What are startup mentors, and why do you need one?

Mentors have been around for a while and successful founders from all industries are having mentors at different stages of their companies’ growth. But where does this concept come from and is it valuable for you to work with mentors?

In Europe mentorship has existed since ancient Greece and the word was inspired by the character ‘Mentor’ in Homer’s Odyssey. Mentorship has played a significant role through the years in Buddhism and Hinduism as well. The idea took off in the second half of the twentieth century in the United States where advocates for workplace equity popularized the term ‘mentor’ and the concept of career mentorship. In the mid-1990s, the idea became mainstream and was promoted as a pathway to success.

Nowadays, there are all sorts of mentors out there, but startup mentors are a different kind of breed. They are either industry experts with many years of experience; they can be sales or marketing experts, offer thought leadership, work in HR, or have investment market knowledge. They can also be successful founders who are now willing to share what they learnt. Some accelerators and VCs are using mentors to assess startups, to accelerate their scale and some of them are becoming core mentors sitting on startup advisory boards and sometimes investing in the startups themselves. And the numbers don’t lie: most entrepreneurs report growth and prolonged life of their business after interacting with mentors. In other words, mentors can become your secret weapon for success.

Without further ado, here are a couple of situations when having a mentor can save you months of work, or decide the future of your startup.

There are some primary things you still need to learn

If you are a startup founder you’ll agree there are a lot of things to be learnt. Every day. And you know how important it is to do so, as it will only drive your business further. As a first step, try to find those mentors who can help you to build the right business model and put together the right team. Start small and focus on a couple of core elements that need your full attention right now. Getting the right support at this stage is instrumental to your growth.

You’re looking for product-market fit

If you are looking to test your product and/or service and looking for market validation, a mentor can support you with the process or can introduce you to a possible partner for your pilot. A mentor with a corporate background might be a great match. If this pathway can be a shortcut it can save you months of research and solve the difficult task of convincing people to connect and listen to your idea.

You need more connections

We are all in need of connections in today’s world. No matter the industry and our local market. This is what has made the world go round for centuries. Nowadays, the digitalization of almost everything around us has made connections even more valuable. So even though you are busy and need to focus, do make time to connect and identify the best connections out there. Through them, you’ll be able to grow exponentially. So if you found a business mentor with good connections, keep him/her close and be bold in asking for introductions.

You’re looking to scale

When trying to scale your business in your local market or internationally there are many elements you need to take into account. Find a mentor with experience in your industry who has done this before, so he/she will have insights and advice which cannot compare to any theory out there. So even though young mentors are great to have for innovation, sales, or marketing, when it comes to scaling, the seniors among your network can teach you some valuable lessons.

You’re fundraising

There is no tougher game than the fundraising one. This is what any founder who has raised funds will tell you. So how about having a mentor in your network who can introduce you to a possible investor or who can invest him/herself. That would be an ideal situation, wouldn’t it?! When looking for fundraising advice from mentors make sure you’re getting it from a mentor connected to investors or a mentor who also invests.

What next?

You’re convinced? The next step is finding a mentor, which can be tricky. If you don’t know where to start, check out events taking place in your industry. You’ll find possible mentors as speakers for example. Find ways to connect and introduce your startup to them. If you cannot make it happen, try joining an incubator, accelerator, challenge, or hackathon. These are great communities that are used to working with mentors and can recommend some to you. An upcoming opportunity is of course the EU-Startups Summit 2021, which will take place online on the 28th until the 30th of April. Here you’ll get to (virtually) meet and learn from 1,500 of Europe’s most promising founders, startup enthusiasts, corporates, angel investors, and VCs!

Veronica Fresneau

Veronica Fresneau is a tech and startups enthusiast, and an advocate for women in tech, startups, and VC scenes. She has more than ten years of Marketing & Communications experience in several EMEA markets. Veronica is currently based in Amsterdam, where she coordinates marketing for Rockstart, one of Europe’s first startup accelerator-VC.

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