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How to Mentor at Startup Runway

By September 28, 2019 No Comments

You’re a champion. Mentoring at Startup Runway is an act of kindness and courage. We hear that the time you spend with them as a mentor is life-changing from almost 50 past Startup Runway Finalists.

The format we use for mentoring is called Mock Board.

What will happen is, your founder will present their most significant business challenge to you. You will role play as their Board Member, tasked with, like all board members are, increasing shareholder value. Serving on the Mock Board with you will be investors and other corporate leaders. You have just under 2 hours, like many board meetings, to work through the founder’s presentation, a thorough discussion of the issue and its many facets, and take a vote on which direction/action the company should take.

Here are some of the reasons why Mock Boards are so powerful:

  • Your background and experience are substantially different from that of most of our Finalists. By sharing your business expertise, you’re helping them “see around corners” and giving, what can seem to them, “extra sensory perception” (ESP) into business issues. Valor Ventures calls this experience the inclusion premium—the acceleration that happens from many vectors of insights on a business challenge. McKinsey research points out that racially and ethnically diverse groups outperform financially an average of 35%–that’s the inclusion premium at work.

Here’s what one of our Finalists have said on the feedback survey about the experience.

The board meeting was absolutely amazing. It allowed us to analyze our current model a little deeper and assisted in the decision to push a few items to the forefront of our development plan.

Your keen focus on how to help the business overcome the issue presented to you empowers the entrepreneur. Here’s what one Finalist said:

The idea of setting up a board meeting, is fantastic. We were able to discuss critical topics from monetization to strategic partnerships with inputs from a breadth of experts ranging from serial entrepreneurs to seasoned venture capitalists.

  • After Startup Runway, your focused introductions can help them break down barriers of lack of access and accelerate their revenue growth potential—which isn’t just a business issue with an early stage entrepreneur; it’s personal finance too. You will have already heard their “worst” business challenge—so you’ll have a basis of real understanding to help them scale.

A couple of traps you’ll want to avoid as a Mock Board member and mentor:

  1. Don’t give opinions. Share your knowledge based on your owned experience or verifiable facts, like the tax code is a fact. Sharing from relevant experience only, not opinions, is called gestalt protocol and it’s a powerful way to get buy-in and give non-offensive input. (No one can argue with your actual experience.) Here’s a quick post from Valor investor and Atlanta entrepreneur David Cummings on why gestalt works.
  2. Observe board governance general guidelines within the Mock Board Meeting. Do not interrupt the entrepreneur’s presentation until Q&A. When it’s time to call a vote, call the vote, get it seconded and then take the vote so the entrepreneur has a clear signal. After that, the “Mock Board” is over and general discussion is fine. For the entrepreneur, this is generally their first ever trial run of a Board Meeting. It means a lot if you help them practice the format and support/encourage the learning experience.
  3. Resist the urge to make general introductions to your network, and focus on making specific introductions to the types of people the entrepreneur is asking for (ie, generally customers or specific talent, such as a technical co-founder).

After the Mock Board sessions, Startup Runway flows directly into the Finalist pitches on the main stage. It’s critical for you to hear this part of their journey too—the highlights reel. By working through their worst issue, and then experiencing their pitch, you’ll gain a scope of understanding of their vision and what’s getting in their way. Here’s what one of our Finalists said about the pitch experience:

What I loved is that I got a flood of orders from people in the room, once I finished my pitch. That is amazing feedback and validation for my company, products, and my pitch.

Startup Runway can always use more angel investors, more successful entrepreneurs, more developers and software architects, more financial gurus and marketing consultants with experience in early stage scale.

If you know someone who would enjoy giving back by tilting up the trajectory of an emerging entrepreneur, please direct them here to our Mentor sign up.

Here’s one more perspective from a Finalist at recent Startup Runway:

Thanks for helping us out and creating a unique program – and looking out for minorities, I plan on paying it forward one day 🙂

We like those words and thank you for paying it forward with for your time, your expertise and your willingness to share your experience and network at Startup Runway. See you there!

–The Startup Runway All Volunteer Team