Entrepreneurship in Kenya is thriving with many businesses coming up everyday. The businesses however encounter problems and close shop eventually. Among these problems is lack of mentorship; a problem that new startup Mara Mentor is trying to solve. Niner Werner, Regional Director East Africa spoke to HumanIPO about Mara  Mentor.

HumanIPO: In a nut shell, what is Mara Mentor?

Werner: Mara Mentor is an online mentorship platform accessible via the web or our mobile app that connects ambitious entrepreneurs with successful and experienced business leaders. The initiative encourages idea and knowledge sharing among Africa’s most promising young entrepreneurs, inspiring a collaborative approach to business start-up and growth. Mara Mentor is open to entrepreneurs and young people from any country, who can join the community to raise questions, kick-start discussions and reach out for personalised advice on their business idea.

How is it related to the Mara Foundation?

 Mara Mentor is one of the initiatives driven by the Mara Foundation, together with Mara One-on-One, Mara Women and Mara Ad-Venture Fund.

In your opinion, whats is the current situation when it comes to entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurship is viewed by many as an answer to a lot of problems (unemployment being the obvious one) but we are still quite new at figuring out how we will make it work, as in how to run a sustainable business with potential for growth. So we need to help each other out and not work in silos, each person in their own corner.

What are some of the sustainable economic and business development opportunities you have in mind for the youth and women entrepreneurs?

 I don’t think there’s one answer to this question. My recommendation is to identify a challenge you’re facing, and find a monetisable solution for it. Chances are you’re not the only having this challenge and with a little research you can figure out if your potential market is large enough to make a business out of it.

This seems to be modeled along the lines of the governement’s Uwezo fund which is also for the youth and women. Why for these two groups?

 Our main market segment is the youth (male and female) as it’s the segment of the population most likely to face unemployment. As for the women, we acknowledge the fact that being an entrepreneur is very hard, being a women entrepreneur is even harder so we want to make sure women are not left out from our activities.

Do you have anything in mind for the men?

 We are not exclusive to the youth and women, anyone interested in business is welcome to join Mara Mentor. You can be a male over 50 who wants to change career path and start a business, Mara Mentor is the place to start.

Will the beneficiaries be expected to pay anything for your services and if so how much?

Mara Mentor is and always will remain free, there are no hidden costs.

Tell us about the partnership with Safaricom. How will it boost your cause?

Safaricom is supporting Mara Mentor as they are also targeting the youth with their mobile services. We will be present at some of their events and they are also supporting us logistically.

Many people have decried the lack of mentors for entreprenurs. Why do you thing this situation came about?

First, the stereotype of someone who’s starting a business is young, doesn’t have a track record of running his/her business, doesn’t have much experience and therefore have a hard time to gain the trust of a potential mentor. You will most likely be shut down.

Secondly, most encounters with a mentor happen serendipitously, you have to be at the right place at the right team and meet the right people…

Thirdly, not everyone is a good mentor. You need to find someone you “click” with and have a lot to learn from.

What are your recommendations towards tackling this problem?

Having identified the significant gap between the impact of mentorship and its accessibility, we’ve developed an online mentorship platform easily accessible that allows entrepreneurs to build their network and have access to mentors at their fingertips.