A Mentor’s Perspective

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In this, the first of an occasional series, I will be passing on my thoughts and observations in my capacity as a Mentor and how accepting the help that is available to startup business can help transform them.

Starting a new business can be a daunting task.  Whether you are fresh into business or coming out of a long career but working for others, the challenges that go with being an entrepreneur can seem to be almost insurmountable at times.  What scares you most might be financial, technical, regulatory, or any of the hundreds of other areas that need to be considered, but these will vary from person to person and business to business.  But three things are certain: the vast majority of obstacles are actually surmountable; help is out there in many different forms; and the joy of succeeding will make you instantly forget all the pain that you have gone through to get there.

One of the most structured ways of getting help is to get involved with one of the many business incubator or entrepreneur accelerator schemes around the country.  Whilst any business in its early years can be called a startup there are subtle differences.  An incubator is designed to help hatch a business from an idea into a startup so is focussed on very early stage businesses, whereas an accelerator is designed to help an existing early stage business to accelerate its growth to the next level.

By way of an example as to how beneficial these schemes can be, the largest fully funded Entrepreneur Accelerator in the UK is run by NatWest.  It now has 12 hubs around the UK that support approximately 1,000 entrepreneurs at any one time.  Over recent years it has supported over 6,400 entrepreneurs in the main Accelerator and many more in the Pre Accelerator or early stage part of the programme.  Of the companies in the main Accelerator at the time of writing, 57 of them are FinTechs, making it Europe’s largest FinTech Accelerator.  The companies going through the NatWest Accelerator have created 390 jobs and raised £31.5m in funding to date, and whilst other such programmes are smaller in scale they provide similar support to young companies.

The hubs typically provide free offices, phone and printer services and all the other things that young companies need but so often cannot access properly.  Of even more importance, the hubs provide access to help and advice from a wide range of sources.  Each of these schemes then have some full time staff to run the hubs, provide advice, and support all the businesses in many ways, as well as organising and running numerous events to provide training and learning to the participants.  As well as the full time staff, they rely on a large number of Mentors that give their time, experience, and contacts for free.  The vast majority of Mentors are successful businessmen that either run their own companies or have partly retired and like the idea of passing on their accumulated experience and knowledge and are looking at ‘giving something back’.  But for us Mentors we get to see a whole flow of dynamic young entrepreneurs and get caught up in their enthusiasm, whilst at the same time trying to help them be realistic and add a steadying hand to their dreams.  And who knows, just maybe helping them to succeed.

Each hub will have a very varied selection of Mentors with very diverse backgrounds – from finance to sales, from FinTech to design, from engineering to gaming, from legal to marketing, from e-commerce to fashion, and virtually any other discipline.  Typically, each businesses would work closely with one Mentor that has the specific experience that they are looking for but importantly they would also be able to access any of the other mentors with specific questions.

There is no doubt as to the benefit of these programmes as the numbers from the NatWest Accelerator above will demonstrate, but perhaps the most important statistic is the fact that 87% of businesses that have been through the Accelerator have survived, and that is a much higher rate than for startups in general.

So, starting your own business is a challenge and very hard work but the joy of success can easily make it extremely worthwhile.  But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that there is no help out there and you must try and do everything by yourself as that simply is not the case.  Don’t be too proud to seek help and, when you find it, make sure that you maximise all that it can do to help you drive your new business forward.

Next time we will look at how best to choose a Mentor and to work with them to your best advantage.