Nina Corzine image credit: The Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center
The article Why You Have the Wrong Idea About Who Is a Great Mentor by Nina Zipkin on Entrepreneur.com has some refreshing insights about mentoring. Nina Zipkin makes the excellent point that “finding the right mentor isn’t as easy as sending a cold email or going to a few networking events.” She’s right – it takes real work.
Zipkin interviewed Nicola Corzine, the executive director of the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center about mentoring. According to Corzine: … “advice that tells you to simply get a mentor is, while well-meaning, actually somewhat unhelpful.”
She knows whereof she speaks, as prior to joining the non-profit Center, Corzine spent 11 years as an investment partner with The Band of Angels, Silicon Valley’s oldest seed funding organization. It was in this environment that she learned the pitfalls of offering that kind of guidance about mentoring.
Part of the mission of the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center is to provide mentors to entrepreneurs. The Center is different from many incubators and accelerators as it accepts people based on who they are, not on their business. Unlike many accelerators which have an “up or out” philosophy Nasdaq “takes a very longitudinal approach to support, mentorship and entrepreneurial development. You’re welcome to stay with us all the while that you need support and help.”
So here’s the money shot question from Nina Zipkin for Nicola Corzine: Over the last few years what have you learned about what makes mentorship effective?
Again, unlike many accelerators, who believes that startup founders need to be around other high tech startup founders, Corzine says “here [there] is so much value to be had from high-tech and non-tech founders working together around similar business challenges that they are all facing.” Incubators focusing on similar challenges rather than similar businesses is unique in my experience. I do find that startup founders from whatever market or industry do share many similar challenges, from defining their business model, to figuring out how to acquire customers, to raising capital. And I also find that these are things not taught in most business schools.
Mentorship is an educational process, as Corzine clearly sees:
There are stats that learning that can actually happen by bringing a community of individuals together that don’t necessarily all stem from a single domain or a single industry, but do have a common denominator of the business challenge as the unifier.
The final issue she tackles is mentor-founder fit, which I wrote about myself in a previous post. The major problem Corzine finds is that often founders can not really articulate what it is that they need from mentors to be successful. Another issue of equal importance is managing the expectations of both founders and mentors. Corzine concludes:
Where we’re really working on in this field is helping entrepreneurs better define their needs to mentors and better give mentors the ability to have a framework for knowing how to handle and address the entrepreneur’s expectations in that process.
While I’d really like to see those stats about learning from a diverse community that she refers to, from my experience I think that the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center is taking the right approach – at least for early stage ventures. I’ve found that as ventures mature their mentoring needs become more domain and market-specific and their need for mentors with experience in their market grows. That’s one of the reasons why MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service, with well over 150 mentors works so well. VMS recognizes that founders’ needs do change and is ready, willing and able to swap in new mentors from the large mentor pool as needed to meet the needs of the entrepreneur.