What is it that makes for effective mentoring in young ventures?


Mentoring is regarded as an ongoing relationship between the mentor and the mentee – the mentor offering help and advice on the mentee’s issues. But intensive development programmes have introduced the need for a variety of specialist mentors, whose help may be needed at different moments. To meet these needs, ‘Lead mentors’ will increasingly become managers of mentoring teams.


Einstein, Ghandi and Martha Graham are among the many great people whose vital supporters were in effect their mentors. But is having a great mentor little more than a matter of chance?

Recently there has been a great deal of activity aimed at encouraging mentoring. BIS is aiming to improve the mentoring offer in order to drive up demand: it has created a tool-kit of best practice; and is working to articulate the benefits of mentoring. So what makes a good mentor; how do you play this role effectively; and how should mentoring be managed?

There is of course an important role for mentors in working with aspiring entrepreneurs, encouraging the best of them, helping them to latch onto issues or technologies that could have a big impact, and to launch a venture (‘the family doctor of enterprise’) – though these are all roles that have their effect prior to commitment – prior to someone taking their decision to attempt to become an entrepreneur, so that mentoring relationship will be a personal and longer term one.

Mentoring schemes and most development programmes – programmes for people who already have a business concept – seek to pair someone whose role it is to meet the mentee one-to-one on a regular basis, to discuss progress and problems (including how best to use mentors). Sometimes there is an ‘entrepreneur-in-residence’ (at Lancaster University, a number of them). Everyone emphasises that it is the relationship between the individuals that is of the essence.

Many development programmes have worked very successfully with a large numbers of mentors, where speed-dating is certainly a way of discovering who among mentors might help whom, but the needs of those who are struggling to develop young ventures change rapidly (at one moment they may have a problem with their product, at the next moment with customers and marketing, and then with financing, or with themselves!). However they are not always aware of their evolving needs, and even less of who may best be able to help them.

On one development programme (Springboard) first of all it is twenty minutes with each of ten mentors per day, three to four days a week (there is a large number of mentors involved.) What they offered was a mix of (1) feed-back – on ideas, concepts, proposals, (2) advice – about ways forward, and (3) contacts – with people who are likely to help (most notably with potential customers). Many of the mentors working with early stage ventures are people who have ‘done it before’, and some are there for their special expertise eg in IP, finance or marketing. From the entrepreneur’s point of view, Mentor Days seemed like a relentless grilling, with often brutal feed-back!

After a period for absorbing what you have learned and adapting your business concept appropriately, mentees then choose to meet those mentors whom they would like to meet again; and mentors choose to meet those mentees whom they think they could help (eg with advice and contacts).

But in all of this there is no way in which mentors who are not regularly in close contact with a mentee can identify the critical moments for any subsequent contributions. The University of the West of England has however built a form of bridge over this gap – by adopting the concept of ‘the Board you could not afford’, where the entrepreneur meets three or four times a year with a carefully chosen group of 3 or 4 specialists.

It seems likely that ‘Lead’ mentors will have more of a role in heading up groups of mentors, each with their own specialism, (including for example someone who can help the mentees to find precisely relevant material on the net). Like UWE’s Board, they will know about each other’s background, experience and particular expertise, and will meet together from time to time to discuss their contributions and how they can best help individual mentees. Lead mentors may be able to introduce someone with a new perspective just when it is appropriate, and enhance the potential contribution of the often numerous mentors.


If you run mentoring networks, are interested in networking for mentors, or if you have some unusual mentoring needs, I would be interested to hear from you (at john.whatmore@btinternet.com).


John Whatmore

The Centre for Leadership in Creativity


Copyright 2013





1 thought on “What is it that makes for effective mentoring in young ventures?

  1. Pingback: Mentoring for Me | The Cranky Giraffe

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