Why is it that almost every incubator and accelerator like TechStars, where I was an early mentor, and Y-Combinator, is able to attract mentors? And volunteer mentors I should say, as most mentors are volunteers. In the case of programs like The MIT Venture Mentoring Service it may well be the desire to give back to one’s alma mater, though there are a number of mentors like me who are not alumni (I was an employee, as Director of Information Services).
While altruism and a desire to give back are the two most commonly cited motivations, there are two other factors which I believe are highly motivating.
One is the attraction of getting to know and work with other mentors. This is an example of the social network effect, the more and more interesting mentors an organization has, the more it is likely to attract new mentors. MIT Venture Mentoring Service has about 150 mentors.
There’s another motivation, which hadn’t occurred to me until I saw it in this story from Venturebeat Everwise nabs $16 million to connect protégés with mentors.
Why would a mentor wish to volunteer their time for no financial reward? Good ol’ fashioned altruism, according to Everwise, with the added bonus of being able to build their coaching skills.
So if you are a prospective mentor looking for a place to volunteer your talents one important factor in your decision should be how will this organization help you improve your mentoring skills? Are best practices collected and disseminated? Do mentors get helpful feedback and training on improving their mentoring skills?
After all if you aren’t being compensated monetarily there are other forms of compensation that may be even more valuable, especially if you have been a successful entrepreneur as many mentors are: the ability to connect with and learn from other mentors.
Speaking from my experience at TechStars, MIT VMS, MIT Sandbox and The Social Innovation Forum I can safely say that I feel very well compensated for my time with these groups, in fact I consider it a privilege to help mentor the best, brightest and most highly motivated founders in the Boston area.