In today’s society it seems that everyone has the opportunity to become an entrepreneur. Everyone has a product, new venture or innovative idea but only the strongest survive in the world of entrepreneurship. I often ask myself this question; how are we preparing the younger generations to become the leading entrepreneurs of the future? I see plenty of students with brilliant ideas but no clear guidance of seeing that idea to fruition.
There are a lot of factors that can help one along their journey to becoming a successful entrepreneur; a business plan, start up funding or capital and educational or personal experience are just a few. I like to look at entrepreneurship as a way of thinking, not just owning a business. A very valuable resource is finding a mentor; developing a relationship with a more experienced person in your field of interest. Mentoring helps young entrepreneurs as they go through challenging transitions when starting their business; conceptualizing their business idea. As their idea grows into a business, so will their mentoring needs. It is important to choose a mentor who will meet the needs of the mentee, whether its skill set or support.
As a start up As a Startup founder, if you want to maximize the value of mentors in an accelerator, then it’s 100% up to you to do so. Turns out that’s pretty much the case with everything you’re going to do as a startup founder. At the end of the day, even with investors, employees, advisers, parents, friends, support groups, etc. all around you, it’s up to you.
So, as you are getting into the mentorship session of Accelerate Labs program, you are to go through the list of mentors with a fine-tooth comb. Figure out which ones you think will be most valuable to you, and reach out directly. Build that personal relationship with them using the accelerator as the conduit for initial communication. No decent mentor should ignore your email or call if they’re connected to you through an accelerator. It’s a “free pass” to reach out. And accelerator programs should make those connections possible, even for their most prominent mentors.
The other benefits that come from having a big mentorship list are around funding, partnerships and acquisitions. The mentors are usually very well connected, many of them are angels as well, and they’ll open doors. That’s the expectation. But if there are no personal relationships between founders and mentors, I don’t see many doors getting opened. People are always careful with their Rolodex, it’s one of their most precious assets. They’re not going to open it up willy-nilly, just because they’re listed as a mentor for an accelerator. It still comes down to personal relationships and trust.
Startup founders, If you want to maximize the value of mentors inside an accelerator, it’s your job to build that trust.
As startup founders, you have to remember that you’re competing for attention. That means you need to be extremely strategic and aggressive (within reason) in sucking out as much as you can from the accelerator experience. Don’t wait for anyone to hand over the value; you need to leverage your participation in an accelerator to get all the value you possibly can.
Here are some other ideas for how to maximize the value from mentors:
- Understand their specialties: Mentors all have different skill sets and experience. Do your homework and figure out which mentors are the best ones for you to engage with at specific times. Timing is key here. When it’s time to raise money, go to the mentors with that expertise. When it’s time to focus on user acquisition, get closer with different mentors. You have to build the relationships early though, but time your use of mentors properly.
- Get to the point: Don’t waste mentors’ time, get to the point. Have an ask. Make sure when you connect with mentors that you know why you’re doing it and what you’re looking for. Mentors will appreciate that. Asking for “general feedback” is a death trap. Mentors won’t know how to help, they’ll get frustrated, and you’ll be frustrated as well. Trust will be lost.
- Engage with them on social media: Mentors are people too. Usually with big egos. And many of them are actively working on their own startups or have their own interests. Engaging with them online is a good way of building a relationship. Tracking what they’re doing is a smart way of showing that you care.
- Take the classes / training sessions / etc. seriously: Most accelerators have some structured components to the program. Some business owners may feel like this is a distraction, but that’s the wrong way to look at it. Think of it like a crash course in all the elements of running a startup. That’s an education that others just aren’t getting. But also realize that these sessions are an opportunity to build better relationships with mentors. Have questions ready, stay engaged, be the keener and soak it all in.
Going through an accelerator is a journey. For many, I think it’s trans-formative. There’s not a single accelerator anywhere that can guarantee success. And while they can make some things easier, they don’t grease the wheels that much. Be careful about your expectations going in; the process is not going to be easy. Accelerators in a lot of ways make things harder because they compress time, create intense demands, and throw a ton at you all at once.
Take advantage of all will be thrown at you with this Accelerator program, The classes, SME clinics, Mentorship and Research Session and The Demo week.