If you haven’t noticed, Chicago is undergoing an entrepreneurial renaissance. Everywhere you look there’s talk about startups. And for those of us who play a role in the entrepreneurship community, another renaissance that’s occurring is in mentoring. But there’s a mismatch in supply and demand.
First-time entrepreneurs — especially younger ones — want mentors like never before. At DePaul, we’ve experienced students requesting mentor introductions during their first meeting with us, and others who “collect” mentors. New entrepreneurs value the experience that these people have, knowing they’ve walked in their shoes and have firsthand knowledge of what it takes to build a company.
However, as someone who is around a lot of seasoned entrepreneurs, I continue to be surprised at how few are active mentors. True, many are running businesses, families, etc., limiting the spare time that they can give. And others wonder what’s in it for them.
First and foremost, it’s paying it forward. Talk to anyone who’s mentored for a while and they will tell you that what goes around does indeed come around. Proteges introduce you to new contacts, recommend books and resources, and keep you updated on trends. Those who soak up your counsel, experience and insights learn the value of mentoring firsthand and then start doing it themselves. In other words, mentoring ultimately makes a difference in our communities.
Second, you often learn more than you share. Mentoring gives us time to reflect on our experiences in a very intentional way. That thought process forces us to consider the context and circumstances of what happened, when, why and how. And in doing so, we start connecting dots that we otherwise may not have. Not only does this benefit the protege, but it results in epiphanies and powerful learning for the mentor.
Third, it feeds the ego. Mentoring makes you realize what you have actually learned in your experience as a business owner or entrepreneur. It makes you feel good that a new entrepreneur wants to listen to you and is hanging on your every word. And it makes you realize that even if you weren’t valedictorian of your high-school class, you turned out all right.
So I urge all of you later-stage entrepreneurs and business owners to get involved and give back. I’m calling you out because there is nothing more valuable or powerful than learning from someone who has “been there, done that.” While it’s important for investors, professors and service providers to mentor, early-stage entrepreneurs get the most value from experienced ones who intimately know what they are going through and are most empathic to the trials and tribulations of starting a business.
So if you’re a seasoned entrepreneur, make the first move right now.
Contact your alma mater, a local university, your peers and neighbors, a high-school entrepreneurship class, or one of the many entrepreneurship organizations in town. Tell them you’re interested in mentoring a young or first-time entrepreneur. Make time in your schedule (everyone can squeeze in one to two hours a month). And keep doing it for the rest of the year.