Everything you need to know about having a startup mentor
When launching a startup, acquiring a lot of knowledge and skills is an ongoing process. Thanks to our technology-driven world, there are unlimited resources available at our fingertips. But as convenient and accessible as these online materials may be, they do not understand your business, are not able to give tailored advice, and the information may not always be accurate or trustworthy. Learning from a startup mentor – their lived experiences, industry expertise, and path to success – is arguably one of the most valuable ingredients that will set your business up for success.
What is a startup mentor?
A startup mentor is someone who provides guidance and advice as you navigate launching, operating, and growing your startup business. Commonly they are a seasoned and successful entrepreneur, have had years of relevant experience within your industry, or are an expert in a field crucial to your startup’s success.
Startup businesses can either form a relationship with one sole mentor, or due to the various types of mentors that exist they may acquire many with each serving a different purpose.
Types of Startup Mentors
- Successful Entrepreneurs
Company founders who are mentored by successful entrepreneurs are more than 3x more likely to become top performers. Simply put, business mentors for startups who are successful entrepreneurs have been in your shoes in one way or another and have the first-hand experience to guide you through the different stages of your company’s growth.
Every successful entrepreneur has had some major wins along their journey, but it is often their failures where you will learn the biggest lessons. Their years of experience can provide you with insider tips, teach you critical skills, secure strategic partnerships, and provide networking opportunities that can lead to introductions with investors or key suppliers.
- Industry Expert
Industry experts who become startup mentors have the ability to teach entrepreneurs crucial knowledge, existing regulations, the industry’s competitive landscape, and popular trends and preferences among customers.
Due to their years of experience and expertise, they have formed deep connections with important players that can lead to promising introductions, and they have an ability to sense where the industry is headed.
- Field Expert
Field experts may or may not work within your startup’s given industry, but they have deep experience, knowledge, and skillsets in a particular area that is of great value to your business. Examples of this may be a sales executive, seasoned marketing professional, engineer, software developer, or technical expert to name a few.
Receiving mentorship from a professional in an area that is critical to your company’s success such as startup marketing is a huge benefit and can avoid having to navigate these areas on your own.
Roles of Startup Mentors
No matter what type of mentor you choose, there are various roles they can play in helping to launch, grow, and scale your business.
5 Major Roles of a Mentor in a Startup
- Guide – Navigated by their experience, they ensure startups are headed in the right direction.
- Brings Customer Perspective – Has knowledge of the current customer profile through research or expertise.
- Investor Relations – Helps gain access to startup investors, secure funds, and can help as a liaison once they have come onboard.
- Teacher – Business mentors for startups often have skills that require training to learn. Examples could be training on a particular software or technology or it could be communication skills that will help with things like networking, public speaking, or communicating effectively with your team.
- Sounding Board – Innovative ideas are what have made some of the best companies successful, but not all ideas will be successful on the market. It is a huge benefit to have a mentor act as a sounding board to listen to all of your ideas and provide constructive feedback.
How do mentors help startups?
Approximately 70% of mentored businesses survive five years which is more than double the rate of non-mentored companies. The reason for this is simple: startup mentors provide many benefits that prepare them to succeed in today’s market but also protect them from making big mistakes that could significantly hinder their company’s growth.
5 Benefits of Startup Mentors
- Develop new skills and training
When you are first starting your business, you most likely do not have a large amount of cash available in your startup budget to spend on training workshops and seminars. Mentors possess a wide range of skills that you can learn from.
- You don’t face challenges alone
Every startup no matter how brilliant or funded is at some point going to face challenges. Quite often as a new business owner, you will come across issues you have never dealt with before.
Startup mentors have been where you are and have been up against a lot of adversity. They can provide invaluable advice and tips on how to navigate problems, and are there for support as you make your way through them.
- Greater opportunities for growth
Learning from startup mentors provides you the opportunity to learn from the areas in which they have succeeded, and have had losses, and to learn how to make educated business decisions based on these experiences. In addition, mentors have the knowledge, skills, and connections to aid in your business’ overall growth.
Over many years as an entrepreneur, working in their industry, or refining their skill set, all startup mentors have formed connections with other professionals, investors, suppliers, and contractors and their introduction to these individuals can give you a foot in the door that you need.
- Build Confidence
Launching and operating a startup business can be overwhelming and at times, nerve-racking. Having the guidance and support of an experienced mentor can boost your confidence as a business owner and provide reassurance that you are on the right path.
How to choose the right startup mentor for your business
Thus far we have outlined the types of mentors, the roles they play, and their benefits, but how to choose the right mentor for your business is equally important. Aside from the obvious factors including their business experience, industry knowledge, and skillset, often these “on paper” qualifications are not enough. Just like not every qualified candidate for a job position is going to be a good fit, neither are mentors.
It all comes down to characteristics.
Characteristics of a strong mentor
- Has good chemistry with you
Sometimes how or if you bond with a person is the deciding factor. If your relationship seems forced, you will not feel comfortable approaching them regularly with concerns.
- Makes themselves available
A good startup mentor should not be difficult to connect with. Depending on the needs of your business and what stage you are in, scheduling regular meetings or phone calls would be the best scenario. This way, you can bring any items you want to discuss with your mentor to your regularly scheduled meetings rather than emailing or calling every time you need their advice or input.
- A good listener
Receiving advice, being told stories, and learning new skills is fantastic, but sometimes you need someone who will actively listen to you and provide their thoughts.
- Positive attitude
Encouragement and keeping a positive attitude go a long way. As experienced and knowledgeable as a mentor may be, if they are always negative and shutting down your ideas this will not benefit you or your startup.
Being “too nice” also exists, and this is not good either. There is a tactful way mentors can tell you your idea is not strong or there are issues with your business plan. If you are about to make a poor decision or your idea poses some serious red flags, you want a mentor who is not afraid to constructively point out problems.
How to find a startup mentor for your business
- Networking events
Attending local events, tradeshows, conferences, and workshops geared toward the business community or your specific industry is a fantastic way to find mentors for startups. Have a casual yet polished business pitch ready so you can convey the essence of your business clearly to many people.
- Online business platforms
There are great digital platforms that present opportunities to not only connect with mentors in your local region but across the world. Platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter are used heavily by business professionals and are great places to begin building connections.
- Startup Incubators
Startup incubators offer mentorship, programming, workshops, and networking opportunities that heavily increase the success rate of their clients. In fact, using a startup incubator increases a company’s survival rate to 87%.
Innovation Cluster Peterborough and the Kawarthas, a startup incubator that supports technology and innovation-driven companies, is located between Toronto and Ottawa and is led by Innovation Specialists who are seasoned entrepreneurs that are passionate about being a tech startup mentor. To learn more and apply, visit www.innovationcluster.ca.