The best entrepreneurs know that when starting a company there is no substitute for help from experienced mentors that have ‘been there, done that’. At ATDC, we are fortunate to have a pool of over 50 volunteer mentors ready to bring their years of functional and industry experience and deep networks to help our companies succeed.
I couldn’t be more grateful for the tireless effort of our mentors. In addition to working one-on-one with our companies, we often ask them to help with our educational series workshops. They are extremely accessible – all of our companies can schedule time with mentors online.
The mentor program is one of the cornerstones of ATDCs programs so I meet with potential mentors on a weekly basis. Finding them is not the hard part – Atlanta has a great ‘pay it forward’ spirit and there is no shortage of volunteers.
Matchmaking is another story. You can’t assign mentors. It’s a relationship. Sometimes born out of specific problems our entrepreneurs are trying to solve, and other times built around lasting trusted mentoring relationships. Some volunteer mentors understandably get frustrated that they aren’t utilized by the startups. After all, they are volunteering to help for free – why wouldn’t startups want to take advantage of that?
The key to successful matchmaking is understanding the mentors’ interests and expertise.
Most mentors volunteer for all the right reasons – giving back to the community, staying involved in innovative emerging technologies, and expanding their own networks. While we love it when a mentor joins or funds one of our companies, we work hard to screen out mentors who are looking to find consulting gigs with our startups. Identifying the issues and saying “pay me to fix it” is not mentoring.
ATDC mentors that are in the most demand are the ones that do the best job highlighting their skills, functional and industry areas of expertise, and networks. When meeting with potential mentors they will often provide a long list of ways they can help startups. But what I’m really looking to understand is what areas are they in the top 2%. One question I like to ask is “how can you help that an entrepreneur would be hard pressed to find someone better in Atlanta to help him or her with?”
By nature entrepreneurs are extremely resourceful. They are also busy as heck. Our education series covers the basics. They are looking for mentors that can really change the trajectory of their success. Matching them with experts willing to dig in is one of the best ways we can help them succeed.
Mentors volunteering to give feedback on pitches and general business strategy are common and Atlanta has an abundance of programs for that kind of help. Mentors willing and able to roll up their sleeves and help the entrepreneur with specialized needs – helping with customer discovery, figuring out their target customer, building scalable distribution and sales, building financial models, developing supply chain strategies, providing industry expertise, and providing introductions to customers, partners, and investors – are in shorter supply and higher demand.
If you have deep startup, functional, or industry expertise and want to help an entrepreneur change the world, we’d love to have you as part of our mentor program at ATDC! Or volunteer with VentureLabs, FlashPoint, GRA, ATV, Startup Chicks, Hypepotamus, or any of the organizations that have mentor programs. And when you do, focus on getting matched with startups that can leverage what you are truly, uniquely an expert in. If you are already a mentor and want to have more opportunities to be matched with startups, don’t use your standard bio, create a profile that lets entrepreneurs know what areas you are a top 2%er.