Of Mice and Mentors
There are a ton of positives that mentors provide startups, as no one person innately has the skill set and/or experience to run a successful company. But if there is an incubator bubble, does that beget a mentor bubble?
Mentors at incubators should be in it strictly to pay it forward and most certainly are. Mentors should not be participating at an incubator to get it immediately paid back. That is, a mentor probably shouldn’t be actively looking for his or her next startup co-founder gig or consulting contract when mentoring at an incubator. Incubator mentorship is neither co-founder dating nor a BNI event.
Incubators should be somewhat proactive about establishing protocols for when their mentors want to escalate involvement with a portfolio company. For example, what happens when a mentor asks for an advisor grant during your program? Some startups may feel as though they have already ‘paid’ for such mentorship by joining the incubator.
Mentors can and will provide value to a startup and I understand that mentorship can naturally lead to ‘advisor’ positions or other business arrangements. But many startups are having to walk this fine line before, during and immediately after demo day.