Business Growth Fund adds network of advisers

Aside

The Business Growth Fund adds a network of advisers
Entrepreneurial young businesses need access to strategic support and advice: the BGF’s scheme enables them to find advisers with experience, and willing and able to give time to offering the advice they need. Achieving successful matches remains a difficult task, as does providing the comprehensive regime of support that is often needed.

The Business Growth Fund has gone down a new track (where the banks never went) in providing business support in the form of advisers for its customers; and other funders are even more active in the support of their investments. By enhancing the chances of their customers’ success, not only are they meeting their objective to support business growth, but they are also protecting their own investments.

‘In the corporate world, non-executives might be associated with a dry, formal governance role, but for entrepreneurial businesses, the job is wider – adding experience, networking and credibility. The BGF considers the role of non-executive so vital for its investee companies that it has built up a network of 3,000 experienced executives nationwide who are willing to spend a few hours a month working with a growing business.’ (The Times 26.1.2015.)

‘One of the concerns we hear time and time again from entrepreneurs’ quotes the article, ‘relates to the lack of access to strategic support and advice – ideally from someone who carries the battle scars of business and has come out the other side. The biggest barrier, they say, is gaining access to these people.’

One such adviser quoted in the article said that each company demands about two meetings a month and approximately six phone calls. ‘A decent non-executive will set a business back about £40,000 a year, although the adviser shouldn’t need the money. If they need the job they are the wrong person.’ But much depends on the company. (1)

One beneficiary commented: ‘It was a case of a headstrong entrepreneur finding the world a difficult and risky place who realised he needed some help – a voice of experience, who had been there and done that, someone who could pour oil of troubled waters.’ Another had brought in someone who ‘is a good sounding board for my business…and has been superb at building relationships with our investors.’ Achieving a high rate of growth calls for support in many different areas. (2)

There is no hint of how the Fund is managing these liaisons. Some managers of mentoring simply see their role as that of introducing mentors and mentees to one another, but the recent conference of the Association of Business Mentors illustrated how variegated are the needs and how unpredictable is the role: matching mentors to people and to their needs is a sophisticated task. (3)

Accelerators (like Techstars, Seedcamp and Startupbootcamp) and VCs (like Octopus Ventures) have highlighted the importance of mentors for early-stage businesses, and in providing access to them from the outset. They keep their eyes on the development of the business all the time – for new obstacles and new needs for help and support; and are ready to search for contacts whom they can introduce, sometimes from within the cohort or portfolio, and sometimes from elsewhere in their industry – or other industries.

The Business Growth Fund’s initiative is a first step in establishing a comprehensive regime of help and support for the businesses they fund.

John Whatmore
February 2015

See also at ‘Applied Creativity’ http://johnwhatmore.com.

(1) 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 Dec 2014

(2) 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 Sept 2014

(3) 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

Mentoring gathering pace

Aside

Mentoring Conference illustrates the many different roles that mentors play
The interplay of minds is perhaps the essence of mentoring, but up-to-date experience is of increasing importance in a fast-changing world.

The government launched a compaign for mentoring with a great fanfare in 2012, so this first conference of the Association of Business Mentors is something of a milestone in the progress of mentoring. The point was well made that mentoring is experiencing rapid growth, and becoming more professional, with rising standards and the first signs of institutionalisation (ie the appearance of mentoring organisations.) Far less pervasive than in the United States, it has a long way to go.

Finding a mentor is often provoked by a need that is felt but cannot be met by any other means. Discussions illustrated that it is seen as an enduring and personal one-to-one role (like that of Prince Charles and Laurens van der Post), in which the kind of relationship is of the essence: as providing an opportunity
• to discuss one’s private thoughts;
• to consider one’s aims, objectives and progress;
• to work through a particular issue;
• to get a different perspective (eg longer term/more holistic)
• to help in identifying problems or opportunities;
• to reveal unseen factors;
• to get a better understanding of oneself;
• to gain inspiration;
• to affirm one’s commitment.
So it is unsurprising that people often choose people they know well for these roles; and any intermediary needs to know both parties well or risk a mismatch.

For more specific issues, such as advice on a business function, objective or technology, or about the marketability of a proposal, nothing can replace up-to-date knowledge (your mentor needs to know about the latest in Google Analytics, Crowdfunding or 3D printing, as he or she does if the business or the industry is going through a specific phase eg a period of great change or rapid growth.)

The conference was mainly about helping self-employed mentors to develop their business. For most mentoring roles, depth of experience that a second career implies is an essential qualification. Sessions were about identifying one’s mentoring strengths, defining one’s roles, getting more clients and enhancing one’s business processes. While many see mentoring as something that has its own rewards and payment is not among them, Jonathan Pfahl of the Rockstar Mentoring Group urged us with great gusto to treat it as an entrepreneurial young business.

Organisations that aim to provide mentors often have great difficulty in enabling those mentors to establish satisfactory ongoing relationships with their mentees: making a good match is evidently very difficult. Experience, background and expertise can be matched easily enough, but understanding motives, needs and feelings is more elusive. For many people, their mentors play an enduring role; but for some people, mentoring needs change with circumstances and with moods, and some organisations like Accelerators YCombinator and Techstars (and more rarely some people) are able to provide different mentors to meet those changing needs.

Mentoring clearly has an important role in a fast-changing world, and conferences like this one can help in advancing its cause, especially in terms of mentoring skills and mentor-matching.

John Whatmore
February 2015

See also at ‘Applied Creativity’ http://johnwhatmore.com:

(1) 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 Sept 2014

(2) 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 Dec 2014

(3) ‘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 Jan 2015

(4) 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 Dec 2014