An Accelerator’s Mentor Day

I am a fly on the wall at an Accelerator’s Mentor Day
Experiments like these – in mentoring – might be as productive as any in the support of innovators in action.
Lucky as I was to be welcomed to Fintech’s Meet-the-mentors day last week, I listened to the ten teams pitching to some of their potential mentors and I could also be a fly on the wall at their subsequent small group and one-to-one meetings.
Startupbootcamp had previously held a Mentor Day (mentors numbers were in a ratio of slightly under ten to a team), to invite them to consider their availability and depth of involvement, and with the help of startup mentor-matching app eRipple, to write alongside their photos about their experience, motivations and expertise (hopefuly searchable by key workds), with the aim of developing capability in matching. (The research project hopes later to include aspects of personality.)
All of these teams were established SMEs with existing products that could be relevant to London’s banking industry, for which the 12-week Fintech Accelerator programme was grooming them. Several of them are dealing with customers whose risk profile or with markets which are currently outside the banks’ normal range of business. They were looking to adapt their products to the needs of this market.
Many of these teams came from overseas and hence were seeking introductions to elements of the UK market. In their pitches, some of the teams made no mention of their mentoring needs, some mentioned them in outline; and one or two – in extensive detail.
One team found the small group meeting too diverse to enable them to focus in enough depth on aspects of their mentoring needs. Another found itself with repeated small group meetings in which it could elaborate on its business. At each group meeting, potential mentors and teams could make appointments to meet later on a one-to-one basis.
The received wisdom is that the best among mentors are those who have ‘done it before’, either launched a new business or mentored one (or more) – or both; and everyone recognises the importance of ‘getting on well together’.
I eventually divided the mentors I met into five types.
Specific contributors. Among these were specialist experts, technical ‘challengers’, sector merketers, and ‘introducers’ ie to individuals in intermediaries or among potential customers or users.
Coaches. Providers of help in identifying and focusing on the best objectives and lines of attack from one moment to the next as the venture moves forward.
Advice givers. Providers of their opinion about what they heard. Most effective when well-grounded and undogmatic, but difficult if in conflict with the opinions of others (eg grounded on different experiences, contexts or values.)
Supervisors/facilitators. In close and frequent contact, asking regularly about progress and plans, obstacles and learnings; often with fat adddress books from their extensive experience, and willing to make instant introductions.
General contributors, including people who were groping their way to how they might be able to help, among them people who were running or had run other Accelerators.
I saw one participant being offered advice (I think to the effect that he should do more extensive tests of customer reactions) by a didactic and rather imposing mentor. As he left him, he passed me muttering ‘f…… c…’! The mentor later button-holed me to tell me, in triumph, that this guy had returned to make another appointment with him. I hope to discover who then said what to whom!
Serendity at its most evanescent!

John Whatmore
Sept 2014