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Giving Back Through Mentorship Brings Many Rewards

DSM USA Mentorship

October 9, 2019

It’s no secret that mentorship is a very important component for founders trying to build a business. In fact, Small Business Trends reports 92% of small business owners view mentors as vital to their success. In my experience, this is why having a strong mentor network within an entrepreneurial ecosystem is crucial to the success of a community as a whole. The theory, proven in many successful startup ecosystems, is that as entrepreneurs become successful, they pay-it-forward by mentoring up-and-coming founders, who then mentor others, resulting in a positive multiplier effect.

You’re probably thinking, “I would love to mentor, but where do I find the time!?” I totally get it. My time is limited, too. Most mentors are also running businesses themselves and time is of the essence, but if you set the right expectations up front it can be a valuable relationship for both you and the mentee.

Where to Start

If you’re not already mentoring, the first thing to do is make yourself available to companies that might value your expertise. Founders often have no clue where to look for the right mentors, so connecting with them in the places they might be looking is really helpful. Those places could be weekly events like 1 Million Cups, pitch events, accelerators or mentor networks like Mentor Connection with the Greater Des Moines Partnership.

[Start the process to become a mentor through Mentor Connection.]

Setting Expectations

Before committing your time to mentoring a founder, it’s a good idea to have an initial meeting to better understand their vision and needs. It’s important for you to share the founder’s vision, but it’s even more important that you’re the right person with the right skills, experience and network to guide them. Building trust is key, so creating open communication and honesty between you and the founder is critical to making sure this is a valuable process for you both.

If it’s the right fit, awesome. Your time will be extremely valuable to your mentee — but it’s also valuable to you, which is why putting some structure in place as to when you meet will be helpful. Starting out, it’s a good idea to set up in-person meetings once every 3 – 4 weeks for action planning and check-ins. Outside of meetings, your mentee should know they can reach out to you if questions, concerns or an exciting milestone arise. For the first few sessions, you will likely facilitate the meetings. Eventually the mentee should be the one facilitating meetings, but early on they’re more than likely looking to you for some direction.

Make sure the mentee has a goal for each meeting. As a mentor, your role is to ensure the mentee leaves meetings with an action plan that helps them focus on the goal and overcome any challenges that may come up. Then at the next meeting, the mentee should be able to give you an update on where they’re at with the plan, what is going well and what might be needing some help.

Most importantly, remember that as a mentor you serve as a guide and sounding board, not a CEO. You will benefit your mentee more by challenging them to think strategically rather than directing them with what to do.

Mentoring has been an extremely rewarding way for me to give back to the startup community. It’s a vital part of company and ecosystem success. By creating trust, structure and expectations around the process, you can help to ensure a beneficial relationship for you and your mentee.

Looking for tools to help grow your startup or small business? Visit the Small Business Resources Hub to find the information you need or sign up for Mentor Connection to build relationships with a trusted group of mentors

Liz Keehner

Liz Keehner is program manager at VentureNet Iowa where she works with companies interested in applying for Iowa's Innovation Funding programs. Liz previously worked in venture capital in Austin, TX before her "boomerang" back to Iowa. She is a startup mentor and has a passion for connecting entrepreneurs to resources.