In their fast-developing projects, more than anything else they say they value what they get from other participants, from mentors and from contacts. But helping them to do so requires a closer knowledge of them, their project and their progress than most hatcheries manage.
The best part for one participant was what he got from his weekly meeting with the three programme ‘managers’; another valued above all else what he got from others on the programme. And what he got from a changing quorum of mentors, advisers and contacts was also cited as of immense value.
Many Accelerator programmes have weekly sessions at which project leaders have to talk about their progress. Bethnal Green Ventures’ sessions are with three programme managers – whose regular questions are: What have you achieved this week; What do you hope to achieve next week; What is stopping you; and What have you learned. (One incubator manager records their answers and makes them available on their intranet.) As one project leader commented, this process forces you to evaluate your progress and to think about the future. And you get valuable feed-back on these and other aspects of the project.
Starting up an enterprise may be personally demanding, but it clearly needs external help – in (skilfully managed) barrow loads! Moreover there is a big difference between reactive support and proactive support: between help that is simply available and support that enables you to find just what you need when you need it – a ‘mothering’ role, that entails close contact with the team and their evolving project.
Projects evolve fast, so that needs for help change as the project moves on; moreover leaders of early-stage projects often do not have the experience that would enable them to know what help they need, either now or to-morrow. So participants may identify what help they need, but the programme manager or a mentor may also see something – that the participant may not see (- often how about how the team is working).
Participants value most the help they seem to get from people whom they bump into in the Accelerator – other participants or visitors, who have just the knowledge or experience they need; and from the contacts to whom programme managers or mentors can introduce you – people who have solved a similar problem – development, technical, commercial or financial – in another context, and especially potential users and customers.
Sometimes mentors are simply a shoulder to cry on; other mentors provide feed-back, advice, ideas, technical knowledge, solutions; and they provide contacts of all sorts, especially with people with relevant technical expertise, and potential users or customers. Needs change fast, but once a need becomes clear, then as well as the programme manager, it is often a mentor who may be able to connect you to such a person.
Initially, mentors often found themselves telling would-be entrepreneurs that their idea was a non-starter! Some mentors would suggest difficulties that they either had not considered and/or would need to address; others would suggest looking at the problem from either a narrower or a wider perspective, or even looking at an altogether different issue. Participants often find this stage frustrating; but as time passes, these meetings focus more on their encounters with reality – how significant or representative they may be, as well as how they should respond to them.
Sometimes mentors would invite participants to reflect on why they had alighted on that particular issue; and occasionally to explore issues to do with the team – as not working as well as it needed to, or lacking certain essential skills for its purposes.
Visiting speakers, especially if they are among those who have ‘done it before’ are popular for the inspiration they bring – that can bring solace and renew determination in the roller-coaster that is the starting up of a new enterprise.
For more see http://wp.me/p3beJt-6f. See also Specialists will head up a coaching revolution http://wp.me/p3beJt-7E, and Curating support for inventers, innovators and creatives http://wp.me/p3beJt-5K.