Last night Greater Boston, a WGBH News weekly talk show hosted by Jim Braude focused on sexism in the high tech industry. The segment was entitled Combatting Sexism In Tech & Business. The panelists included Shirley Leung, business columnist for The Boston Globe and a WGBH contributor; Michael Greeley, a co-founder and partner at Flare Capital Partners; and C.A. Webb, founder of the 50-50 project and co-founder and former partner at Underscore VC.
The New York Times profiled more than two-dozen women last week, who detailed countless examples of systemic sexism in tech start-ups.
What was interesting to me as a mentor was that Michael Greeley, not once, but twice blamed lack of mentorship for poor behavior of executives in high tech. He first said that “You have young, hyper-competitive entrepreneurs without great mentorship around them…” Then when it’s his turn to speak again he says, “I come back to the issue around mentoring. A lot of these successful executives that we are now talking about haven’t had great mentoring … to teach them how to behave as a senior executive. Doesn’t excuse the behavior.”
Unfortunately given the ten minute plus panel of three participants the issue of why there isn’t great mentoring available to young entrepreneurs isn’t discussed up by either Michael Greeley, a current venture capitalist or C.A Webb, a former venture capitalist. Who is responsible for this situation? The entrepreneurs themselves who don’t seek out mentorship, The Board of Directors who don’t find mentors for the founding team and others?
I would blame both parties. Mentoring today is available at accelerators, incubators and in academia. MIT does a great job of providing mentorship in many of its entrepreneurship programs, including two I’m privileged to participated in The Venture Mentoring Service and MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund Program. Neither program is compulsory of course and frankly I can’t imagine compulsory mentoring being very effective. If an your entrepreneur doesn’t want advice, feedback and guidance from an experienced entrepreneur it’s hard to imagine that forcing that founder into a mentorship program would be very effective. But certainly if your Board recommended participating in a mentoring program I would think a founder would be prone to take that advice. Which brings up yet another question: where do entrepreneurs who have graduated from college and aren’t in an accelerator or incubator find mentors?
To the best of my knowledge there isn’t any standalone source or mentorship, probably because mentoring is always provided free of charge and it would be impossible to build a business around it. So it must be provided as a service by either an academic institution or a venture focused group like TechStars or Y-Combinator. Both of which are highly selective – it’s harder to get into Y-Combinator that Stanford. So where does that leave the vast majority of entrepreneurs who need mentorship but don’t have it available through their alma mater or an incubator? Probably the best option is to seek out an executive coach. But of course executive coaching isn’t free and by definition founders don’t have any money. So frankly I can’t see a cash strapped founder hiring an executive coach.
So Michael Greeley, where do these entrepreneurs get the mentorship they sorely need to become successful executives?