• Nina Lovelace

Entrepreneurial leaders - How to build your mentoring tribe

Updated: Jul 31, 2019

I’ve been researching accelerators and incubators about what types of mentors they harness for their cohorts, when, and why. It turns out that one mentor isn’t often enough, and its a theme relevant to any #intrapreneur or #entrepreneur looking to build a useful advisory and support tribe as they drive change or innovation.

What has become especially clear over the course of the last few months is how little research has been carried out into the impact #mentoring can have on entrepreneurship, and what types of advice are needed when (though I did however recently enjoy this from Youth Business International).

Until some more research comes along therefore I thought it might be useful to list the different types of helpers, experts mentors and advisors that #innovation , #incubator or #accelerator programmes often make available either specifically or though other means to intrapreneurs or entrepreneurs during L&D and related mentoring programmes.

It’s not exhaustive and is written in the context of my day to day experiences identifying trends in mainly #accelerator mentoring programmes  — and is intended to be useful in that it can help any future leader think more widely about what types of mentoring or advisory teams they may need to build around themselves, to help them launch or develop a new business, identify and lead business improvements, or manage #change and #transformation.

Everyone talks about the importance of ‘a mentor’ but its clear a one to one mentor: mentee ratio is probably not going to cut it for #entrepreneurialleaders myriad needs, unless that mentor is a superhuman with incredible breadth and depth of knowledge.

Many accelerators recognise that they need two to three times as many ‘mentors’ to provide comprehensive support to each startup in terms of skills exchange. And many more often recognise the importance of the provision of substantive coaching and personal support (something which perhaps sometimes forgotten in the focus on pure ‘skills’ learning transfer).

So, onto the mentor ‘types’ that often seem to feature on mentoring programmes, whether specifically or incidentally.

The #Business Mentor

These are often the ‘regular’ mentors than some accelerators assign to startups during the course of an accelerator programme. They are expected to meet with the startup every fortnight to month depending on the length of the accelerator programme.

These types of mentors are often pretty senior, with significant expertise either running businesses that sell to businesses (B2B), consumers (B2C) or with deep market knowledge in public sector or non profit ecosystems. They may not however always have entrepreneurial expertise — some may have worked at a senior level in a corporate for twenty years, though others may be serial entrepreneurs who have since exited or sold a few businesses.

These types of mentors can be fantastic in terms of how they can help startups understand what it means to be a leader. They can share their experiences (such as how to run a big SaaS operation) and are great at helping a startup to raise its vision ambition and its overall business professionalism. All rather important if you are to be credible and inspiring in front of possible investors.

They are also often brilliant at helping startups separate what is urgent from what is important, eg realising perhaps you shouldn’t just focus on your product update next week because you’re about to run out of cash. These guys often advise for free (even outside of accelerators) but can only manage a handful of mentees at any time due to their time schedules.

They are not however people who can help advise you on exactly what social media strategy to harness tomorrow. And they may sometimes have experiences that are not be directly transferable to a startups’ business, especially if they have been big hitters in the corporate world.

Some accelerators harness several business mentors to a single startup. Accelerators backed by corporates often seem to provide both a stakeholder mentor from the corporate in question as well as an independent one. Corporate ones can be very useful if the purpose of the accelerator is to find synergies between startups and the corporate backer.

The On-Demand Mentor or #Advisor

These are often ‘as & when’ #mentors who can help on something very specific, perhaps in an area that the startup lacks internal resource or experience. On-Demand mentors know about issues such as equity funding or social media marketing or they may be deep tech experts in areas like blockchain or AI.

A startup is likely to need quite a few of these mentors along the course of their startup journeys. Accelerators are great as they help you access some advice from these specialists for free, but you may need to pay these people for anything substantive outside of the programme — such as a few week’s consultancy.

Often these specialists can quickly get you up to speed with the things you must consider about important subjects like sales or harnessing tech. But sometimes they may not have experience of your business type eg franchising, marketplaces and so on — and be without entrepreneurial experience themselves (and being a solopreneur consultant is different to being a tech entrepreneur — I know, I’ve been both).

As a result sometimes caution may be required in again, adapting their advice for a startups’ needs. B2C experience is quite different to B2B for example and so advice given out of context can be unhelpful. Context is very important.

The Peer Mentor or Buddy

Not all accelerators harness peers in an official mentoring capacity, but there is no doubt that from talking to many startups who are now or have recently been on accelerator programmes, that they get a lot of value from talking to fellow entrepreneurs, especially those who are just a little further along the startup journey from them. This can be as a little as a year or so.

What makes these types of mentors so valuable is that they have incredibly fresh, up to date entrepreneurial expertise. They may have just literally come out of a problematic fundraise, had a major cashflow issue, or just worked with a great, affordable SEO expert who they can recommend just as you are starting to need one. Their knowledge exchange is like baton-passing in a relay race. In the fast world of tech change, this can be invaluable.

These types of peer mentors can be hard to find, and may only engage with you sporadically or over a fast coffee as they are afterall also growing their own businesses so have little spare time to share. But it’s certainly part of the value that co-working spaces provide, and accelerators certainly do if they harness their alumni.

The Coach

Coaches are at a different end to mentors, but are very crucial, especially if you are trying to cross one of the three major business growth chasms and digging deep into your mental reserves.

Business or On-Demand Mentors will often ask you to download your priority problems, and then offer their own personal advice on how they would solve that problem or challenge, based on their experience. They offer options for you to filter through your own experience and needs.

Coaches are different. They are much more about helping you navigate a journey by which you delve into your personal ‘shadows’ to see what blockers or limits you are placing on yourself that might be affecting how you run your business, that then once you can recognise, you can change or harness for the better. They are the ones that help align your inner values with your day to day work, something which can easily change as lives and work experiences take their own paths.

The Connector

Business Mentors and Peer Mentors can be particularly great Connectors. These are people who help you build a growth and development tribe around you, by introducing you to networks where you are more likely to meet the people who could support your journey.

Great Connectors may introduce you to interesting angels, investors, advisors or possible target clients in corporates and other organisations. Great Connectors know how to help you go straight to the C-Suite level rather than spend months trying to find the right decision maker in an organisation, which is a massive pain when time is short anyway because you are already COO, CEO, CFO and everything else in your business.

They are gold dust and are possibly the most un-worshipped of all the above. A big cheer for Connectors, especially mine.

Kandu uses these mentoring classifications to help our clients to classify their own supporter systems. To find out more visit www.wekandu.io or email us at hello@wekandu.iofor a demo. We can help your organisation to collect objective data to track the progress and return on investment of your #leadership or #change development programmes, track the impact of supporters (such as managers, #mentors and peers) on leadership development, and reduce programme admin time as we provide developing leaders with automated guidance and access to support.