The Bees support young entrepreneurs.

By Laurence Ferra, member of the Editorial Committee

This summer, we presented L’Ouvre-Boîte through the eyes of Louise Thonnerieux and Selim Tamman. At a time when the next graduating class is experimenting with their projects, we wanted to hear the views of our teaching Bees – Faissath Akadiri, accounting assistant, and Bérénice Catry, associate chartered accountant, who support these young entrepreneurs.

Laurence Ferra : Faissath / Bérénice, how long have you been involved with L’Ouvre-Boîte?

Faissath Akadiri: I started in 2017 as a troubleshooter for the project support part, and it’s only since last year that I’ve been involved in training.

Bérénice Catry: For my part, I’ve been in charge of training since the beginning of the adventure, i.e. for 6 years.

LF: Do you distinguish between training and support? How is the system designed?

F.A. / B.C.: There are two phases to the project. We start with training at L’Ouvre-Boîte in Villeurbanne. The program includes two days of classroom theory, half a day of workshops and ends with an oral exam. We then accompany the young people as they begin to test the project.  This lasts three months. At this point, follow-up appointments are made at the office. After a few days or weeks of activity, we review the project with them.

LF: And what do you actually do at L’Ouvre-Boîte?

F.A.: I’m more involved in the business plan. To do this, we’ve set up a teaching tool – a table – that covers general accounting principles. My role is to explain how it works, and to show how to present a forecast, an income statement, a financing plan and a cash flow plan. We then study each young person’s project on a personal basis. This helps them to make sense of all these figures and to project themselves. The objective of the first day is really to see if the business will be profitable. We don’t get into the technical aspects. The question is whether the young person will be able to achieve the objectives of his project, whether his dream is possible.

In general, they’re very happy because they come to a course called “Accounting Management” with a lot of apprehension and the fear of having a heavy and very complex course, but at the end of the day everything is concrete, they know where they’re going and are able to project themselves. The aim is not to make them adhere to accounting techniques, but to give them practical elements such as knowing the difference between sales and income, what a margin is, what expenses are, etc. It’s “basics” adapted to the audience we have. Day 2 covers tax charges and social security contributions. We get into a slightly more technical part, while keeping things as simple as possible. We talk about break-even points, management indicators, etc. … We draw analyses from what they’ve seen upstream.

These are not yet seasoned entrepreneurs, so we need to make accounting more accessible and make them understand that they are the ones who will hold the keys to their company’s financial success. To do this, we use accessible terms. Some have already made a lot of progress on their project when they come to our course, while others still have a long way to go. The challenge, as there are quite a few of them, is to manage to do something personalized despite the diversity of profiles. Since 2017, we’ve changed our pedagogy and now offer something much simpler to adapt to each person’s project.

Once the training part is over, we then move on to individualized support. We take stock with them of their figures and their project. Other Bees lend a hand: Coralie, Solène. Everyone is able to support and intervene according to their specific skills. During this part of the process, too, everything is individualized, as not all projects progress at the same speed.

The first few meetings are used to get to know each other a little better, to compare forecasts with actual results after a few years in business, and to make projections. This individual support is very important. It helps them not to get discouraged. They have the feeling that we’re there to help them, to guide them in relation to the accounting and indicators that have been set up during the training. It’s really at their request, we don’t force them to do anything. Some quickly become autonomous, in which case we check in from time to time to see how the project is progressing. The aim is to make them feel confident. We’re there to advise and guide them. They know where to knock when they need something. The approach is different for those who are complete novices. We accompany them more closely.

L.F.: In the end, it’s the same kind of support we offer at Fifty Bees, with the added educational aspect… And what is the profile of the young people at l’Ouvre-Boîte?

F.A. / B.C.: They have to be under 30 and have less than a 2-year university degree. The profiles are varied, but they are often people who are far from employment and who may have had an atypical school career: young people who have dropped out of the family, personal or school life. There are also mothers who have had children and want to start their own business. It’s a bit like “2nd chance entrepreneurship”.

Ultimately, the aim is both to create a company and to reintegrate into society. Sometimes young people don’t see their project through to the end, but that’s never a failure. The aim is really to get them back into the workforce, whether through entrepreneurship or salaried employment.

L.F.: How do you teach young people to apply accounting to their business?

F.A. / B.C.: Things have been put in place over the years. It was complex at first, with a lot of theory and accounting notions. Now, with the tool we’ve created and refined over time, we present the headings and what they’re used for, and then everyone makes the tool their own. We make sure that young people can respond to the problems of their own project, rather than to general problems. We keep it simple. It’s a slightly modified forecasting table, so that it doesn’t include any tax or social security notions. In concrete terms, it answers the question: “Do I have any money left when I’ve sold and paid my expenses? Only then do we move on to other subjects.

L.F.: And after these days, what’s the attitude of the young people? Do you ever see them questioning their plans? Any adjustments?

F.A. / B.C.: Yes, completely. There’s a lot of brainstorming in the forecasts, especially as other professionals are involved in other areas. The advice we give often echoes what they’ve already heard or will hear, and they end up revising their copy. They take on board what we say and we see the projects evolve. We also build bridges with other courses. It’s like a “training crossroads”. We deal with marketing, pricing, break-even points, legal status for those who have several businesses… In fact, we help them a little with everything, and when we can’t answer a question, we send an e-mail to an accountant, a payroll manager or the legal department to find the information. The advantage is that with our global support, we have a real diversity of services at Fifty Bees. That’s a plus for young people.

They’re also reassured to have a real person in front of them, someone to turn to when they’re lost or when many services and procedures are only available online. This helps to de-demonize business start-ups. They know they have someone to turn to if they’re lost.

L.F.: How much time do you devote to support?

F.A. / B.C.: The training part is fixed and limited to three days, which we divide up according to our schedules. On the other hand, the support part can vary according to the young people and their projects, and takes time. Normally, each young person receives one hour of support per month, but after that we adapt. We don’t want to recreate an over-scholastic framework either, and we really do what’s asked for without putting any pressure. You have to adapt to the audience. We try to “bring them to” gently and make them autonomous. We teach them to overcome their fears and blockages. We try to adapt to them, to move forward together, and it works.

L.F.: You do this as part of your job, but on a voluntary basis. What motivates you? What interests you in this adventure and what does this experience bring you?

B.C.: It gives you a sense of meaning, a feeling of being useful. A day spent at l’Ouvre-Boite puts things in their place. You realize that there are young people out there who need help, and you make a contribution.

F.A.: I enjoy feeling useful and also reconnecting with my experience as a project leader.  At L’Ouvre-Boîte, we travel, meet people, discover dreams and do everything we can to make them come true. Even if I haven’t set up my own business, I can help people who want to do so. At Fifty Bees, we don’t just support strong entrepreneurs, we do something good and we’re proud to support all entrepreneurs. At L’Ouvre-Boîte, it’s a bit the same: we go and spot potential where others don’t see it. That’s what motivates me. It’s believing in people, and that’s what makes me love my job.

B.C.: There’s also the teaching aspect. I’ve always loved giving lessons, which I also do for other organizations. With the students at L’Ouvre-Boîte, there’s real feedback on what we’re doing. Seeing young people arrive with reservations and then leave happy to have understood, and seeing them become aware of the importance of management for their business, is a huge source of satisfaction. The young people’s thanks are also a source of satisfaction for us. We bring them and they bring us.

L.F.: You have a real teaching attitude!

F.A. / B.C.: Yes, we both want to pass on knowledge. When we see that the person in front of us understands, becomes autonomous and is satisfied, it gives us a boost, the desire to do better and go further. When I go to class, I sometimes feel a bit nervous, wondering how I’m going to manage the different situations that will arise, but I always leave with a smile on my face. They’re always really great days. I’ve had two parents who were teachers, and I really enjoy passing on my knowledge. We’re not always aware of it, but it’s an important part of our day-to-day work at the practice. Teaching is very important with our customers. We’re there to help them manage their business, to give them the foundations they need to move forward.

L.F.: Any anecdotes? A particular memory you’d like to share?

F.A.: I don’t have a particular memory, but L’Ouvre-Boîte is above all an atmosphere: a great welcome, good meals, young people letting us try out what they’re doing. Since the beginning, I’ve attended muffin tasting sessions, tested deodorants and received invitations to events. It’s like in a company, there’s always something going on. We’re asked for opinions and advice, it’s lively and we’re sometimes among the first customers. In the first year, I think I tried out all the projects.

L.F.: Have you kept in touch with any of them?

F.A. / B.C.: Yes, we sometimes send e-mails to ask for news, we also get news from our referents – Samia and Isabelle – and young people also come to us on their own.

L.F.: Do you currently need to recruit any Bees?

F.A. / B.C.: Yes, we think it’s great to be a group. We’re completely open to others joining us. It allows us to work together. It’s great! I think everyone could contribute according to their skills. What’s more, we’re going to work on setting up internal processes to establish a methodology for our teaching methods.

Anyone who can read a profit and loss statement can get involved. You just need to have an entrepreneurial streak, to believe in them, in their project, in their dream. That’s what we’re all about, supporting entrepreneurs. That’s what we do at Fifty Bees. We support entrepreneurs of all sizes and at all levels. It’s rewarding and exciting.