There are more companies starting up in India than there are mentors to advise them according to this fascinating article about the state of mentorship in India today. Wherefore Art Thou, Mentors? – Turning Mentors into Startup Coaches on the Unitus See Fund site.
During the Speed2Seed Summit, our panel of acceleration experts (representing Microsoft Ventures, 500 Startups, TLabs Accelerator, and Idea2Value) tackled some of the problems incubators in the ecosystem are facing. Mentorship, unsurprisingly, sprung up as a heated topic. The vivacious dialogue, complete with couch-leaping efforts to grab for the microphone went as follows:
“India does not have strong mentors as compared to places like the Bay Area.”
“Not true. India does not have enough strong mentors as compared to places like Silicon Valley. There are good mentors in India.”
“Okay, maybe. But there are far too many entrepreneurs and startups for our pool of quality mentors to support.”
“Yes, well it doesn’t help that nearly all of the quality mentors are primarily based in metro areas rather than out where these incubators are popping up.”
“No less, even in a metro, you have to be able to tap into that network of top notch mentors, which isn’t easy for outsiders as it is.”
For anyone interested in mentoring or being mentored, regardless of geographic location, this article is must reading as it goes into real depth about the role of mentoring in the startup ecosystem. The authors are very strong supporters of mentoring, but detail some of the issues involved.
One issue that arises with top mentors is what we call “mentor burnout”, where they often get bombarded with the same questions over and over again. This causes mentors to lose interest in engaging with early-stage startups. While we know that depth of mentor engagement is key to a startup’s success, our goal was to get an entrepreneur to tackle what a mentor might see as more mundane. In doing so, mentors and startups can really dig into the juicy problems to solve together. And maybe once that startup leaves the incubator, they’ll be able to build more meaningful relationships with mentors, investors and accelerators when the opportunity arises.
However, unfortunately they add to the confusion between coaches and mentors:
These mentors, though accessible, need to step up their game and become not just ‘startup mentors’, but ‘startup coaches’. Startup coaches are more self-aware of what they can help startups with, and are able to work with the entrepreneur in a more productive engaging way
….startup coaches guide entrepreneurs to the right answers versus doing the work themselves.
This seems like the definition of mentoring! Be that as it may, incubators and mentoring are on the rise as entrepreneurship spreads far beyond Silicon Valley and with it the need and demand for engaged mentors.