Advisors, Speakers, Mentors and other specialists are getting more and more involved in Accelerators; but generalists, polymaths or iconoclasts should not be excluded. Regular mentors are the foundation of the mentoring process, as is a good manager of mentors.
Discussions at the Accelerator Exchange Forum that we held recently in London showed how ‘supporters’ were becoming increasingly involved in Accelerators (see http://wp.me/p3beJt-5W), so it was no great surprise to read in a recent e-mail how Telefonica’s Wayra Lab Accelerator was defining these different roles.
“The role of the Board Advisor is to act as in an advisory capacity for a specific team or project. We ask Board Advisors to be active participants in the acceleration of the specific team; being available on an ad-hoc basis, attending Board Meetings and facilitating network opportunities.
The role of the Masterclass Speaker is to provide inspiration, expert knowledge and opinion on a specific subject matter.
The role of the Mentor is to be available to act as a sounding board for the start-ups, pitches and new ideas.
The role of the Surgery Mentor will be to run at least one half-day open surgery per year on a specific theme/topic to which the project teams can book face-to-face consultations.”
Among the most popular speakers are those who tell the story of their adventure in their own early-stage business – whether it was a miserable disaster or a grand success.
The analysis above omits one role that is capable of lifting the whole process, of breaking the mould, of creating genuinely disruptive innovations: that of presenting ways of looking at similar problems in different contexts, epitomised in EPSRC’s Sandpits – by sessions with poets, ethicists, IT experts et al, but also for example by people who simply work in different fields such as theatre, sport or art (‘Ideas via Intermediaries’ is a collection of nineteen brief stories about breakthroughs of this kind – available on request).
The conventional idea of a mentor is someone whom you might meet from time to time to discuss whatever you choose – on a one-to-one basis. But there are several different roles for mentors: one is to provide regular ‘supervisions’ – the three facilitators at Accelerator Bethnal Green Ventures meet each team individually every week, and ask four questions: what have you achieved this week; what do you plan to achieve next week; what is stopping you; and what have you learned. Another role is to act as confidante; a third is to be available for your particular knowledge or skills (market, strategy, design, technical, marketing, financial etc); and the fourth is to be able to provide contacts and introductions. And different roles have different places in the course of Accelerator programmes as the business concept reaches different stages of evolution.
Another correspondent tells me that he became concerned that as a mentor he was simply beingused by a certain Accelerator. There clearly has to be some give-and-take, and the ‘take’ must consist of opportunities to invest (or for paid work/advice).
So it also comes as no surprise that providing just the right support from moment to moment to entrepreneurs with their ever-changing needs is a sophisticated management role: detecting their needs, knowing who among the mentoring team might help, and arranging for entrepreneurs and mentors to meet is a bit like running a dating agency for people who are never quite the same from week to week!