Supporting small businesses through mentorship

Name: Maayan Eilat

Title: Innovation Team Director

City: Be’er Sheva, Israel

Small business is the backbone of the economy in Be’er Sheva, a city of 200,000 in southern Israel. For Maayan Eilat and the innovation team she leads, finding ways to strengthen those businesses is a top priority.

Last year, they prototyped a new mentorship program for business owners that tapped into the expertise and volunteer energy of retired and late-career businesspeople. In the prototype, two thirty-something owners of a new cafe matched up with a pair of mentors — one a successful chef and the other a distinguished marketing executive. The mentors each volunteered about 30 hours of their time, counseling the cafe owners on changes to the menu, portion size, and other choices that reduced the restaurant’s costs by 10 percent.

“It’s very lonely to be a business owner, because everything is on you,” Eilat said. “There’s something really special about the mentorship connection, having somebody else living the business with you, feeling it with you, being worried with you.”

Now, Be’er Sheva is rolling lessons learned from the prototype into a pilot program that aims to match 10 more small businesses with mentors this year. The pilot will expand beyond an initial focus on restaurants in order to reach small businesses in any industry. Partners with a group called Golden Expertise are helping the city identify a pool of mentors with local roots.

“The match is so important,” Eilat said. “It really matters for business owners to find the most meaningful mentors for them.”

Pro tip: “Innovating in city government requires working quick and light. That means not taking months or years to plan a new initiative, but rather, starting small, testing it out, learning from that testing and adapting what needs to be changed, and doing more if it works.”

Celebrating public sector progress and innovation in cities around the world. Run by @BloombergDotOrg’s Government Innovation program.

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