A Few Good Mentors: A DIY Mentor Program for Startup Communities


I’m going to go out on a limb here. I guarantee that good startup mentors exist everywhere, even in your neck of the woods. Without any more evidence than my personal experience—working alongside hundreds of mentors and entrepreneurs around the globe, including such far-off places as Brussels, Moscow, and Kuala Lumpur—I’m willing to bet there are good mentors among you, and even that you likely know and interact with some.

While most mentors (certainly myself included) could be better, most have the qualifications, the commitment, and the passion to help startup entrepreneurs. Why then, is the No. 2 complaint that I usually hear from entrepreneurs about the lack of quality mentors? (No. 1, of course, being the lack of startup capital.)

What they’re missing without knowing it, is a quality mentor program: the way mentors are utilized, not the mentors themselves. And therein lies the rub. Mentor programs are hard. Most startup communities can find good mentors, but managing them while ensuring benefits to the entrepreneurs is hard.

The organizations that support startup communities are usually well-intentioned, but in trying to balance the needs of mentors against versus the needs of entrepreneurs, many programs are left wanting. Over the past few years, I’ve helped to foster a network for mentoring tech entrepreneurs in San Diego. Below, I propose a framework for a building a mentoring program.

Entrepreneur-Focused, Mentor-Fair

By their very nature, mentor organizations depend heavily on external resources: Corporate sponsors, investors, mentors, volunteers, etc. But in serving their patrons and other constituents, it’s easy for these organizations to lose sight of the fact that their customer should be the entrepreneur.

Mentor organizations must keep foremost in mind: What does the entrepreneur need? And what “moves the needle” today?

On the other side, what’s in it for the mentors? Ideally, mentors are motivated primarily by a desire to give—give to … Next Page »

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Brant Cooper helps organizations big and small innovate. He is the co-author of "The Lean Entrepreneur," leader of San Diego Tech Founders, and a sought-after speaker, advisor, and mentor. Follow @

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2 responses to “A Few Good Mentors: A DIY Mentor Program for Startup Communities”

  1. Great article Brant. That’s the type of mentoring needed. The mentors are here.

  2. daveparkersea says:

    Brant, great post. Thanks for taking the time to help categorize the types and mechanics in the market. I’ve run a program in Seattle (Founder Institute), mentored for TechStars and others as well as Startup Weekend and NEXT.

    The majority of the mentors want to help and give back… so if you’re an founder looking for help, prepare in advance for your meeting. If you want to have a second meeting, do the things the mentor asks you to go accomplish in the first meeting, for example customer validation and interviews.

    There are also those few “mentors” in the marketplace that will take advantage of first time entrepreneurs. So if someone comes and asks for 5% of your company… run away!