Managing support for early-stage ventures


Managing support for early-stage ventures – a fast emerging role
In Silicon Valley support is everywhere, and it is increasingly immanent in London’s entrepreneurial world, with some high profile examples – promoted by a new breed of support managers. But there are other areas where it is still a distant prospect. Join us in exploring how best to manage support.
Next week: The Future of Innovation – nuggets from the Deloitte Annual Survey of organisations’ views – about how they will do it and what kinds of things they will do.

The most distinctive features of Accelerators (as short periods of intensive development for small groups of early-stage ventures) are the proactive nature and the amount of support that they provide for the businesses they nurture – especially in the form of mentoring (in many programmes mentors are in a ratio of at least half a dozen per team), yet many startups and SMEs even in Incubators and Science Parks are lucky if they have a single one.

Mentors tend often to be appointed simply because they provide a hand to hold, so is it failure to match mentors to individual needs that holds mentoring back? While the Business Growth Fund normally appoints a couple of Directors and then on their advice from time to time finds appropriate experts, advisers and mentors (, the London Stock Exchange has launched its Elite programme of support with Imperial (, one or two VCs like Octopus Ventures ( have evolved sophisticated regimes of support; and Accelerators like Startupbootcamp ( and Bethnal Green Ventures ( are highly proactive in the management of their mentors and of their programmes.

One of the most telling accounts that I have written recently has been about what startups in Accelerators said they valued most (they cited: supervisory facilitators, proximity to their fellow travellers, access to their various mentors, and the inspirational speakers they met ( I am running a project whose aim is to learn more from those on the receiving end about what it is that works best in terms of support for early-stage ventures – e-mail me if you are interested to participate.

Entrepreneurs may be passionate and determined people, but they do not necessarily know what they are missing. The managing of support is a new role: it entails keeping in very close contact with developing businesses, understanding what might help them at different moments, the ability to corral a host of potential supporters, and to bring supporters and entrepreneurs together successfully (see

Help us! We are looking at ways in which people who play this evolving role can contribute their experience to its development – on topics such as building a bank of supporters, identifying startups’ needs, finding specialised experts, matching mentors to startups, curating cultures of inclusivity, and programme management. If you are interested to participate in this, please e-mail me.

John Whatmore
March 2015-03-20

Business Growth Fund adds network of advisers


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’

(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. 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. 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.