You’ve probably never heard of Mike Markkula — but everyone knows Steve Jobs. Well, Mike was his mentor – and Apple’s success is at least partly due to Mike’s mentoring.
For entrepreneurs and founders to convert their idea into a living, breathing business organism, they need to rely on mentors.
In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about mentoring for startups including why mentoring is a critical factor in a startup’s success, how startup mentorship works and what types of mentors you can benefit from to help your startup take-off.
What is a startup mentor?
A startup mentor is a person or organization that provides counseling and guidance to a startup company.
There’s always going to be someone who has more experience than you. Someone who’s been around longer than you. Someone who has knowledge or expertise in your particular field. That someone is your keystone to success as a startup.
There are dozens of different kinds of mentors. Each can provide different varieties and levels of mentorship for your startup depending on your goals.
A startup mentor could be an industry expert with decades of experience under their belt. Or, they can be an expert with a specific skill set you’re looking to advance, such as sales or marketing.
We asked Dr. Adrian Sprenger, Manager Entrepreneurship at Basel Area Business & Innovation, how he defines “startup mentor”.
”Startup mentors can be industry experts, successful business owners, investors or other professionals with relevant experience and expertise in areas such as marketing, finance, business strategy, product development, fundraising, team-building operations or technology. Startup mentors work closely with entrepreneurs to help them develop their ideas. They help to validate their business models, navigate challenges and make informed decisions.Dr. Adrian SprengerManager Entrepreneurship at Basel Area Business & Innovation
Perhaps the most valuable mentor is one who has successfully created their own startup and can share their experience with you to guide you along the way.
Whatever your goals are, a good mentor can take your business to the next level to transform your vision into reality.
Why you need a mentor for your startup.
Many startup founders think it’s them against the world. It’s important to realize that you don’t have to do it alone. Failure is more likely if you try to build your business as a lone wolf entrepreneur.
According to Statista, nearly 1 in 5 Swiss businesses fail within the first year.
One of the most common beliefs in entrepreneurship is that failures and mistakes are how you learn, grow and succeed. But, if you could skip the failures and mistakes others make, wouldn’t you be able to fast-track your path to success?
We believe you can. The secret is to partner with a startup mentor.
If you asked Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Richard Branson what they thought of mentorship, what do you think they’d say? Besides building incredibly successful startups, they all share one commonality: they had mentor.
Even Oprah! She accredits much of her success to Maya Angelou, who mentored her through some of the most important years of her life.
When you’re able to access a mentor’s knowledge and experience, you can avoid major failures while accelerating your path to success.
”A mentor can offer valuable insight and advice that can help entrepreneurs avoid common pitfalls.Dr. Adrian SprengerManager Entrepreneurship at Basel Area Business & Innovation
Whether you’re trying to build a biotech company or bring your new medtech device to market, a mentor can help you navigate the different startup stages.
The 5 main benefits of a mentor for your startup.
Support for a product-market fit
A mentor can help you along the process of testing your product, receiving market validation and help communicate your idea to the world.
You can leverage a mentor’s professional network to get in touch with people you wouldn’t otherwise be able to approach to drive your startup’s growth.
A mentor who’s been through the scaling process guides you through smart decision-making and timing strategies.
There’s no greater challenge for startup founders than raising capital. Finding the right investors is half the battle to get a startup off the ground. A mentor can help you find an investor, meet your financial goals and reach your funding deadlines.
Adrian mentioned one often overlooked benefit to working with a mentor: emotional support.
“Starting a business can be stressful and overwhelming. A mentor can provide emotional support and encouragement, which can be invaluable in keeping entrepreneurs motivated and focused.”
3 different types of mentors.
On the importance of mentoring, English entrepreneur Richard Branson once said, “Ask any successful businessman and, if they are honest about it, they will almost certainly admit to having benefited from the advice of a mentor at some point along the way.”
No doubt: a good mentor can be the difference between your startup’s success or failure. The question is, what type of mentor should you look for?
Here are three different types of mentors for startups:
Oftentimes, this is a friend or acquaintance who has taken you under their wing to help you and your startup.
This type of mentorship is the most casual type of mentorship. It’s less formal than the other options and it’s typically free.
The downside: with less obligations comes less commitment. You and your private mentor should set up some sort of agreement to manage expectations, be it about time invested or about common goals.
An incubator is a formal style of mentorship. Sometimes called a mentorship program, an incubator is an organization that helps a founder go from the ideation stage to having a pitch or prototype.
Usually, an incubator is a free service but it may include a small fee to cover part of the cost of mentorship or office space.
Incubators often include networks of mentors available to consult, hold talks and sometimes visit your startup site for lunches and even Q&A sessions.
With incubators, you typically have plenty of opportunities to receive mentorship, but it’s not a requirement. Incubators won’t typically reach out to startups to offer mentorship. And, incubators also don’t usually assign a specific individual to mentor a startup or a founder.
Venture mentoring at Basel Area Business & Innovation.
We offer a Venture Mentoring program to help guide you along the way.
With our mentorship program, we meet you where you’re at. We’ll answer any questions you may have about growing your startup, such as:
- My employer offers a license for my invention. Are their conditions fair and startup-friendly?
- I need investment. Is my business case generally interesting to investors?
- How much investment do I need to begin with?
- I have invented a medical device. What do I have to do to get market approval?
- Will health insurance companies reimburse my product – or who else would pay for it?
To get started and take a big step towards your goals, contact Dr. Adrian Sprenger, Manager Entrepreneurship, and present your startup. If you meet the required criteria, you can register your project and get started (without an application deadline or selection process).
An accelerator is an organization or program that helps startups that already have a minimum viable product (MVP) or proof of concept to push for rapid growth in a short period of time. They almost always cost a fee which is typically a stake in the company in the form of equity and will usually partner with a startup for a specific period of 3–6 months.
An accelerator will typically assign a specific mentor that’s a good fit for an individual startup. Mentors from accelerator programs will usually work closely together with the startups for a short time of 3–6 months.
An accelerator will often introduce you to specific mentors as needed. For example, they may assign an HR mentor to help you assemble a team, a lawyer to help you draft all your legal work or a business mentor who has founded a successful startup to work alongside you.
Find a list of the 10 best accelerator and incubator programs for Swiss startups.
How to find the right mentor for your startup (in 5 steps).
Finding the right mentor for your startup isn’t easy. Here are 5 steps you need to take to find the right mentor for your startup:
1. Start with your goals.
You need a clear vision for your company. You also need to have a goal for what you want from a mentor. If you aren’t sure what to expect from a mentor and how you can grow your business, you might end up with the wrong person.
2. Search for a specialist, not a generalist.
Your best path to success in mentorship is finding someone who has expertise in your field or vertical. While it’s beneficial to get general advice early on, you’ll want to find a mentor who has specific experience in your industry to help you succeed.
3. Attend industry events.
One of the best places to start to find an industry expert is at industry events. An easy way to begin is by searching online for “your industry events + your location”. These types of events will have plenty of speakers and Q&A opportunities and of course, networking where you can connect one-on-one with potential mentors.
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4. Search on LinkedIn.
Find your potential startup mentor by searching “startup business mentor” on LinkedIn. You’ll find hundreds of potential matches. You’ll have to do some vetting to find the right fit, but it’s a great way to start connecting with potential mentors today.
”There are several online resources that can help you find a mentor.
LinkedIn is a great platform for finding mentors, as you can search for individuals with specific skills and experience. You can also check out online communities and forums for entrepreneurs.Dr. Adrian SprengerManager Entrepreneurship at Basel Area Business & Innovation.
5. Reach out to your professional network.
One of the most accessible places to start with finding a startup mentor is by reaching out to your friends, family, coworkers and industry peers. Word-of-mouth is a powerful form of networking and you have access to more connections than you think within your current professional network.
Recommended mentors and mentorship programs.
Instead of looking for a mentor on your own, you can fastrack your progress by joining the right program.
We asked Adrian Sprenger what mentorship programs he recommends for startups in Switzerland:
Venture Mentoring is a service by Basel Area Business & Innovation. The program aims to answer high-level strategic questions through quick access to expert advice to help founders better define the risk-reward balance of their venture.
This is especially helpful in the nascent stage of a startup. Founders are usually still employed and don’t have a network in the startup ecosystem. They lack the time to research the answers themselves and the money to pay experts.
But also in later stages the Venture Mentoring program has helped dozens of founders in discussions with investors and develop meaningful connections in their industry and launch their startups.
The Venture Mentoring program isn’t selective but unbiased.
There is no jury that selects just the few startups with the greatest commercial potential, which don’t have a hard time finding support anyway, and on which all resources are then concentrated.
The Venture Mentoring helps the founders in an unbiased and unbureaucratic way with expert advice to figure out the commercial potential in the phase where this is still unclear and they are not yet getting attention.
You should apply for Venture Mentoring if:
- Your innovation is of technical nature and thus potentially patentable or a scalable software product or e-commerce platform.
- You have established your business in the cantons Basel-Stadt, Basel-Landschaft or Jura or plan to found your startup here.
- You’re close to incorporation or at the level of pre-seed or seed funding.
Innoisuisse Coaching is a mentorship and coaching program created to specifically support startups and small and medium-sized enterprises in Switzerland.
Innosuisse designed their program as a three-phase journey. Startup founders and entrepreneurs have access to initial coaching, core coaching and finally, scale-up coaching. This approach allows startup founders to have their needs met based on where their startup is at.
Coaches and mentors at Innosuisse have a proven track record in entrepreneurship: in founding, managing and developing companies from the ground up. They also come with expertise in innovation and advanced industry connections.
”Startup mentors work closely with entrepreneurs to help them develop their ideas. They help to validate their business models, navigate challenges and make informed decisions.Adrian SprengerManager Entrepreneurship at Basel Area Business & Innovation