Want to be a successful entrepreneur? Look for mentors.
Every entrepreneur benefits by getting help from battle-scarred industry insiders, Cornwall writes, and mentors can get intrinsic and financial rewards from guiding young entrepreneurs.
One of the greatest joys of my job is advising and mentoring the student and alumni entrepreneurs who come out of our program at Belmont.Skip to next paragraph
Jeff is the Jack C. Massey Chair in Entrepreneurship and Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.
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Students take full advantage of my office hours for mentoring. Some come in with the seed of an idea, while others are actively growing their ventures even before they graduate.
Entrepreneurship alumni get a “life time warranty,” which means we never take ownership of alumni businesses and never take them as consulting clients. Instead, we meet at local coffee shops where we continue to mentor them as we had when they were students.
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A limitation of what I can offer to those I mentor is that I do not have experience in most of the types of businesses they start. In fact, since I have been out of the full-time entrepreneurship world for sixteen years, I really don’t have current experience in any industry!
What I can offer them is help on the issues and challenges that all entrepreneurs face, such as financing options, growing pains, partnership issues, ethical quandaries, and so forth. I can be their “process mentor.”
But, what I can offer them is not always enough. Sometimes there are issues that they face that are specific to their industry. That is why I always encourage entrepreneurs to also find a “content mentor” – someone with a depth of experience in their industry.
Why two mentors?
Some of the best business advice I received when I was an active entrepreneur was from people outside of my industry. They brought a fresh perspective and asked questions that someone inside my industry might never ask. Sometimes “the way we do things” in an industry may not actually be the best way to do things.
But, every entrepreneur also benefits by getting help from battle-scarred industry insiders.
When seeking out people to serve as mentors of any kind it is best not to come right out and ask them to be a mentor – at least not a first. Mentoring is not a one-way street. It is a relationship that needs to be mutually beneficial.
What do mentors get out of the relationship?
Some mentors will see a financial benefit from the relationship. They see the entrepreneur as having great potential and want to have the opportunity to participate in deals as an investor or in some other significant way as the entrepreneur’s career unfolds.
For other mentors it may be more of an intrinsic reward. Perhaps the entrepreneur reminds them of themselves when they were just getting started. Or maybe someone helped them as a mentor early in their career and they just want to “pay if forward” by helping young entrepreneurs.
Remember that the best relationships take time to develop. Get to understand what a potential mentor might want from the relationship. Time will tell if it is a mutually beneficial relationship.
And what do I get out of mentoring entrepreneurs? I love to be around people with so much enthusiasm and optimism. It gives me hope for the future.
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