Mentor manager delivers miracles

Aside

‘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.

Their extensive network of supporters is one of the most distinctive features of Accelerators. Their early-stage ventures have fast-changing needs for support – in terms of knowledge, expertise, advice and relationships; and keeping up with these changes and introducing people with appropriate contributions is a job for which the programme leader is often the best placed person, but he can seldom give it enough time.

One Accelerator has used a leading intermediary as their ‘mentor manager’. Once a week he would talk briefly to each team, on the first occasion to all of the team together, then each week to a different member, and ask:
What is your current ‘pain point’?
What are you currently struggling with?
to which he would add his own experienced perceptions. The CTO of one team was having trouble in managing a growing team: he was an expert in technology but managing people was a different story.

‘Validating a financial product is not as easy as going into the street and conducting a survey: you need specific experts! This team was having trouble in finding and getting in touch with a decision-maker within a large African Bank who would be a specialist in micro-credit in two specific sub-Saharan countries.’

As an intermediary, his task was then to find someone who would be able to help the team with their specific issues. There was a very good chance, he said, of doing so from within his and the Accelerator’s own extensive data-bases. With some two hundred previous startups in the latter’s data-base, within a week that CTO had meetings with numerous experts on the subject and gained tremendous confidence.

If these sources did not identify a good contact, his second line of attack was to search Google and LinkedIn by using key words, for someone with whom there could be some kind of link – with their company, their skills, their country and their activities (eg they had spoken on the topic at a recent conference).

He would contact them by e-mail, hope to spark an interest in the project, invite them just to have a 10-minute phone call with the team, then to Skype and perhaps meet.

On one occasion he searched the main VC, Tech and banking conferences in two countries, identified three people who might help a startup, and within a week had arranged Skype calls to two of them.

He brings to Startupbootcamp his experience when Up Global held Startup Weekends in some 270 cities in one single week last November; and he has kindly offered to come and tell us more about his work at the Workshop we plan to hold shortly – about mentors and mentor management.

See also:
I am a fly on the wall at an Accelerator’s Mentor Day
When the participants had an opportunity to meet the mentors at the beginning of a recent Accelerator programme, my encounters with the latter revealed five different mentor roles. http://wp.me/p3beJt-8N

John Whatmore
January 2015

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‘Supporters’ becoming more integral to Accelerators

Aside

Advisors, Speakers, Mentors and other specialists are getting more and more involved in Accelerators; but generalists, polymaths or iconoclasts should not be excluded

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 Wayra Lab 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).

Moreover, some would say that there are several different roles for mentors: one is to provide regular ‘supervisions’; another is to act as confidante; a third is to be available for his/her particular knowledge and skills; 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 being used 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 and organising to meet them is like tending the growth of a very fragile plant.

Jw/October 2013