During the early stages of your startup, you may have the energy, motivation, and the idea to present to potential collaborators and early investors. However, the likelihood of completing some of these things in a strategic and informed way, all by yourself, is going to be an uphill and unnecessarily complicated challenge. Instead, consider the value that a mentor can bring to your organization. This person, or multiple people, will have the domain expertise, experience, relationships, and most importantly, belief in you and your startup to help guide you through all of the things you do not know how to navigate. Investors sometimes end up as mentors, but today we are going to help you learn how to identify and engage a potential mentor.
1.) Explore Small Business Development Centers
In your area, you may have access to SBDCs (Small Business Development Centers), independent organizations that provide resources, mentorship, and guidance to small businesses and entrepreneurs. Often funded by the SBA (Small Business Administration) the SBDC's goal is to help you solve problems and move the needle of progress forward for your business. You may need to explore a variety of organizations in your area to see which one may be the best fit. SBDCs can vary in scope with a focus on particular technologies or industries. The people who serve in these organizations are often seasoned professionals that are still active in their industries or recent retirees who were previously executives or leaders in their companies. To find an SBDC near you, check out this resource.
2.) Consider SCORE
Another organization that operates in tandem with the SBA, SCORE is an organization comprised of industry experts who volunteer their time to help businesses get off the ground and into the market. Often facilitating workshops and providing 1-on-1 sessions with their mentors, SCORE is a great place to start if you need help validating your idea and getting recommendations on how to execute customer discovery and early market research. You may need to meet with multiple mentors in different sessions before you identify the one that understands your vision--which is critical to the mentor-mentee relationship. To set-up a session with a SCORE mentor in your area, visit https://www.score.org/find-mentor.
3.) Tap Into Your Alumni Network
If you or your co-founders have an alma mater, there is a good chance you can identify someone in this network that could be a potential mentor. By having your alumni association broker the initial contact, you will have a warm lead that will yield a higher likelihood of the person responding and engaging with you in a meaningful way. Don't expect anything in the beginning, instead just be human and see if there is a natural rapport between the both of you. If you can communicate well and they are helpful, encouraging, and understand the vision of what you want to achieve, then you have a solid foundation for a productive mentor relationship.
4.) Maneuvering Meetups
The way adults who want to meet other adults who want to either talk about common interests or engage each other meaningfully around business or other projects is often through Meetup. With thousands upon thousands of Meetup groups gathering across the country every day, there is a good chance that you can find a group or organization to check out. Ditch the notion of networking and instead adopt the idea of connecting with people and building meaningful relationships. You cannot expect to receive if you do not also give as well, so be prepared to be helpful. If the organization is a good fit and you have established some meaningful connections, let the people in the group know what you need the most help with and you will be surprised at who you may meet.