Mentorship is key: 11 ground rules we abide by for Mix N’ Mentor
Even the most successful investors and serial entrepreneurs regularly debate the question of how ‘entrepreneurship-friendly’ ecosystems flourish. There are no quantifiable metrics to measure the health of an ecosystem, so any attempts to cite a fact to back up the solidity of an ecosystem inherently lacks direct causality. In fact, the concept of a ‘startup ecosystem’ is in itself debatable. What are the basic building blocks for a healthy ecosystem anyway?
At Wamda, we believe that ecosystems do exist, and that several stakeholders (government, corporations, NGOs, and most importantly, entrepreneurs) each have a role to play to help foster an ecosystem that nourishes healthy, high-growth technology startups. At the core of a healthy ecosystem is a healthy environment of knowledge transfer. In other words, mentorship is key.
There are 11 Commandments we abide by at Wamda when organizing mentorship events for entrepreneurs, and I think they’re true no matter where you are and what you do in the entrepreneurial world. If you are interested in serving the startup ecosystem, go out of your way to apply these points to your mentorship or coaching event to keep it engaging and effective.
1. Put entrepreneurs at the forefront: This sets the pretext for all other commandments here. Your objective must be directly linked to helping entrepreneurs build more efficient and scalable startups. The impact you create must be measured against that.
2. Engage the community: You shouldn’t be satisfied with reaching just a small group of entrepreneurs. If your objective is to serve the entrepreneur, you must see the value in engaging as many players as you can.
3. Bring in new faces: Go out of your way to find talent and expertise outside the typical pool of mentors and advisors in the ecosystem. You will be surprised how much untapped value and willingness to engage there is out there.
4. Structure the networking component: Networking is extremely valuable, but networking with a twist can bring tremendously value and open many more doors for collaboration in the ecosystem. There are plenty of effective collaboration ideas out there; test them see what works for you.
5. Engage partners beyond sponsorship: Some large companies understand the value of startups and want to engage entrepreneurs. Take the time to understand how they measure successful engagement with the ecosystem, and go out of your way to bring them the results they want at your events.
6. Keep track of your metrics: It’s essential you have numbers to back up your claims of success. How many startups attended? What industries do they come from? What areas of expertise do the mentors belong to? What was the best/worst thing about the event? How would you rate the event overall and why? These are all valuable questions you should be able to answer without hesitation. Also, pick a few success stories and build case studies around them.
7. Don’t be too quick to label someone a mentor: Be careful whom you reach out to for mentorship and do not give out the mentor ticket without being sure that person will bring good, actionable advice to the table.
8. Lose the suit: Go out of your way to show that you care about openness and comfort at your event. It may be easier logistically to rent out a ballroom and hotel catering, but spending a little more time and money finding a casual, hip venue for your event will always pay back.
9. Prioritize group activities: One-on-one mentorship and pitching is extremely valuable, but also incorporate group activities and roundtable discussions when possible to create a culture of collaboration.
10. Never rest: Always strive to iterate and tweak the format based on participant feedback, from surveys or post-event focus groups.
11. Aim for early-stage startups: Make a clear distinction to all partners and mentors that your event targets high-growth startups, not SMEs. The difference is tremendous and each requires different areas of expertise and support tools.
We strive to incorporate these points at our events, and we believe there is still tremendous room to better serve the entrepreneur who is at the core of our work.
These points were inspired by our own experience organizing Mix N’ Mentor events across the region, as well as by Brad Feld’s book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in your City. While some points he makes are more applicable to those building an ecosystem in the U.S., many of his recommendations hold true regardless of geography.