Forget Mentors. Find a Sponsor.


Sarah Hodges, who is a partner at Pillar, wrote the post Forget Mentors. Find a Sponsor on Medium about mentors and sponsors. I have to say her headline got my attention!

Mentors are all the rage right now. Every week there’s a new article about why you need a mentor, and how to find one. Don’t get me wrong — mentors are hugely valuable in helping you chart your personal growth, providing meaningful guidance and expertise. But cultivating a relationship with a mentor is a marathon, not a sprint. Of course you should seek a mentor, but it takes time and energy, and a deep personal investment. It ain’t easy.

I don’t see any mentoring in Ms. Hodges bio and I have to say she has an old school idea of mentoring. It’s based on having a mentor in your company, occasionally called a “rabbi” in the old days – a senior person who mentors you throughout your career.

However, what’s happening today at MIT Venturing Mentoring Service, where I have been mentoring for the past 8 years, and in accelerators and incubators, like TechStars, and the Social Innovation Forum, where I’ve also mentored, and around the world, is not career-oriented mentoring, your father’s Oldsmobile.

In fact look at the two dictionary definitions of the word mentor. Sarah Hodges seems focused on the latter, whereas today’s mentoring is focused on the former – an experienced and trusted adviser:

mentor |ˈmenˌtôrˈmenˌtər|


an experienced and trusted adviser: he was her friend and mentor until his death in 1915.

• an experienced person in a company, college, or school who trains and counsels new employees or students.

verb [with object]

advise or train (someone, especially a younger colleague).


mid 18th century: via French and Latin from Greek Mentōr, the name of the adviser of the young Telemachus in Homer’s Odyssey.

While a founder can have perhaps one or two sponsors, he or she can have many mentors – proving a wide and diverse variety of experience, perspective, and feedback. In fact, the key to the success of the MIT Venture Mentoring Service IHMO is their highly refined system of team mentoring. And as Alan Kay said, “Perspective is worth 80 IQ points.”

There’s nothing wrong with sponsorship. But like the confusion between coaching and mentoring, don’t confuse sponsorship with mentoring.  . But don’t expect your mentors to be sponsors.  And don’t forget mentors!

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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