Put simply, mentoring can mean the difference between a promising business idea and a successful one. At Innovation Warehouse, we consider mentorship an essential part of our investor-readiness process and a key benefit of being present in our coworking space.
We are sector agnostic: often, tech businesses come to us that are in good shape and need just that little bit of extra support – and we do that through our investor network. Our process is extremely structured; filtering, evaluating and conducting due diligence on prospective companies.
However, many early-stage startups that come to us often have quite a bit of work to do to be ready to take in investment. They need to properly consider their route to market, targets and business model and investment proposition.
Our WISE Programme incorporates mentoring and sponsoring by exited entrepreneurs and ex C-Suite directors with deep corporate experience, and we often become deeply involved with the companies we support. That’s where our mentoring and investor readiness process comes in.
Why is mentoring so important? Quite simply, a mentor is a business guide who’s prepared to share their learnings, their own experience and, if they’ve been working with or mentoring a number of companies, knows what works and what doesn’t. And that’s invaluable for the mentee.
The role of the mentor is that of sounding board and risk mitigator. They can sit alongside you and say: “Actually, I’ve seen people try that before and it didn’t work – for these reasons”, and this will save you a lot of pain and stop you from taking a wrong turn. It’s about nudging budding entrepreneurs in what should be a more productive direction.
A lot of this is not binary: for some problems there isn’t a right or wrong, but there might be better ways to find a solution. For the mentee, it’s essential to be open minded and not have any sacred cows.
It’s also about thinking with the end in mind. When you’re starting a new business you identify who your customer is – who’s actually going to pay – and often that may be established too early in the business plan and in the mind of the entrepreneur.
We are able to help mentees think more objectively about their strategy and identify potentially more lucrative routes to market.
You have to validate assumptions about markets and customers with the right evidence. Entrepreneurs have to go out and either try and sell to companies and investors en masse, or talk to potential customers on an individual level in sufficient volume that you get the proper data set. It’s about ensuring diligence at every step.
There is, of course, some sensitivity involved. For the mentor, the golden rule is: do not butt heads with the person you’re mentoring. You’re there to help and listen and be supportive – but also to tell the truth. You have to tread on the eggshells or you’re not doing your job; you’re not helping them.
You have to be honest without being confrontational, but the mentor should ideally be a shepherd rather than a dictator. The optimal outcome is when the mentee arrives at a better business strategy under their own steam.