Richard Branson

Thoughts on the Various Types of Entrepreneurial Mentorship


This is part of my Series on Mentorship.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about mentorship and mentorship programs of late.  In that I provide a fair amount of mentoring to entrepreneurs in official and unofficial capacities- I’m always thinking about what models and techniques work best for fledgling entrepreneurs and their startups. I’ll be getting into my latest thoughts on this in subsequent posts.

In the meantime, however, it occurred to me that it’s actually very important to contextualize any discussion you’re having on the subject of mentorship if your goal is to actually make any kind of progress. That's because mentorship can mean a whole host of related but significantly different activities. I’ve therefore taken a crack at classifying the various types of mentorship that I’ve seen over the years, (in the realm of entrepreneurship at least), below.

Kindly add any others to the comments if I’ve missed some!

  • Informal and unpaid entrepreneurial mentorship provided by experienced individual entrepreneurs/executives to less experienced (often first-time) entrepreneurs. These relationships often form in an ad hoc way or through a specific introduction. (Think Freddie Laker and Richard Branson).
  • More formal but unpaid entrepreneurial mentorship provided by experienced individual entrepreneurs/executives to other experienced entrepreneurs/executives on an ongoing basis. In such trusted arrangements between peers, the CEO receiving mentorship is able to “let down his or her guard” so to speak and receive the benefit of the mentor’s domain expertise.  (Think Bill Campbell's “long strolls” in Palo Alto with Steve Jobs).
  • Informal on-the-job mentorship imparted from more seasoned entrepreneur to less experienced one. Can occur within a company walls or among people in the same industry, trade or profession. Can obviously occur within legitmate or criminal enterprise. (For afficionados of The Wire think Proposition Joe, pictured above, and Marlo- who ended up turning on him. For the more refined audience, think Socrates and Plato.)
  • Informal, unpaid group mentorship sessions organized by entrepreneurs for fellow entrepreneurs in cities throughout the country. (Think TIE or Young CEO-type groups across the country).
  • Formal, paid group mentorship sessions facilitated by for-profit organizations such as the Corporate Executive Board and other similar organizations for executives and entrepreneurs alike.
  • Fellowship Programs such as the Society of Kauffman Fellows are a type of entrepreneurial mentorship organization. Kauffman's members are carefully chosen for their talents and participate in a 24-month long apprenticeship within venture capital. Thereafter they become part of a network that is constantly in contact with each other and giving back.
  • Accelerator/Mentorship Programs such as YCombinator and TechStars that take a portion of the company’s equity in exchange for a small amount of cash as well as a pre-defined period of mentorship and acceleration. Such programs have a rigorous application process and only choose a pre-defined number of promising startups to assist. Also, these programs are limited to consumer-internet/digital media type companies.
  • Groups like LaunchPad L.A. which though requiring an application, do not take equity and simply mentor companies they have accepted into the program. The overriding mission here is to strengthen the local startup community in Los Angeles by helping the most promising local entrepreneurs succeed.
  • University-based mentorship programs that do not require any kind of application apart from an affiliation with the university. There are thousands of such programs at schools around the country and they come with all sorts of nuances. Many are operated by business schools, engineering schools and other designated entities on campus. The common thread is that these services are most often provided as a free service for students, post-docs, faculty and others associated with the university who wish to try something entrepreneurial or to launch a new venture. (Think everything from the bespoke entrepreneur office hours program we're holding at Columbia Entrepreneurship, all the way to the venerable and robust MIT Venture Mentors program which has over 100 mentors).
  • SBDC's and other municipal or city-sponsored programs designed to provide assistance to people running or starting small businesses in local communities around the country.

My next post on mentorship will address what I believe to be the relative strengths and weaknesses of these sorts of mentorship activities.

For the next post in this Series, click here