Experienced mentors can make the difference between startup success and failure. We look at the role they play and how to find the right mentor.
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Mentorship can be vital to startup success. A good mentor can help founders turn a great idea into a viable business, or use their experience to help them avoid costly mistakes.
Government research found that mentoring played a key role in 90% of programmes designed to fast track business growth. It also discovered that the mix of mentors was broadly balanced across industry experts, entrepreneurs, investors and consultants.
While mentoring by venture capitalists or business angels was considered to have improved growth, mentoring from consultants or business developers had “a negative association on growth but a positive impact on patenting”. This, the report suggested, showed the need to provide targeted mentoring based on a business’s needs.
The research, which focused on incubator and accelerator programmes, indicates both the importance and the diversity of mentoring in the world of startups.
How to find a startup mentor
Founders looking for advice, coaching and mentorship have many options. Some may be looking for a long-term relationship with a mentor, while others may want advice on a specific question or issue.
Online business communities can be great for firing off a quick startup-related question if you want less formal – and perhaps less expert – advice.
Reddit, the news and social discussion site, has a very active community of founders and entrepreneurs. The subreddit r/Startups has 446,000 members from across the globe, alongside an associated Discord server. The latter is a community-based chat app that operates a bit like Slack for those with a similar interest. It has fewer members, but those online are more active and responsive.
Universities often offer business development courses or evening classes, with support ranging from seminars and training to networking opportunities. Teachers, as well as fellow students, can be effective advisers or help introduce you to mentors. The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has a list of courses across the UK.
Startup events are also an effective way to meet potential mentors. While events are currently held virtually, there is still an opportunity to ask questions and start to develop relationships. Event management website Eventbrite is a useful tool for finding startup related events using keywords and filters. Look out for Eagle Labs events there too.
Simply operating in a co-working space with other startups is a good way to meet experienced founders or like-minded entrepreneurs you can learn from and share your knowledge with.
Another route worth considering is attempting to join an accelerator programme like Barclays’ London-based accelerator, Rise powered by TechStars, where coaching and mentoring are key features.
Being proactive in reaching out
Whichever route you choose, it’s important to take the initiative. Some founders advocate using social media sites like Twitter or Facebook to reach out and see whether the individual might be open to striking up a conversation. Try using the hashtags #startup and #startupmentor.
There’s also a range of online platforms that can connect founders with mentors. While some are free, others charge a fee for the introduction or connect people to paid advisers.
The UK government also recommends MentorsMe, an online gateway for small and medium-sized enterprises looking for mentoring services. It offers a list of quality-assured business mentoring programmes from across the country. It is operated by the Business Finance Taskforce, itself set up by a collection of five banks that includes Barclays.
Eagle Lab members have free access to coaching from a variety of highly experienced mentors. This includes ongoing mentoring relationships as well coaching and advice provided through specific funding programmes. Learn more by visiting our mentoring and coaching page or by speaking to your local Ecosystem Manager.