Mentoring in incubators and accelerators

market-model-for-incubatorsThe article Market Model for Incubators and Accelerators by Darren Oemcke, Geoff Thomas and Ron van Buuren on Medium is an excellent and lengthy overview that has a lot to say about mentoring. I encourage you to read the entire article, but if your sole interest is in mentoring or your are pressed for time here are the mentoring sections.

Mentors will typically be driven by social motives such as ‘giving back’ or a desire to see development in the local community. The risk is being able to attract mentors with the requisite business skills and being able to turn away people who want to mentor, but lack the business skills necessary. There is also risk in that mentors with strong business skills may not be able to translate that advice to a business for which profit is not a motive.
Mentors are characterised in Figure 1 as seeking relationships with entrepreneurs and being selected from a range of specific talent pools. In commercial incubators the assumption is that these relationships will typically be commercial relationships as all other players are engaged in commerce via the platform. In non-commercial platforms there may be more mixed motives and complex complex relationship needs, such as a desire to ‘give back’.
Attracting mentors means providing support for a very wide range of motives, including social motives like ‘giving-back’ and being engaged in an industry, but potentially also more financial motives like being reimbursed or being in a position to provide services to attendees. Managing the motives of mentors and creating the right mentor culture is difficult and a point at which many of these platforms perform poorly, as they do not effectively account for mentors as market participants (treating them as part of the platform) with needs that the platform can meet in various ways.
Mentor motives in commercial incubators are more likely to be commercial (networking and opportunities) and are poorly dealt with if they are seen as being part of the platform, rather than as part of the market that the platform is enabling.A key potential weakness is taking the overall ecosystem for granted, particularly mentors and investors.

Mentors need to be actively managed as part of the market, not part of the platform. When owners view mentors as part of the platform, their needs and motives are not effectively addressed, rather subsumed into the needs and objectives of the platform owners. In small markets where mentor pools are small, the ongoing engagement of mentors is critical and the need to expand mentor networks is pressing.

In a small ecosystem, quality mentors risk becoming ‘tapped-out’. They usually need to run their own businesses, and lead their own lives. A shallow pool of mentors will shrink as mentors are forced to focus on opportunities to build their own businesses. Without effective planning, the pool will not grow to include many successful entrepreneurs, who are very busy with their businesses, to become engaged.

One idea being used is that the platform provides space for some mentors, offering reduced cost of office space, in exchange for support for the entrepreneurs and higher opportunity to effectively engage, define a benefit and align mentors with the platform. Another is deliberately creating linkages with or relationships with multiple mentors. Adelaide has a large number of consultants — generally mature and well connected businesspeople, who choose consulting for lifestyle reasons, or due to the lack of corporate positions in Adelaide with whom closer connections would provide access to their networks and their potential early-stage investment.

Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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