7 Steps to Successful Mentorship

I have traveled extensively around the world studying varying incubation models, and one of the core commonalities that I’ve notated in all incubators (no matter the geographic location or culture), is that almost every single incubator offers entrepreneurs mentorship. It is as natural to offer entrepreneurs mentorship as it is to offer free coffee and WIFI. But what is hidden behind this seemingly vague service, and how can it be used to maximize the success of your incubator’s program?

1. The need

The following question should be something all mentees ask themselves prior to seeking a mentor. “What can a mentor teach me that I don’t already know, or that I can’t find out for myself? If your answer to that question is “nothing!”, you are not ready for a mentor. But if your answer to that question is “I must continue to learn and develop new skill sets in some capacity and I’m willing to soak in the experience of others not equivalent to my own,” then you are ready for a mentor.

2. It’s the Journey, Not the Destination

Most of us have the idea that people must learn from those who are more experienced. The current definition of “more experienced” means that the mentor needs to have been in the field for a longer time than the mentee. But, is that really so? In my experience, a mentor doesn’t necessarily need to have more experience or be older than the mentee. The mentor needs to have experience from a different journey. For example, a young Mark Zuckerberg could be a fantastic mentor to many 50+ entrepreneurs. Mentorship is not about age (nor does it follow the idea that mentorship must be given by an old wise person). To understand who could be a great candidate for mentorship, I urge you to look at the mentor’s journey, particularly those who are different than your own.

3. The match

Matching is the most critical party and is always a two-way street that many times is executed by a third party. This means that a third party, in this case a business incubator, is trying to match two professionals with one having the experience and knowledge that the other one could greatly benefit from. However, it doesn’t matter how well the needs are matched by the third party if the mentor and mentee have no organic symmetry. The entrepreneurs mentorship match will fail 100% of the time if the mentor and mentee do not form their own healthy, organic relationship. Trust is key to mentorship, and if the two parties do not connect on a deeper level, true growth will not flourish.

4. The incentives

It’s pretty clear what the value-add is for the mentee. But what is in it for the mentor? Why should a mentor spend their valuable time with someone often unknown who is, on the surface, looking for free advice? I’ve seen that oftentimes, potential mentors sometimes need to be convinced to participate in a mentorship program. The most obvious thing that could convince a mentor to participate is the expression of appreciation of all the collected experience and knowledge. By showing appreciation in a humble way toward the mentor and his or her collected knowledge, the mentee and incubator will hopefully earn the trust of the mentor and their precious time.  

5. The time and place

Creating a consistent plan to meet is crucial to getting a entrepreneurs mentorship rolling (and keeping it going). Once a week, twice a month, or even once a month is a good place to start. During the first meeting, both mentee and mentor should work together to schedule the next three – six months, putting attainable goals and mile markers in place to gauge the success of the relationship. I suggest finding a place outside of your ordinary working environment that’s relatively private and allows for deeper discussion of more sensitive subjects.  

6. The responsibility

It is oftentimes misunderstood that the mentor maintains the responsibility of planning meeting times and maintaining the relationship due to their experience and expertise. Quite the contrary, the mentee should feel the weight of the responsibility for coordinating these meetings. Since the mentee is asking for the mentor’s time, the mentor should have no burden in organizing the meetings. The third party (the incubator) oftentimes will initiate the entrepreneurs mentorship, but when it comes down to scheduling meetings and finding places to meet, it’s not convenient to involve a third party and should be the responsibility of the mentee.  

7. The outcome

It it critical to set clear objectives for the entrepreneurs mentorship. Even though it might take a few meetings before the mentor fully understands the core challenges and needs of focus, a hypothesis that includes areas of focus needs to be established prior to entering the first official meeting. At the same time, both the mentor and the mentee need to be open to challenge that original idea and make changes based on the mentor’s new perspectives. The most important part is to be open to new ideas. Many incubators are using the term “uncoachable” for people who are saying they want help, but when they get down to action, the mentee is not ready to listen and they are not open to the suggested changes. It’s crucial to understand a successful outcome of a entrepreneurs mentorship is the transformation of the mentees’ own behavior, which will affect the way they run their business and ultimately – their life. If the mentee is not open for that type of change, the relationship will fold and there no point of a mentorship in the first place.

The next mentor (bonus step)

Every successful “official” mentorship will come to an end. This is a natural process and when the value creation of an entrepreneurs mentorship begins to fade, there’s no reason to hang on to it. At this stage in the process, it’s time to close that chapter and allow the mentorship to be transformed to a friendship or just simply finish. The following step will be to identify the next challenge for the business and find a new type of mentor with another unique journey to guide you through the next phase of your growth.


About the Author: Erik Wallin

Erik Wallin is the author of the book “The Startup Adventure”, which is based on a global research project with leading business incubators across the world. Erik is a professional keynote and TEDx speaker. He is also a business investment coordinator at the investment promotion agency Position West in Sweden.