to participate. A few entrepreneurs have come to me asking my opinion on being invited to participate in events that suddenly have a startup or entrepreneurship panel, and these founders are realizing that it’s all just a show for someone else’s benefit. These same founders are very aware of the fact that you suddenly decided you needed a few token entrepreneurs at your event, and this is why you’ve suddenly taken an interest in their work. This won’t win you any goodwill in the ecosystem.
If you, as a corporate leader, want to really support the ecosystem, then at some point, you need to allocate some of your budget to doing so. Entrepreneurs are not a promotional tool; they are businesspeople who are trying to build commercially viable and stable enterprises.