With an 83% survival rate for early-stage mentored entrepreneurs, mentorship is an important factor to include in your business strategy. When driven by the entrepreneur, the mentoring relationship can be long and fruitful. Understanding what a mentor is, their role and qualities, and assessing a good mentor/mentee fit will help set up foundational expectations for a healthy relationship. On the flip side, becoming a mentor has personal, community, and entrepreneurial benefits which can positively illuminate one’s career path.
Understanding the crucial role that mentorship plays in building a business, North Forge has created the North Forge Mentor Network. This Mentor Network is open to startups within the North Forge Founders Program incubation stage (Ascent). There are 50+ mentors in the Mentor Network. These mentors have a variety of skills ranging from product development (either tech or prototyping), finance, marketing, human resources to those who have built and run successful startups, and everything in between.
Mentors encourage self-reliance, leadership and help entrepreneurs reflect on their learnings in a trusting non-directive manner. Fundamentally, mentorship is about trust and mutual respect. As a mentee, trust is needed in the mentor’s expert abilities to guide you through the entrepreneurial rollercoaster of finance, human resources, skills assessments, and government regulations. As a mentor, you trust your mentee to be energetic about their business, be willing to follow through with guidance and be willing to listen to advice that may counter their existing ideas or assumptions. This trust helps build the respect needed on both sides when communicating thoughts and courses of action throughout the relationship and beyond.
Joelle Foster, CEO of North Forge, spoke about mentorship with CTV Winnipeg and defined it as a “trusting, and sustained relationship geared toward supporting a Founder’s goals for business growth and personal development.” Mentors will ask questions that get to the root of the problem that the founders are facing to help the founder gain insights and ideas. They are a sounding board for possible solutions. They help reveal blind spots that many founders may have about their idea or business, and provide realistic optimism when addressing entrepreneurial challenges and working towards solutions.
Mentors have a wealth of experience and knowledge to share with the understanding that they are in a guidance role and not a tactical role with the founder. They are not directive in their approach, instead using rationale driven guidance and constructive criticism to help the founder think through the problem to derive the solution themselves. Assumptions won’t be made about a mentee’s needs; instead, mentors will dig deep to find the real information behind the mentee’s reasoning or decisions and then provide the appropriate guidance.
“Digitally-enabled productivity gains have accelerated the 4th industrial revolution, and there’s no going back,” notes Joelle Foster. This major change has founders looking for mentors to help them navigate their industry in this new world. Justin Phillips, Vice President and Co-Founder of Carbon Block, who is in North Forge’s Founders Program, notes that “you need to align with skills you don’t have; otherwise you won’t succeed.” Having a mentor with expertise that is outside your toolkit helps you excel. They help you feel more comfortable and confident in those areas where your knowledge is not as deep.
Beyond being an expert in their field, a mentor provides support and boosts motivation through encouragement, recognition, and constructive feedback. Those with high emotional intelligence, are good listeners, non-judgmental, value diverse perspectives, and use their network to find solutions are highly sought after. Being genuinely interested in the people they are mentoring and honouring the diverse needs of the founder and their business are also key qualities to scout for when looking for a mentor.
There is much value to a mentorship relationship on both sides. The mentee receives business growth advice and a support system to guide them through their entrepreneurial journey, while a mentor may feel the vibrant enthusiasm the founders pour into their businesses. “You can’t help but feel energized by them,” exclaims Rosalie Harms who is the Department Chair of the University of Winnipeg’s Business and Administration faculty and mentor to Carbon Block. Learning how to convey ideas and an appropriate course of action using different approaches that are right for the entrepreneur and to which they find valuable, helps with interpersonal professional development. “I’m learning more about, not necessarily my technical skill set, but my human skill set,” Rosalie notes.
Feeling the sense of accomplishment is present on both sides. The mentee feels this in their business idea and the mentor can bask in the glow of the mentee’s achievements. Fundraising, expanding the customer base, and receiving industry awards are all milestones that both enjoy reaping the benefits. Rosalie enjoys guiding tech founders as she sees them as not much different than other startups in that they are trying to acquire capital, do market penetration, and put in good internal controls and processes. “I’m really energized by working with entrepreneurs and the things that they’re doing and it’s exciting!” Justin remembers their most beneficial mentorship moment. “We spent a morning, early afternoon, and a great lunch having a planning session that we would not have done because we would have found something else that would have kept us busy. That set us up for the next couple of months.” They strategized many scenarios and ended up needing to pivot. “Had we not had that planning session, we would have not been able to quickly turn and take another direction … In the end, it was the best direction we could have taken to obtain funding.” Justin said as he beamed from ear to ear.
If you were fortunate to have had a mentor throughout your career, or wish you had one, imagine the outstanding role you can play in someone’s life. Here is your opportunity to “pay it forward” and help someone by sharing your expertise and your experiences – apply today!