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.
I get about 4 emails a week from law students and attorneys with questions about launching a law practice. It’s an awkward and humbling experience for me. I’m not a law practice management expert and several years ago I had many of these same questions. But I try to answer as many emails and calls as I can.
I wish more startup veterans would do the same and provide mentorship to new entrepreneurs, such as taking a seat on a startup’s advisory board. A lot of the startups I work with placer a higher value on mentorship than investment capital, and would have no issue with a small equity grant to a good advisor. Do you really think startups flock to TechStars and Y Combinator for the cash?
Why does it feel like most successful startup participants have their success and fall back into the shadows of the city? Maybe it’s just Dallas. But I’m pretty sure this problem exists in most startup communities.
There are successful startup veterans in every community. They just don’t engage with the local startup scene for one reason or another. But I’m willing to bet these startup veterans received good advice along the way–or wish they did–and would be willing to return the favor.
I think it’s time to start a Startup-Advisor Dating service, in the spirit of Founder Dating. In addition to the hacker meets pixel pusher events, how about hacker & pixel pusher meet advisor events?
Maybe there’s one around that I’m missing. Anybody?