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Supporting Small Business Growth through Business Mentoring, Strategy tools and Certification

‘Everyone should have a good mentor’ is a phrase that has gained considerable currency over recent decades which have seen mentoring reach the mainstream of human resource development practice and business support policy.

Supporting small business growth through business mentoring

For more than twenty years academics at Leeds Business School have promoted the role that mentoring plays in supporting and empowering small business development, incorporating mentoring into our mainstream curriculum for undergraduate and postgraduate students and delivering professional development and support programmes for business leaders.

At the final partner meeting of a recent research project, we reflected on the rich experience of the last two years which has seen knowledge shared across national boundaries – Hungary, Poland, France, Portugal, Switzerland and the UK - as well as different organisations – universities, consultancies and businesses. The MentorCert project builds on the award winning Erasmus+ ‘Trust-Me’ project, led by Budapest Business School which used a competency-based framework to lay the foundations for the development of new networks of business mentors. The MentorCert project has continued this process and has seen the piloting of prototype on-line training materials to support the development of knowledge and skills associated with key sectors of local economies including agro-food, fintech, tourism and construction. The purpose of the e-learning materials is to introduce some of the strategy tools and techniques that are core elements of many business courses in higher education and to make them accessible to business mentors through simple description, case studies and a short interactive quiz to ‘test’ learning. These materials are all freely available through the MentorCert website hosted by one of our international partners.

The state of business strategy and planning is a longstanding and persistent factor often seen to limit the sustainability and growth of many small firms. We believe that strategy tools can play an important role helping small business leaders to make decisions in an increasingly volatile, uncertain and complex environment. The use of business simulation software to explore the development of key business strategy skills - how to estimate demand, react to changing market conditions, engage key stakeholders and manage production in different locations provided an opportunity to test this out with entrepreneurs and business mentors. We found that many business mentors and small business leaders were largely unaware of these strategy tools. However, once they were introduced to mentors and entrepreneurs their practical use became readily apparent.

Our learning across the partnership has informed the development of a skills matrix, assessed by an expert committee drawn from twelve countries. This provides a foundation for a new ISO equivalent business mentor certification scheme. As the project draws to a close, partners are making various arrangements to incorporate the learning in the curriculum and to develop bespoke courses to support the development of business mentors in their localities. One of the areas we are currently developing at Leeds Business School relates to our ‘Vision – Insight – Practice’ framework to underpin the development of business mentoring. This ‘VIP’ model provides a unique mix of ‘hard’ strategy skills and ‘soft’ relational skills development that is essential for any business mentor seeking to support sustainable business development.

For more information about these developments please contact Dr Nick Beech at n.beech@leedsbeckett.ac.uk.

Staff attending Mentorcert event in Europe

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Professor David Devins

Professor David Devins undertakes applied policy research for a range of clients including the European Commission, Department for Work and Pensions, local authorities, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills and the private sector.

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