Few would disagree with how beneficial having a mentor can be for start-ups. But being a mentor can be equally beneficial for established entrepreneurs. We caught up with some of Virgin StartUp’s business mentors to find out why they got involved with mentoring and how it has benefitted them.
"I got involved with mentoring because I passionately believed, and still do, that there is huge value in helping entrepreneurs set off on their journey with a good start," Adrian Langford, managing director at Rivermore Finance Group, says. "Of course there are no instant answers and all businesses are different but there are fundamental things that entrepreneurs can think about in the early stages that can really set them on the right course and a good mentor can help them define and shape their plans and increase the chances of the business flourishing and succeeding."
Nick Winters, a partner at Kingston Smith, agrees, adding that the benefits aren’t just for the mentee. "I have worked with entrepreneurs for my whole career, enjoy helping fast-growing businesses, so mentoring entrepreneurs seemed like a natural step for me to take.
"I find entrepreneurs to be fascinating anyway so the chance to meet and help more of them is very appealing to me. I have learnt that for mentoring to have long term impact you need to help the entrepreneur to analyse problems, identify solutions and work out how to move forward."
Dessy Tsolova, director at Utelier, mentors other entrepreneurs in the fashion industry and says that she loves seeing their untainted enthusiasm. "It is full of characters, ego and fast moving, slippery rules that often lead to big problems for businesses if one doesn’t know how to navigate the business side of the industry," she says. "Seeing the young entrepreneurs challenge these rules, look for alternatives to survive and carve their way into fashion is great. Seeing their fast progress with just little help given to them here and there is extremely satisfying."
She explains that to her, mentoring is a two way process. "They learn from me, and I from them. It’s an exchange of skills and knowledge. I learn from them about areas of the business that I am not so involved in - like lets say Kickstarter campaigns, new ways to grow your social media, new business models that are less of the established route to market."
Langford is also impressed by the enthusiasm of new entrepreneurs. "I’ve learnt that it’s important to remember what it feels like at the start of a business," he says. "Having started a business over twelve years ago it’s been good to remind myself how exciting and sometimes daunting it was at the beginning. It’s also been good to remember the importance of goal setting and how objectives can change and emerge as a business develops."
But more than that, being a mentor has also helped all three in their professional lives. "It has made it clear to me that industry knowledge is not always necessary to be able to provide good, meaningful, independent advice," Winters says. "In fact, sometimes this can be a positive advantage. It has also helped me to widen my skills and acts as evidence of my commitment to the market in which I operate."
Tsolova adds: "As a founder of a fashion online platform connecting people with ideas to industry contacts who can help them realise their idea, mentoring has helped me get a better understanding of the challenges new start-ups face. As we grow professionally we often forget where we started from and how it felt. Also, there is a whole new influx of people with no formal fashion education going into the industry and seeing how they go about things and think is interesting and helping me understand better my business end user in some ways."
So would Virgin StartUp’s mentors recommend getting involved with mentoring start-ups? Overwhelmingly, yes.
"A lot of mentors talk about ‘giving back’ but scratch below the service and one often discovers that the mentor learns as much about themselves and their own business situations as they do about the entrepreneurs they are mentoring," Langford says. "This is something to be encouraged and I would sincerely recommend mentoring an entrepreneur as an incredibly interesting, exciting and rewarding experience."
Tsolova adds: "f you love what you do and are committed to the bettering of your industry, then mentoring is one way of addressing the problem issues one faces - by teaching the newcomers how to do and work better and help fix in time perhaps some of these annoying little problems."
If you're interested in becoming a start-up mentor, as part of this year's Virgin Media Business #VOOM competition LinkedIn is searching for 12 Professionals to help the businesses in the running for a share of the £1million prize fund to navigate the competition. Whether you're an excellent marketeer, or could help with the most complicated financial problems, there's a role for everyone. Head to the Virgin Media Business VOOM website to find out more and apply.