Mentorship: aiding entrepreneurs on their startup journey
Mentorship is offered as part of the New Frontiers Programme to aid entrepreneurs through their startup journey. If used correctly, such a support mechanism can significantly accelerate this journey. Monitoring support, when incorporated within a business startup programme, can represent an efficient and effective supporting device that enhances the development, learning and performance of an entrepreneur.
In simple terms, mentoring means ‘showing the ropes’ – a term derived from seafaring. The mentor, an experienced sailor, guides a new crew until they develop an understanding of how to work the complex system of raising and lowering sails in response to various weather conditions.
This complex system can be equated to setting up a business, where the entrepreneur must respond to external demands and take advantage of opportunities which may fall outside of his or her experience. The figure of a mentor is key during this process. A mentor is able to create an enabling relationship that facilitates another’s personal growth and development. The mentor is usually the more knowledgeable and experienced individual in the association. This two-way relationship develops over time.
Through mentorship, the mentor assists the entrepreneur with career development and guides him or her through a variety of networks, which include organisational, social and political networks.
Mentoring v coaching
Mentorship is a much more profound and deeper relationship between mentor and mentee than exists between coach and coachee. Mentorship aims to bring about fundamental and long-lasting behavioural change and achieve broader learning, while coaching focuses on increasing the productivity and effectiveness of an individual. Mentorship, on the other hand, prepares the entrepreneur for the journey ahead and ensures that they are able to explore the opportunities and cope with the challenges associated with starting and growing an enterprise.
The mentor prepares the entrepreneur for the future by becoming a sounding board, by offering guidance, sharing wisdom and experience – all of which result in the personal and social development of the entrepreneur. The social interaction between the mentor and the entrepreneur stimulates learning as well as the personal and professional growth of the entrepreneur.
An important ingredient in mentoring success is trust between the mentor and the mentee. It is crucial that the mentor and the entrepreneur communicate their expectations and agree on the goals of the relationship prior to commencement. Without clear communication and mutual understanding, the entrepreneur will not gain from the relationship and may disengage during the process.
It is also important to remember that the mentor acts as a facilitator. The entrepreneur must undergo the learning through active engagement in the relationship. Before selecting the mentor the entrepreneur should assess his or her needs with regards to expertise needed, as well as a broader skill set that s/he may be lacking e.g. achieving work-life-balance, communication skills, etc.
How mentoring helped me in my development
My interest in mentorship stems from my own background. I have been mentored for the past eight years and believe that without a mentor, I would not have achieve as much as I have done in such a short period of time.
My mentoring journey began at the local rowing club, where I gained an informal mentor – my first rowing coach. Having moved to Ireland at 16 with no word of English and having never rowed before, my coach actively challenged, guided and supported me in my endeavours. He helped me to progress through the national ranks and after a year of rowing I made the national junior team.
But this was only the beginning of our partnership. He advised me on rowing and self-management as an athlete, but also provided me with many life lessons and told me of his personal experiences. He prepared me for the journey ahead, for my international career and the potential challenges I would face. As with any sport, rowing has its ups and downs and he was always there to pick up the pieces or advise me what to do next.
And over the years, the way he mentors me has evolved. Whereas at first I was guided to approach a problem in a given way, now I am given an opportunity to examine the situation, come up with alternative solutions and then use my mentor as a sounding board to make the right choice.
A mentor who is able to understand your challenges and goals, with the skills and experience to advise you on how to overcome hurdles and achieve your potential, can have a significant impact on your path to success.
Of course, it has not always been an easy relationship, and is constantly developing. I have worked very hard; I have had to develop an understanding of rowing and acquire skills which took years to master. I also had to trust my mentor’s judgement and while communication was initially difficult, it has become open and stimulating with time.
As a competitive rower (I am a member of the Irish elite rowing squad, representing Ireland in the Women’s Double Scull event) I have experienced the difference an effective mentor can make. Coaches (our mentors) often change with every Olympic cycle and not all coaches engage actively with their athletes’ personal, as well as professional, development.
A mentor who is able to understand your challenges and goals, with the skills and experience to advise you on how to overcome hurdles and achieve your potential, can have a significant impact on your path to success. I believe that mentorship made me the athlete and the person that I am today.
The endeavours we undertake are full of challenges that we need to overcome to reach our end goal. Why to go on this journey alone, if someone else went there before us?