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Mentors can prove invaluable to entrepreneurs looking to grow their business as they can impart important knowledge and act as an important guide in the lonely world of starting a business.
So says Alexandra Fraser, director of Silicon Cape and a Barclay’s Rise mentor — one of a number of Barclay’s Rise Techstars mentors who spoke to Ventureburn on the benefits of mentorship, following the announcement earlier this month of the accelerator’s next cohort of startups.
Fraser said networks and relationships, much like ones you make with mentors are important, particularly when you’re an entrepreneur.
“Being an entrepreneur is a fairly lonely journey and it’s a hard journey, it’s not a walk in the park, so I think the other thing about mentorship is that it keeps morale high.
“It encourages you and allows you to build connections with people who’ve done it before and for them to know that even though it’s not an easy journey it’s a fulfilling journey and you’ve got a support structure.”
Venture partner at Quonna Capital Johan Bosini echoed this, pointing to the importance of surrounding oneself not just with those you just, but with people who are different to you, as diversity can give you a fresh perspective on things.
“Historically it’s just been each to his own and there seems to be, through programmes like this, a more collaborative approach to ‘if one succeeds we actually all succeed as a community’ rather than individually trying to beat each other,” said Bosini.
He has some tough advice for many budding entrepreneurs.
“I’ve always said to a lot of people starting out that it’s the worst idea you’ll ever have starting a new business. But, if you’re insistent on doing it I would say talk to everybody and anybody even your competitors because it gives you a perspective and context in terms of where you are and validation.”
Fraser stresses that the relationships one builds as a mentor with startups are important.
“From a mentor perspective, it allows you to learn about new businesses, it allows you to learn about a new innovation, it allows you to think about technologies and how they’re being applied. There’s always a learning opportunity from being a mentor.”
Mentors have an opportunity to ‘give back and build a community’
Fraser added that being a mentor also allows one to give back and to build a community, and is a way to “hopefully give before you get”.
Parcelninja co-founder Justin Drennan also shared some of his experiences mentoring the previous group of Techstars.
“Last year was quite interesting in that we had a lot of international people mingled with our SA startups, so it was quite a cosmopolitan bunch which I think led to a lot of cross-pollination of ideas between a lot of the businesses.”
He recalled how he was able to get some of the participants’ businesses market-ready.
“We (the mentors) got to add to that process and I think that a lot of experiences that we’ve had from being in business for let’s say 10 years; we were able to distill and assist these businesses in a way that was productive for them.”
One of his methods to assist the entrepreneurs is to help them come to their answers on their own using examples of past experiences.
“We try to share a lot of experiences we have in business and see if they can sort of pick up on that and learn and I think if they have access to competent mentors that can sort of shortcut the learnings then for all of the ‘school fees’ we’ve paid they can sort of benefit from that.”
Drennan said being a mentor requires you to participate fully in a startup, but pointed out that if you’re giving by nature then the experience is fulfilling.
“At the same time I think it’s something that needs to be done, entrepreneurship is something that needs to be embraced and we need to help people out that are starting a business,” he said.
“I think that’s the future of our economy, these people that are starting up businesses and they need people, mentors and individuals to help them accelerate that (growth) process. You can’t have nine out of 10 businesses failing.”