December 17, 2001
Empowering Micro-business Entrepreneurs to Succeed
by Robert Smith
A for-profit Washington, D.C. company develops business training tools that are helping educate
entrepreneurs in the U.S. and around the world.
Entrepreneurship on a micro-business level is an important vehicle for helping low-income
communities spur economic growth. But such entrepreneurs can face a myriad of obstacles. Besides
difficulty in accessing capital, these enterprising individuals often lack an understanding of
basic business principles and have little confidence in running a business. Making Cents, a Washington, D.C. based for-profit company, is
working to change that.
Making Cents develops business training materials in the
form of business simulation games, hands-on business planning tools, and teacher training programs,
all available in seven languages. Fiona Macaulay, principal founder and president of Making Cents,
says the organization takes a holistic approach in helping develop knowledgeable entrepreneurs.
"First, we feel that it's important that any entrepreneurship training focus on developing
self esteem and motivation," Macaulay said. "Second, there has to be an entrepreneurial mind-set
that takes initiative, seeks creative solutions to problems and so on. And third, we develop
entrepreneurial skills such as business planning, pricing and costing."
The courses are
designed to be used with teenage students or adult entrepreneurs, and have been used in both the US
and in several developing nations. Training tools include the BEST Game, which introduces students
to core business concepts such as supply and demand, basic business cycles, managing expenses, how
to add value to a product or business, and improving communication skills. Another tool, Plan It!,
is a business plan preparation course that aids entrepreneurs in approaching micro-financing
Andrew Baird, who until earlier this year was a business development
specialist with the Peace Corps, used the BEST Game curriculum in 14 countries in Eastern Europe,
Latin America, and Africa. He calls it a "very versatile and adaptable tool." Peace Corps
volunteers have led classes using the BEST Game with adult entrepreneurs, at-risk youth, illiterate
women's groups and the field staff of local NGOs.
"In each case, the curriculum was
easily adapted to promote those concepts most important for the specific audience," Baird said.
"The various levels of the BEST Game allow for a flexibility in its application that is limited
only by the creativity of the facilitator."
Baird now works in Washington, D.C. for a
consulting firm that implements business micro-financing. He continues to use the Making Cents
programs; most recently, he used it in Senegal.
Baird said that part of the reason for the
effectiveness of Making Cents is that Macaulay and her associates have had the program participants
help design the training materials, as opposed to having business consulting professionals design
the courses. The result, Baird said, is a very effective and constantly improving curriculum.
Macaulay said that the experiential learning aspect is vital to the course, and mainly
responsible for its impact. Dr. Howard Rasheed, who runs the Youth Entrepreneurship Institute at
the University of South Florida, said that the experiential methods used in the Making Cents
programs is the most effective approach he has found from his research.
Macaulay said that
her staff and associates really try to work in partnership with the organizations that they serve.
"This is a business, and we're trying to make a profit, but we're also very passionate
about this field," she said. "Its great, especially for girls and women, to realize that business
is something that not just men in suits can do. We want them to see that they have the ability to
be really successful entrepreneurs."