How start-ups and SMEs can find the right mentor

finding the right mentor

A weak mentoring environment was once identified by the Philippine Development Foundation (PhilDev) as among the top seven issues in the Philippine’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, beside the need for entrepreneurship programs in colleges and universities, regulatory red tape and weak access to capital funding.

Hence, the issue of mentoring for start-ups and small and medium enterprises was taken up in one of the breakout sessions of the IDEA Global Entrepreneurship Symposium 2015 on Feb. 26 at Radisson Blu Hotel.

Mentors are not limited to the campus, although I agree with Mr. Joey Concepcion when he said in a Mar. 27, 2014 column that good professors have a big stake in developing the entrepreneurial mindset and attitude among the young today. Mentors can also come in the form of friends, colleagues, industry leaders, even parents who are themselves entrepreneurial by nature, if not entrepreneurs themselves.

Note that PhilDev emphasized on the weak mentoring system, not the lack of mentors. We have plenty of potential ones. It is all a matter of identifying them, starting a productive mentoring relationship and sustaining it to such point that the mentees will eventually become the next generation of inspiring mentors.

finding the right mentor

The big question now is, how do you find the right mentor?

Attend events like the IDEA Global Entrepreneurship Symposium or seminars with topics that are aligned with the nature of your start-up or business, said Jojo Flores, Plug and Play Tech Center vice-president and co-founder.

He added that customers can also make the best mentors.

“For example, your start-up offers enterprise software for hotels. You can ask to meet hotel managers and ask for their advice. You can even go to the extent of asking them to be part of your business’ advisory board,” he said.

“Time is precious to start-ups. Let’s say that on your own, you can make a start-up work within three years. Do you have the resources, including time, to spend that could stretch to three years and beyond? Note that 99.9% of start-ups out there do not have enough resources. You can tap mentors to help you solve your problems and consequently help you save time.” —Eros Quesada Resmini, 9Plus partner

Eros Quesada Resmini, 9Plus partner, reminded start-up owners that at the beginning phase of your business, you are going to need a lot of help. He advised the search for people with the “domain expertise” or authority and knowledge in a particular area.

“People who are passionate about starting a business and have succeeded will certainly be willing to help you out start your own through mentoring,” he said.

Resmini pointed out that mentors are important for they “maximize your time.”

“Time is precious to start-ups. Let’s say that on your own, you can make a start-up work within three years. Do you have the resources, including time, to spend that could stretch to three years and beyond? Note that 99.9% of start-ups out there do not have enough resources. You can tap mentors to help you solve your problems and consequently help you save time,” he said.

Ahmed Alpdemir of Shimdi Venture Advisors added that many start-ups fail because “they do not know what they do not know and they do not ask for help.”

finding the right mentor

L-R: Jojo Flores of Plug and Play Tech Center, Eros Quesada Resmini of 9Plus and Ahmed Alpdemir of Shimdi Venture Advisors

While having mentors to guide you in making a success out of your business sounds very exciting, the three experts at the recent IDEA’s “What are the Mentoring Models for Start-ups?” breakout session cautioned new business owners against “sharks.”

“There are people who pretend that they want to help or ask for advisory shares or will say that if they are going to advise you, they have to be part of your company or they want to invest in you. As much as possible, seek for free advice,” explained Flores.

If you’re currently enrolled now, he said, the best people to ask for free advice are your teachers who are also practitioners.

In a separate breakout session, “Models, best practices, follow through, and sustainability of TBIs (technology business incubators),” Ideaspace Foundation Inc. President and Co-founder Earl Valencia urged schools to make their campuses friendly for collisions and collaborations for start-ups. (And to me, this could also include mentoring, too.)

He said that relationships for such set ups should not be limited among students or between teachers and students but should also encompass the community around the campus.

Resmini advised start-up owners and those who are still working on creating their own to not disrespect their mentors’ time.

“Mentors are extremely busy people. You can reach out to them but you have to do it in a smart way,” he said.

He added that when looking for mentors with the right domain expertise, also look at the personality and ensure that they are someone you can work with. Also, be clear with what you’re trying to get from your mentors—is it advice, connections, or money?

Finding and having the right mentor is up to you. It takes passion and confidence, two qualities that Alpdemir considered essential in a mentor-mentee relationship.

At the end of the day, whether you believe it or not, having a mentor matters. You do not know all things and you do not have all the time in the world to know them all; a mentor can fill in the gaps and increase your chances at success. But even if you fail with your business, Alpdemir said, you’re still going to come out a smarter person because of one person who has passionately and confidently helped you. #

(All images, except the profile pictures from PhilDev, are from pixabay.com) 

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Nancy Cudis-Ucag

Learn. Then write.

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