Life can be lonely as an entrepreneur. Starting your own business means going out on a limb and abandoning the corporate safety blanket for a life of financial uncertainty and responsibility for those few employees you have. Which is one reason that entrepreneurs hunt in packs: there’s no end of shared workspaces and networking organisations that exist to take away the existential gloom.
One of the best known – and most successful – is the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO). A global network of around 9 500 startups, EO chapters can be found in 46 countries around the world – including Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. Membership is exclusive and it’s not cheap: your business has to be fairly well established with a turnover of R10m (just under $1m) a year already, and you’ll pay R21 500 a year to stay in the club.
Members, including Student Village‘s Ronan Aires, swear its the best money they spend as the benefits are virtually priceless. As well as organising exclusive events and talks, EO organises its members into ‘forums’ of six to eight company heads who meet on a monthly basis to discuss their work issues and support each other.
“It’s the one event every month that I never miss,” Aires says. Other South African members, including Ryan Bacher of online retailer Netflorist, describe the network as a family, and talk about business they’ve won by working with other EO members and the advantages of having a network that gives them access to contacts overseas.
“When I went to the Nigerian chapter I went as a ‘plus one’, but I met my future business partner there,” says Aires, “Later, we landed the biggest contract we’ve ever had and needed to expand to Nigeria fast, if I hadn’t been part of this network, I wouldn’t have been able to fulfil.”
And now EO Joburg is launching its first Accelerator program, looking to invite in new firms that aren’t yet at the R10m turnover mark but have the potential to get there. With the right mentoring and support, of course.
The accelerator – the first EO has run in Africa – will take on at least 16 businesses who will be coached in business strategy, culture, cashflow, finance and goals and execution. The program kicks off with a four day course of intensive training with experts flown in from overseas, and runs for up to three years – by which time the idea is that your business will qualify for full membership.