In two years of operations UnLtd Delhi has incubated 19 social entrepreneurs. One of our findings is that the feedback and encouragement that a mentor can provide to the entrepreneurs can contribute significantly to the growth of their startups.
Mentorship is most often defined as a professional relationship in which an experienced person (the mentor) assists another (the mentee) in developing specific skills and knowledge that will enhance the mentee’s professional and personal growth.
So, who is a mentor ?
A mentor is someone who offers their knowledge, wisdom, and advice to someone with less experience. A mentor should help the mentee to believe in herself and boost her confidence. He/she should ask questions, provide guidance and encouragement to the mentee. Communication is a crucial part of such a relationship. Regular communication through in-person meetings or phone calls ensures great benefits for the mentee as well as the mentor.
For social entrepreneurs, having a mentor during the first two years of business development phase can be very fruitful. At UnLtd Delhi, strong mentorship has been the USP of our incubation program and here’s why we think mentors are so important for early stage entrepreneurs-
1. A “Critical” Friend- A mentor helps their mentee work through difficult situations and find answers to hard questions. He/she provides honest feedback and help their mentee weigh alternatives.
2. A Strong Sounding Board- Adding on to the first point, a good mentor is also an attentive listener. Young entrepreneurs are always bustling with new ideas . A good mentor acts as a sounding board to these ideas, and evaluates what the mentee is trying to say and helps them focus on the important things and stay away from distraction.
3. Opening Doors- An important element of mentorship for early stage ventures is the ability of the mentor to open doors for their mentee and help them develop their resources, knowledge and network connections.
4. Specific Advice- Areas such as legal, accounting or intellectual property are areas where mentors with that particular background can be very helpful to prevent entrepreneurs from making mistakes that may take months or years to discover.
5. Accountability/ Priority Setting– A mentee feels accountable to their mentor. A good mentor helps to keep the entrepreneur on track and focus on their deliverables.
The most effective mentoring is a mutual learning and reciprocal support situation. While mentors help entrepreneurs sharpen skills, and improve their business, mentors themselves learn a lot from a mentoring relationship. They become more aware of the social issues and the innovative ideas that youngsters come up with. It’s an opportunity for them to work on leadership style and communication skills.