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Mentoring for success

Guiding a new generation of business owners are the mentors who are taking the class out of the classroom and into the stockroom, the warehouse and the streets.
By Peter Imbong |

Now, more than ever, schools are learning that the best way to teach entrepreneurship isn’t simply going the way of books and lectures, but real-world, let’s-visit-the-market, start-your-own-business-to-pass-this-class experience. Guiding a new generation of business owners are the mentors who are taking the class out of the classroom and into the stockroom, the warehouse and the streets. And their students are the better for it.


Jay Bernardo



Francisco “Jay” Bernardo III prefers to describe a day in his Breakthrough Entrepreneurship class at the ACE Center for Entrepreneurship and Management Education at the Ateneo Center for Continuing Education as spoon-feeding. And the professor doesn’t mind it. In the certificate course designed for aspiring entrepreneurs wanting a complete head-to-toe orientation on business development, “the students are still discovering themselves and still thinking about what type of business they want to get into. It’s exciting for me since you’re starting them from scratch. You’re molding them from the very beginning,” he says. “And because you’re hand-holding them, in a way you get very close to them.”


This is a world different from his Masters in Entrepreneurship program where the students and their now established businesses go through specific case studies and on-the-field analyses of entrepreneurial issues across the different aspects of running a business. “These people already have had their businesses running for at least three years and they take the class with the hope of professionalizing their business, expanding it, and bringing it to the next level,” says Bernardo.



With years of experience as the CEO-turned-chairman of several manufacturing companies, the 47-year-old has become the guru of many once-aspiring entrepreneurs, and now-successful business owners. “Education is expensive,” he admits. Since starting to teach full-time in 2002, he’s come to observe that “ when some students go into a class, they actually feel that they should have saved their tuition and used it instead to start a business. And I somehow agree with that. But for the lessons you will learn and the mistakes you will commit, the price of a program or a class will actually be very small compared to all the things you will learn.”


Learning entrepreneurship, he says, is “a combination of classroom work, learning through experience, and experimentation.” Yes, even the most boring stuff about setting up a business “like going to the Securities and Exchange Commission and registering your company, for example. You’ll appreciate it more if you do it yourself. Entrepreneurship is not about grades. You can’t have exams about entrepreneurship—the best way to find out if you learned anything from the classes is by applying it.”


Bernardo’s passion for entrepreneurship education led him to create the LET’S GO (Leading Entrepreneurs Towards Sensing Global Opportunities) Foundation in 2001, an organization that aims to promote entrepreneurship through education. His current project is to refine the national curriculum for public high school students to include technology and livelihood education as a subject. And after five years of planning, Bernardo is proud to say that now, “all public high schools are implementing it in the first year level. By 2015, we will have everybody under it.” And because of his efforts, in 2011 Bernardo was among the nominees for the prestigious Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.



“I can teach my students about my experiences and the processes I’ve learned throughout my entire career, but it will really be up to them how to use that for their business. And we see that in the people who have gone through the class—they’ve acquired more structure in their decision-making process rather than simply relying on intuition. Intuition works only to a certain point. Then you need education. To start correctly and start right is an investment.”



The Guru: Jay Bernardo of the Ateneo-ACE

Among his grads: Charlene Gonzales, Real Estate Development

In 2008, the psychology graduate and former beauty queen underwent a one-on-one mentorship program in business management and entrepreneurship with an interest in real estate development. Together with her husband, actor Aga Muhlach, Charlene is currently in the process of creating an exclusive resort and residential area in the town of Mataas na Kahoy, in the province of Batangas, to be launched within the year.



Benison Cu



When Benison Cu was offered a teaching position at the Marketing Department of De La Salle University after just two years of teaching entrepreneurship in the nearby Business Management department, he saw a growing presence in the business scene and a void in the curriculum and that many didn’t seem to notice. “Marketing has always been on the products side,” he explains.


“But when I started teaching marketing in 1993, the service industry was growing very fast, and we saw that there was a need to address the issue in the classroom.” With his regular load of brand management, salesmanship, and retail marketing classes, he created what was then an unheard-of program even in other universities: retail marketing. “It may not have been relevant then, but perhaps three or four years down the line, when services would really expand in the Philippines, it would prove to be important.”  In Cu’s opinion, if companies have marketing plans for a specific product, there must also be a plan to help companies that deal with services. “Now,” the 45-year-old teacher says, “the class is a hit.”



“In marketing,” he says, “Everything stems from what we call STP: Segmenting your market, targeting that market, and positioning your product to appeal to your target. No matter how good a marketing person you may be, if you fail to do that, you will never succeed.” And all that, according to Cu, depends upon careful observation of the market and customers. “That’s one of the things I want to be able to teach my students: looking at the details that other people don’t see. Gut feel will serve you well in business one out of a million occasions. But with training on observing the details—looking at what your competition is doing, finding your own unique value proposition—it will make you succeed.”


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