Does Mentoring Entrepreneurs Make a Difference? If you ask any of the non-profit program leaders at SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), Start:ME, Village Launch, or NEXT, they will respond with a resounding, “YES.” Mentors often make the difference between launch, success, and failure. Village Launch and Start:ME provide individual mentoring for founders enrolled in their programs; NEXT and SCORE provide mentoring without a formal training program.
Start:ME and Village Launch offer 14 and 10-week long classes, respectively, pairing entrepreneurs with 1-2 mentors for the duration. According to Jeanette Brewster, Village Launch Program Director, mentors assist entrepreneurs with applying the lessons each week to their own individual business. They are the sounding board as the entrepreneur processes ideas and concepts. Mentors are also a great resource as they listen to business pitches and provide constructive feedback.
At Start:ME, Elise Harvey, Ph.D., Program Co-Director and Assistant Professor of Marketing at USC Upstate, notes that mentors play so many roles: cheerleaders, sounding boards, links to resources, devil’s advocate, and listeners. Generally, 2-3 mentors are paired with 2 entrepreneurs for 14 weeks. The entrepreneur-mentor teams work together throughout the program, learning from each other and developing strong relationships and networks of support.
SCORE and the NEXT Venture Mentoring Service (VMS) offer direct support for founders. According to Jerry Smith, Piedmont SCORE mentor, their volunteer mentors support entrepreneurs in two primary ways. The first is via one-on-one coaching provided by experienced executives and small businesses owners. SCORE also has subject-matter experts to assist the mentors and teach various workshops that enhance the mentoring experience.
Tim Reed, the volunteer leader of the NEXT VMS program, notes that their volunteer mentors have varied backgrounds which allows for cross-discipline teams of two to four mentors. They focus on the individual rather than the business to give unbiased assistance to further develop the skills of the founder. The goal of the monthly meetings between mentor and mentee is to build a better leader.
According to each program leader, the entrepreneurs receive substantial benefits from mentoring. The most common benefit is the mentor’s real-world experience from having “been there”. Jeanette from Village Launch says they have seen increased confidence in the entrepreneurs and more consistent pursuit of their goals after the program ends. Elise notes that Start:ME mentors challenge entrepreneurs to take things to the next level.
According to Tim with NEXT, the founders build skills to handle whatever issue they are facing and tackle new ones as they arise. Since entrepreneur needs vary, they benefit from the ability of mentors to meet them with the right support at the time. Sometimes this requires “tough love”, sometimes narrow focus on the problem at hand, and it is always different from founder to founder.
If the founders receive so much benefit, what about the mentors? Why would someone volunteer for the responsibility of helping an entrepreneur realize their dreams? According to Elise with Start:ME, mentors often comment that they feel as if they are learning just as much as the entrepreneurs. The primary benefit for mentors is building relationships with entrepreneurs who, very often, come from entirely different backgrounds.
For the NEXT VMS mentors, not only are the mentoring sessions very rewarding, but the mentors meet on a regular basis to discuss best practices within the process. They follow strict guidelines provided by MIT on how to conduct and structure the meetings. The structure creates stability, and the diverse backgrounds and experiences of the other mentors are an incredible asset to the mentors.
At SCORE, mentors enjoy the opportunity to give back to the community in a unique way. Mentors say it is very rewarding to watch a founder traverse the challenges of starting a new business and, over time, achieve their dream of becoming a profitable business owner.
The deep desire to give back and lift up fellow entrepreneurs motivates many of the mentors at Village Launch. For some, it inspires them to be around the level of energy and passion brought on by others. When you sit in a room among other creatives and innovators it sparks something in you to explore and create more in your own life.
All the organizations are recruiting new mentors. For more information, please contact them directly.
SCORE is looking for a volunteer with a marketing and social media background to be a mentor or subject matter expert. Contact Jerry at Smith.firstname.lastname@example.org
Village Launch is looking for mentors for its 3 classes in 2022. They are open to a wide range of skills and backgrounds. Because social capital is important, having a person who can connect the founder with their network can be just as valuable as other knowledge. Apply through the Village Launch website www.villagelaunch.org/mentor or email Jeanette Brewster at email@example.com.
Start:ME is also actively recruiting mentors with the following areas of expertise: accounting, finance, sales, logistics, strategy, and marketing. Mentors come from a wide variety of backgrounds including retired executives, entrepreneurs, academia, big corporations, small businesses, and more. Interested mentors can contact Dr. Elise Harvey at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out the mentor interest form at startmespartanburg.com.
The NEXT VMS program is always open to additional mentors. They look for mentors that have seen the ups and the downs of executing an idea from any area of their past to encourage and guide the mentee. Visit the NEXT VMS website.
Erin H. Ouzts
December 14, 2021