The Value of Mentors: Tips From the Trenches

A local university recently held an event for business students titled “Initiative, Risk and Success: An Entrepreneurship Panel.” I was invited to participate as an inventor/educator. Other panel members included alumni representing fields from equity capital to high-tech engineering to health care and more. Included were CEO’s of U.S., as well as international companies. The perspectives presented covered the gamut; there was something for everyone. The audience was so engaged you could hear a pin drop. After the event, there was time to interact one-on-one with students. Some shared their goals and the decisions they were about to make. You could tell they had given serious thought to the future and were hungry for input and advice. Several asked for mentoring, while others just wanted contact information for someone they could reach out to down the road. Speaking as an educator, there is nothing more rewarding than being in the presence of young people who want to be mentored.

Another recent event I attended was the opening of a new startup by a young entrepreneur. In speaking with an older gentleman there, who jokingly identified himself as the “grown up” in the group, I understood what he meant. He was on the startup’s board of advisors as the one who’s been there and done that and who can bring objectivity and perspective to projects. What impresses me most is that this young entrepreneur appreciates the value of having mentors onboard.

The creative individuals, inventors, and startups with whom I work are facing certain challenges with their projects. Perhaps this is their first product idea or they’re “stuck” somewhere in the process. They may have done things out of order or made choices they would like to take back. (Who hasn’t?) At this point in my career, I find that there are very few situations that come up in discussions that I haven’t been through myself or know someone who’s been there. My goal is to provide sufficient support so that these individuals can make informed decisions about their next steps.

Mentors are essential to any venture and are a “breed apart.” Unlike professionals with individual skill sets, mentors provide a 50,000 foot view and can “see the forest for the trees.” They’re good listeners and have a way of intuiting what may be needed at a particular milestone in a business.

In searching for an ideal mentor, I would propose several considerations… someone:

  •   who has been through what you are attempting, and preferably multiple times
  •   who’s vested interest is the success of the venture
  •  who provides unbiased input knowing you are the one making the decisions
  •   who is not afraid to tell you the truth
  •   who is available when you need support

With my current invention, I have a mentor on our team who also happens to be an investor. This project has been a 10+ year adventure, due mostly to technology that had to be developed to support the manufacturing process. Nonetheless, over the years he has taken every call (and there have been many), provided generous support through multiple challenges, and been present for each meeting and conference call. This is what I call over-and-above the call of duty. I know it’s about more than wanting to protect his investment. He truly cares and is worth his weight in gold. My wish for you is that you are blessed with such a mentor.

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