Women entrepreneurs face significant structural and cultural barriers when starting and growing a business. The Women in Business Challenge aims to address the problems of underinvestment and increase the number of opportunities for applicants in emerging markets. Recognizing the importance of guidance and advice for women entrepreneurs, the Women in Business Challenge provides a coaching program, supported by ING, to empower participants to progress their business to the next level.
BiD Network coaching is usually administered via online mediums – email, Skype, and social media – providing fundamental lessons that can be applied to each entrepreneur’s business situation. However, when the opportunity arises we encourage our coaches to meet their entrepreneurs face-to-face, to go beyond the role of a coach polishing a business plan and mentor an entrepreneur to accelerate the growth of their business.
Dorien van Leeuwen, an ING coach, was already planning to visit Vietnam in February when she offered her services to the Women in Business Challenge, and thought her impending trip offered ‘the very special opportunity to meet the person I would be coaching.’ Two weeks prior to her departure we put her in contact with Hoang Tran, a Vietnamese entrepreneur with aspirations to develop her sandwich business into a replicable chain with shops across Vietnam.
“I am a person who is very interested in other countries, people and cultures. I have traveled a lot and I thought it would be a great opportunity to get in touch with someone abroad, and get to know new people through coaching.” – Dorien van Leeuwen
Coaching is a business service used by BiD Network to prepare emerging market entrepreneurs for investment. The program supports women entrepreneurs who already have a company or business proposal but need to learn how to develop and polish their business plans in order to gain capital and start or grow their small and medium-sized enterprises. Coaches spend around 20 hours on a business plan, initially assessing the needs of the business, following up on a regular basis to evaluate progress. At the end of the process, coach and entrepreneur determine what progress has been made. For many, the coaching program is only the start of the relationship between coach and entrepreneur, with advice extending from improvement of the business plan to mentoring the entrepreneur on all aspects of their business.
The opportunity to receive coaching was one of the primary motivations behind Hoang’s decision to enter the Women in Business Challenge. “Business coaching is a very interesting reason for me to apply. With a coach, I can learn a lot, view my business from a different perspective, and improve my business plan.’ Hoang believes the Women in Business Challenge as a competition also offers, ‘the foundation for global connections between women entrepreneurs, to learn from and to support one another.”
Dorien also extenuates the importance of mentoring when considering her reasons for participating in the coaching Program. ‘I received a lot of coaching myself, which was always valuable, and I wanted to share my experience with others,’ she explains.
Hoang was looking for a coach who would, first and foremost, ‘understand the purpose of my work, share different ideas and comments to improve my business.’ With the aim of expanding exponentially in the next five years, Hoang deems advice from her coach as imperative if she and her business, Bao Thanh Ltd., are to fulfill their ambition. Hoang said, ‘meeting face to face, especially in Vietnam, will help me to introduce Dorien to the food that I will be making and developing.’ Hoang hoped Dorien’s visit to Vietnam would give the opportunity to experience the culture and cuisine first hand and develop greater insight of her business and its prospects for growth.
“[In Vietnam] women were not recognized in the field of business. The Women in Business Challenge encourages women to show that we have the ability.” – Hoang Tran
Dorien and Hoang met on a warm Monday evening in Hanoi, a few short hours after Dorien touched down. Dorian commented, ‘meeting Hoang and her husband Long was very special. We were total strangers before, but now it feels like I have new friends in Vietnam.’ Hoang also noted the impact meeting face-to-face had on the relationship with one another, stating, ‘when we met, a friendship and warm atmosphere developed that will ensure our later work with each other will be exchanged in a more understanding way.’
After their meal in Hanoi, Dorien remained in Vietnam for a further fortnight, getting to know the country gradually. According to Dorien, this experience ‘makes coaching easier. Since I experienced the country myself, I can picture Hoang’s business in Vietnamese daily life. Vietnam is a beautiful and young country, there is activity everywhere and I think there is a similarity with the Dutch way of living, always looking for opportunities.’
Dorien found herself invigorated by the Women in Business coaching program, stating; ‘I am very impressed by Hoang’s drive and enthusiasm about her business plan. We spoke about the insecurities that come with being an entrepreneur. I am convinced that Hoang has the right skills to start a successful business and I hope I can help, motivate and give her the support she needs to take the exciting step of starting her own business.’
After researching past Women in Business participants and their social impact, Hoang conceded to some people her business may seem ‘easy’. Hoang however, notes the current crisis in Vietnam concerning the quality of produce and the hygiene involved in preparation. Vietnamese people are desperate for high quality but at an affordable price. Dorien’s visit to Vietnam gave her the opportunity to see firsthand, the impact BaoThanh Ltd. could have in providing healthy, hygienic and affordable produce to the Vietnamese public. Hoang stated, after sharing her initial concerns with Dorien, ‘she lifted up my spirit and showed me that no business plan should be too normal, if it’s a normal product but we serve it in a special way, it could be special to our people and that would be a great contribution.’
The pair now corresponds via email on a regular basis to determine the progress that has been made improving the business plan. Toward the end of the coaching program, we will share details of how both Hoang and Dorien found their experience in the Women in Business Challenge. We wish them both the best of luck in the competition.
For more information about the Women in Business Challenge 2013, please click here.