A business start-up mentor assists young, entrepreneurial or aspirational people who have a concept or idea for a business by helping them make it a deliverable reality.
A business start-up mentor is an individual who is experienced in business and wishes to assist others with getting their ideas for a company off the ground. Often, the mentor will be working either in a charitable capacity or as a short-term employee of a local district council or NGO (Non Governmental Organisation).
The role involves a great deal of work with young people and entrepreneurs, people who have a lot of big ideas and dynamicism, but who may lack skills in putting their concept into practice. The mentor will help them write a business plan, go through their marketing strategy, help them set up a method of accounting and advertising, and finally, assist them with presenting their idea to venture capitalists who are looking to invest in exciting new business opportunities. It is not essential for the entrepreneur to understand every aspect of the business world, and so the skilled mentor will give them knowledge in areas where they need good understanding in order to secure investment by a “Business Angel” – someone who wishes to invest in high-risk small companies to turn a quick profit.
Business start-up mentors will often work unpaid for charities, community centres, business seminars, councils or schools, and so there is no salary for the majority of mentors. Some are able to find short-term work with councils who have pre-allocated money to business start-up initiatives in their local area; this could mean a six-month contract with the rate of pay to be negotiated. There is a possibility for the mentor to join a financial organisation (such as a business bank, on the small business advisory team), where the rate of pay would be closer to that of a full-time job.
- Help the entrepreneur to produce a credible business plan and marketing plan
- Show the entrepreneur how to conduct engaging presentations
- Teach the entrepreneur how to balance positive cash flow and maintain accounts
- Assist the entrepreneur with finding a financial backer and getting the product to market
- Provide information on material and seminars which may be of use to the entrepreneur
There are no formal qualifications required to become a business start-up mentor, although fairly obviously, the candidate should have created and managed at least one of their own businesses in the past. As the young and idealistic entrepreneurs are seeking advice, it is essential that the mentor is sufficiently equipped in terms of knowledge and experience, and not necessarily a towering raft of college or university diplomas and certificates, which signify a grasp of theory fundamentals but no real world application.
- High proficiency level and knowledge in all aspects of business creation
- Thorough understanding of business management and organisation
- Be an articulate presenter
- Have a strong understanding of teaching skills and ability to form one-to-one coaching strategies
- Have strong understanding of sales and marketing strategies
- Understand the legislative framework for new business start-ups
- Be empathetic to young and aspirational people
- Enjoy working in a benevolent capacity
This job involves a lot of travel, as the place of work could be a community centre, school, club or council office anywhere in the country. Typically though, and especially in the case of district councils, the employer or hiring organisation is more likely to use a local business start-up mentor. Class or coaching hours are often limited each week due to the unpaid nature of the role. The job does, however, entail a lot of travel to seminars and investment functions, which is where the mentor is best able to network and connect young entrepreneurs with the market.
It’s impossible to become a mentor without first having accumulated some business knowledge for oneself, usually through running a sole trader business or partnership. It is very difficult for a new candidate to learn how to do this job, even with high quality formal training, as much of it is down to networking ability, presentational skills and general business acumen: things which cannot be typically absorbed by schooling, and which are the result of experience.
Some mentors become quite well-regarded (at least locally) within the micro-financing industry, and are often to be found on the seminar circuit where they are more likely to be hired by organisations that are able to pay for their services. Generally, this is a job which is enjoyed by older people: those who have run a business for several years and have either passed on the management of their own company to others, or are in retirement. It is a rewarding and challenging role which suits those looking to test their business skills in new ways.
Most mentors are freelance or give their time charitably to organisations where there is a demand, and so there is not a major employer as such. In terms of well-known organisations which provide mentoring, good examples include the Prince’s Trust, startupbritain.org and a plethora of UK universities which offer coaching as part of their vocational and non-vocational study programmes.
Further information for business start-ups
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Ghislaine Bovy is a business start-up mentor who works tirelessly to help young people and those unacquainted with business to get a foothold in the world of entrepreneurial adventure.
What made you decide or choose to get into this sort of career?
Being a mentor is far from being a career; it’s volunteer work to help young entrepreneurs turn their ideas into business plans, developing the marketing plan with them, helping them find “Business Angels” who can help them get started, and finally see them through to either success or failure.
My "real job," or the corporate side of my work, is consultant in Marketing & Communications. I am a “Swiss knife” marketeer helping companies with marketing and sales plans, branding, on and offline marketing, CRM (customer relationship management) and whatever marketing missions they would call on me for: for example, launching the first e-marketing campaigns for Xerox or streamlining events worldwide for Agfa, or handling media relations for GE. I have more than 25 years of experience in Marketing & Communications and work in 6 European languages - that helps!
Do you have a standard day or a standard type of 'exercise'?
No, nothing is “standard” in start-ups. I usually either meet young entrepreneurs during events such as Westartup week-end or Bizcamps, or online, and end up being “required” for business plan development, study of marketing plans, presentation to Business Angels, but it’s an “ad hoc” volunteer role. I make myself available and young entrepreneurs are free to contact me at any time.
What is the most common type of problem/call-out/enquiry to which you must attend?
Mainly marketing plan development and presentation skills. Although many young entrepreneurs have clear ideas of what product they want to launch, they have difficulties making the necessary market research to clearly visualise if their product is viable, and at what price. Moreover, Web 2.0 (the exchange of information and sharing on the internet) start-ups can be brilliant but the young entrepreneur often lacks presentation skills, which means he or she needs some coaching before they make any presentation to Business Angels or potential partners.
What do you like most about the job?
I work on the future. Young entrepreneurs are the future and that’s why I enjoy working with them.
What do you like least about the job?
Seeing that some people just take advantage of me and let me down with no further news on their project. A relationship to a mentor must be more than the short-term “I need you” to become a long term relationship. I have been networking for so long that I’m still in touch with the assistant who worked for me in 1978, so I like fidelity and trust.
What are the key responsibilities?
Making sure I give the young entrepreneurs the right "tools" to go to the market with confidence.
What about academic requirements? Any formal demands, eg A Levels?
Never. Academic versus 25 years of experience; forget about diplomas.
What is the starting salary, and how does this increase over time with promotion?
No salary; being a Mentor is volunteer work for me. For others, their circumstances can be different. For example, some financial institutions are starting to offer this service to entrepreneurs, but earning significant remuneration is unlikely for the most part.
What are the most important qualities an applicant must and should possess?
Respect for others.
Any closing questions, comments or additional advice?
I would like to tell anyone looking for a job or wanting to start his/her own business that there are 3 key elements to success: work hard, work hard and finally work hard! Nothing else to say!