Having a mentor is one of the most valuable resources to have in your career, and becoming one is can be a hugely rewarding experience. A great startup mentor is like a magician. In the midst of an ordinary conversation, they are able to amaze their mentees with valuable ideas and advice that seem to be pulled out of an empty hat.
In reality, there are a few successful management techniques, structures and models and memorizing them doesn’t guarantee the success for any startup. Mentors possess the skills to guide you, the entrepreneur, in selecting the correct model that best suits your business.
It is hard for any program to consistently bring the quality mentorship resource to the table. Mentors are extremely busy people, they have varying skill sets, and it’s unclear how structured or unstructured the mentorship component in an accelerator needs to be.
One of the most important things we will encourage in our programs after the initial Meet & Greet session is for founders to reach out to mentors directly. We encourage founders to build direct relationships with mentors., which will prove beneficial even after our program has ended
Startup founders: If you want to maximize the value of mentors in a program, it’s entirely up to you to do so.
Believe it or not, this will pretty much be the case with everything you’re going to do as a startup founder. At the end of the day, what you get out of any relationship, be it with investors, co-founders, staff, family, friends, support groups; is up to you.
When you enter into a program, before anything else, think about what your startups needs then go through the list of mentors provided to you with a fine-tooth comb. Select the mentor that addresses that need, and reach out to them directly. Use the accelerator as the conduit for initial communication to build a personal relationship with your mentor.
Mentors are usually well connected, many of them are investors as well, and they can open doors. That’s the expectation. But if there are no personal relationships between founders and mentors, I don’t see many doors getting opened. People are always careful with their Rolodex and they should be. It’s one of their most precious assets. They’re not going to open it up willy-nilly, just because they’re listed as a mentor for an accelerator. It still comes down to personal relationships and trust.
If you want to maximize the value of mentors inside an accelerator, it’s your job to build that trust.
It’s our job running an accelerator to create opportunities for trust building to occur but it’s your job to maintain it.
As an entrepreneur and founder, you have to remember that you’re competing for attention. That means you need to be extremely strategic and aggressive (within reason) in absorbing as much as you can from the accelerator experience. Don’t sit around waiting for another to tell you what is of value or what values you can acquire from the program; you need to leverage your participation in the program to get what you possibly can.
Here are a few pointers on how to maximize the value from mentors:
1. Understand their specialties. Mentors all have different skill sets and experience. Do your homework and figure out which mentors are the best ones for you to engage with at specific times or work with the accelerator time to peer you with the mentor that meets your needs. When it’s time to raise money, go to the mentors with that expertise. When it’s time to focus on user acquisition, get closer with the appropriate mentors. You have to build the relationships early, though, but time your use of mentors properly.
2. Be clear and to the point. Remember mentors are extremely busy individuals, avoid wasting their time and get to the point. Make sure when you connect with mentors that you know why you’re doing and what you’re looking for; Mentors will appreciate that. Asking for “general feedback” is a death trap; Mentors won’t know how to help you, they’ll get frustrated, and you’ll be frustrated as well.
3. Engage with them on social media. Mentors are people too many of which are actively working on their own startups. Engaging with them online is a good way of building relationships. Tracking what they’re doing is a smart way of showing that you care.
4. Take professional development sessions seriously. Most accelerators have some structured components to the program. Some founders may feel like this is a distraction, but that’s the wrong way to look at it. Think of it like a crash course in all the elements of running a startup. That’s an educational component that others aren’t receiving. But also realize that these sessions are an opportunity to build better relationships with mentors. These sessions will help you if you have ready questions with which to engage your mentors. Be engaged and take it all in.
In the end, the experience of mentorship is somewhat magical, but the more the entrepreneurs understand the ‘tricks of the trade’, the better off and more successful they will be. And that is the whole point of mentorship.
Until next time,
Caribbean Climate Innovation Center
Applications are now open for CCIC’s LaunchIT GreenTech Accelerator Program until September 9. If you have specific questions about your company and whether you would benefit from our program, please contact us.