Imperial takes the lead in mentoring – from MIT

Imperial takes its lead in mentoring from MIT Imperial has appointed an outstanding head to manage its mentoring service, with clear plans for how it shall work and for growing it to meet a fast growing need.

The President of Imperial, seeking to surf to-day’s wave of entrepreneurialism, recently appointed Paul Atherton, an outstandingly successful serial technology entrepreneur who focuses on startup companies from UK universities, to direct the Imperial Venture Mentoring Service, which he accepted only on the basis that it would have top level support.

Imperial has based its programme on MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service (see yesterday’s post for details of that service).

Imperial’s first initiative (after induction and training at MIT in Boston) was in late 2017 and it has now recruited around 40 mentors. It expects to reach 50 by this summer; and will need to recruit many more; the Director is currently interviewing around a couple of candidates a week, sourced from existing mentors, the development office and other contacts.

The aim is to provide to selected startups a pair of mentors, each with specific qualities. One of them will have been through the process and got all the scars of creating and developing at least one startup, experiencing its traumas and successes. And the other will be someone with extensive current knowledge of the specific field and market in which their startup is working. They are senior people with impressive records, and experienced in this kind of interaction.

The Director is responsible for making matches – which are based on the mutual accord of the proposed mentors and the team. They meet as a group about every six weeks; and may continue working together until the first/next funding round. Feed-back about each meeting is sent to the programme office (which also makes the arrangements for all the meetings.) The full cohort of mentors meets up once a year and talk together about their experiences.

Avoiding any possible conflicts of interest is a serious concern. If a mentor seeks to become more involved in the company of which they are a mentor, they may only do so on the basis of non-conflicted advice to the parties involved.

Imperial’s annual Venture Catalyst Challenge which this year attracted more than 350 applicants and in the final stage has provided intense support for 35 of them, provides a continuing stream of young businesses that can benefit from its mentoring services, as does the faculty and the Business School. Paul Atherton is looking to provide mentors for around 60 new young businesses per annum, and is pleased with progress so far.

Mentoring is sometimes regarded as a Golden Goose, whose magic is unfathomable, but we need to be able to understand how to get it to lay golden eggs. Managing the mentoring process should be as integral to incubators as management is to their businesses.

[I would be very interested to hear about where you are with mentoring, and especially your future plans.]

John Whatmore, March 2019




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