Product name: NetMentor
NetMentor allows the telematic delivery of business advice, therefore opening up access to entrepreneurship for isolated people.
NetMentor is an ICT (Information and Communication Technology) tool created to support new and established entrepreneurs. It works on a web platform that overcomes obstacles to the provision of business support, notably geographical location. NetMentor facilitates discussions and exchanges of information through an ICT tool that collects business information through an extranet linked to an Excel document. This creates a database which enables regularly updated information on accountancy and other business issues to be accessed and shared by users.
NetMentor is a combination of an extranet and Excel:
- The extranet is a database containing all the relevant information about the entrepreneur's business and each of the different phases of the business evolution. When the extranet is regularly updated, it is easier for the mentors to make good and useful reports.
- The Excel application is used by the mentors to process the data introduced by the entrepreneurs on the extranet in a simple manner.
Justification / context
Two of the EQUAL projects responsible for creating NetMentor are particularly concerned with business start-ups among groups like women and young people in rural areas. GLOCAL is working in the Alto Douro in the northern interior of Portugal, whereas LUMEN is based in the rural interior of the Valencia region of Spain. Both partnerships found that the large distances and poor transport in their areas made it harder for potential entrepreneurs to travel to see business advisors. Women and young people have less access to private cars, and women can find it particularly difficult to travel long distances if they are responsible for children. NetMentor allows both target groups to access quality advice and training from their own home.
But the partners of the GLOBAL.LINK transnational project saw that a tool like NetMentor had other advantages. It allows advisors and mentors to systematically build up a body of knowledge about the opportunities and risks of business creation in particular sectors - thus improving the quality of the advice they can give new entrepreneurs. It also helps to compare the performance of potential start-ups from the same sector at a local or, more ambitiously, at an international level. For example, GLOBAL.LINK is exploring benchmarking and increasing exchanges between the entrepreneurs who use the tool through an internet entrepreneurs' club. This could evolve into a Community of Practice for mentors and entrepreneurs from Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom and France.
In summary, NetMentor’s advantages are that it can help overcome the problem of distance, it increases the productivity of management processes, enables entrepreneurs and mentors to accumulate useful information through the uptake of ICT (Microeconomic Guideline 13), facilitates better communication and work between mentors and entrepreneurs, promotes dialogue and exchange through thematic forums and provides quick information updates. NetMentor helps users to both become more active and independent in taking business decisions and to have a more global outlook among local companies.
How NetMentor works
The Extranet is a database containing all the relevant information about the entrepreneur’s business and each of the different phases of the business evolution. When the Extranet is regularly updated, it is easier for the mentors to make good and useful reports. It is divided into the following sections:
- Home: contains personal archives, messages, and notes.
- Entrepreneurs: this section has the personal details of the user, other associated projects, and specific forms for including data and producing graphs from the same data.
- Archives: where users have access to all the documents produced by their mentors. It is possible to download this information.
- Frequently asked questions: coming from previous work of mentors and entrepreneurs including entrepreneurship guidelines and solutions to frequent problems.
- Forum: debates about entrepreneurship based on themes proposed by the mentors.
- Agenda: each user has access to a personal diary.
- Bookmarks: interesting links for entrepreneurs selected by the mentors.
The Excel application
The mentors use Excel to process the data introduced by the entrepreneurs on the extranet in a simple manner. For an easier use of the Excel document, there is a menu called “netment” connected to the extranet to import and export information. The Excel menu allows the mentor to insert a formula from a form list, select the entrepreneur to work with, look at the entrepreneur’s information and save it to the web, so the entrepreneur can access the mentor’s work.
NetMentor involves 21 Excel pages grouped into five sections, adapted for the analysis and presentation of a company’s numerical and graphical data:
- The first section contains the raw information introduced into the database. This information includes the entrepreneur’s annual accounts and business objectives and key information on the workings of the business such as: 1. customer satisfaction - to assess the business’ ability to provide quality goods and services; 2. the process of providing effective deliveries, claims and refunds; and 3. human resources, looking at personnel expenditure, wage rates, working hours and training costs.
- The second section covers the main financial calculations based on the company information.
- The third section contains a summary table providing a comparative analysis of the key data concerning the main functional areas of the firm (e.g. human resources, the production process, clients).
- The fourth section compiles all the information into a series of tables to facilitate the creation of graphs.
- The last section contains graphs grouped into the same categories as the tables. It is the final step before exporting the data to the extranet. The mentors can also create new non-financial indicators - for example a new indicator which compares hours invoiced with those worked.
Balanced Scorecard methodology
NetMentor uses the Balanced Scorecard methodology, which measures and provides feedback to advisers and entrepreneurs. In this case, the Balance Scorecard has been adapted to micro-enterprises and implemented for measuring a company’s activity in terms of its vision and strategies to create more productive working systems. The financial outputs are seen as the consequence of specific strategies and decisions taken in three areas:
- human resources
- production processes
The tool allows the entrepreneur and the mentor to learn from each other. The business is presented as the final result of a lon-term global strategy, which focuses on quality and human resources.
How to access NetMentor
NetMentor is open to any interested organisation that contacts the development partnership of the GLOCAL project and asks for the tool-installation package. NetMentor works with “Lamp” technology (Linux, Apache, Mysql and Php4) which requires installing the system on a web server. Even though it looks complicated, the open source installation makes NetMentor a very accessible tool. The organisation seeking business support does not need to have very sophisticated technology. A PC (personal computer) with current IT components,internet browser and Excel are needed and it is recommended for the user to have some knowledge of the internet and Excel. If an entrepreneur or organisation does not have a server, the Portuguese partnership provides the option of hosting the tool on the GLOCAL project Web server.
The NetMentor Handbook defines all the requirements and steps for using the tool. It is a key document for users, mentors and administrators for maximising the efficacy of NetMentor. The handbook is available on the extranet so users can consult it at any time, wherever they are. In addition, the entrepreneur receives a training course on information management, accountancy and finance for an optimal use of NetMentor. Once the entrepreneur begins to use the tool and uploads the company’s information onto the extranet, the mentor has a comprehensive view of the performance of the business.
Main target groups
NetMentor is addressed to:
- entrepreneurs starting up companies or established entrepreneurs looking for management support
- professionals on entrepreneurship training, business mentors and organisations responsible for business support
It is especially useful when working with rural and other isolated entrepreneurs, e.g.
- women with caring responsibilities who find it difficult to travel
- young people without access to transport
Main theme of intervention
Web application with restricted access to partners. The Excel application is available in Spanish, Portuguese, English and French. The whole Extranet is currently available in Spanish and Portuguese and 80% is available in English. GLOBAL.LINK also foresees having the NetMentor in French.
NetMentor website: http://www.iniciativaglocal.eu/index.php?page=09&subpage=06
Access and files on request
Produced by GLOBAL.LINK (TCA 1065)
Partners: GLOCAL (PT-2001-165), LUMEN (ES-ES393), Creating EQUAL Access to Entrepreneurship (CREATE) (UKgb-17), RESEAU+ (FR-IDF-2001-10460)
PT, ES, UK, FR
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Urb Vila Campos, Lote LII, Ent B
5000-063 Vila Real
Tel: +351 259 326 294
Fax: +351 259 326 295
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