A new mentoring website

Compete for hi-value (and high price) mentoring on a new website
Good mentoring is like gold dust: hard to find but of incomparable value. It is easy to be seduced into a relationship with a name, but of greater value is to be able to get the help you need when you need it.

Support is of the essence for hi-growth young businesses – as they deal with problems that their entrepreneurs have never encountered before. The quantity and quality of supporters is one of the distinctive characteristics of Accelerators – typically 13-week programmes of intensive development that aim to help such businesses get to their next milestone. Effective mentoring provides startups with just the help they need and just when they need it; but their input is not easy to manage (1).

An online platform that aims to connect budding entrepreneurs with seasoned mentors in their field has just been launched. Entrepreneurs pitch their ideas on the Toucan website and those that earn enough votes are introduced to the 40-odd mentors – who don’t take any payment but get early exposure to the brightest new talents and the most promising new ideas in their world. Selected entrepreneurs pay 2 – 7% of equity to Toucan, plus a finder’s fee if subsequent finance is raised.

It’s an ingenious idea. The piece about it in The Times (15.1.15) touts a couple of good names among the mentors and has attracted a number of startups to the website; but it is essentially an expensive, internet-based, early-stage Dragons’ Den.

Good mentoring is indeed like gold dust – hard to find but of incomparable value. Mentor ‘managers’ are even rarer; they combine extensive experience with a fat address book (2), and they also have a knack for effecting good matches. Mentors need an intimate understanding of the developing business together with the ability to introduce other available specialist help (3).

Jonathan Shawcross COO Group IT at Lloyds Bank has been mentoring one of ten social entrepreneurs on an eight-month course run by the School of Social Entrepreneurs for the Cabinet Office.
‘He has helped me’ she said, ‘to refine my business plan and got me connected to the bank’s specialist in social care…who arranged for me to shadow a successful startup entrepreneur in the care sector.’
‘Opening a new business is hard and there are moments I felt like it is all too much for me. At those times having Jonathan at the end of the phone makes a big difference.’

Most Accelerator Programme Managers bring a host of connections to the job and are able to attract a range of experienced entrepreneurs to act as mentors (who do the job out of interest and not for pay). A new website called eRipple is aiming to encompass relevant information about mentors – their knowledge, experience and availability; but no website can replace the mentor ‘manager’, just as no website can predict love matches! Accelerators usually hold introductory Mentor Days, when the entrepreneurs and the mentors are introduced to one another, often in a speed-dating style (4). And the needs of entrepreneurs change as their business develops.

We are currently running a research project on mentoring; and will be holding a Workshop on mentoring and mentor management shortly – contact me for details.

See also:
1. Mentoring: great benefits, but considerable problems
The benefits and the problems are well recognised. Several different routes are evolving, and four distinct approaches to the managing of mentors have different benefits and different problems. http://wp.me/p3beJt-9E

2 ‘Mentor Managers’ can work miracles for startups
Above all else, early-stage ventures need their hands holding in their new adventures, but they have no idea about whose hands to hold. Mentor Managers can help them by finding experienced and expert mentors. http://wp.me/p3beJt-9R

3. I interview the ‘best mentor’ in Startupbootcamp’s FinTech Accelerator
In and out frequently, he steadily evolved his role by offering the wealth and breadth of experience of a life-time’s work in a top bank – clarifying progress and problems, acting as a sounding board, offering experienced insights, and marshalling help. http://wp.me/p3beJt-9P

4. I am a fly on the wall at an Accelerator’s Mentor Day
The day provided the programme’s entrepreneurs a free-form opportunity to meet mentors and for them to learn something about each other. It suggested to me five different mentor roles. http://wp.me/p3beJt-8N

January 2015


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