Selecting the Correct Mentor


Our experience has highlighted the matching of mentor/mentee pairs as the most important factor in the success or otherwise of effective mentoring. Every person who starts a business should have at least one mentor, these people are there to a devil’s advocate and support in development of the business. They are not business advisers or life coaches and therefore are not making decision for the business owner. The business owner is 100% responsible for their own actions.  We would typically assign at least two mentors based on the following criteria. The two mentors would be from separate criteria to ensure we provided diverse mentoring support.

Key Criteria

  • Methods of Working
  • Sector Knowledge
  • Area of Expertise
  • Stage of Business
  • Location Network
  • Peer or Near Peer Mentors

Methods of Working

Both parties should have expectations and they should set out the process they will follow in dealing with each other. When will they contact each other? What is the communication medium SMS, Email, Telephone or Face to Face, What response time will the other person provide? When is out of hours? What support will they get and what is expected from the mentee? Use the GROW model for mentoring sessions.

Sector Knowledge

Many people want someone to mentor them who has already done it. Someone in the same industry has the network contact to help them move forward faster. They may be diversifying into a new sector and need introductions. The approach that mentors take within a business sector will also have to been taken into account. We find this is one of the fastest ways to develop the mentee’s understanding of the benefits of mentoring.

Area of Expertise

People starting a business may require help with one field, e.g. sources of finance, marketing, IPR, logistics, operations, sales, office, international sales, production, TAX, bookkeeping, website SEO, etc. This field will require mentoring over period of time when the mentor is no longer required and another mentor can be assigned to deal with their new needs.

Stage of Business

Our mentoring solution works on a six stage business growth model which is detailed in Appendix A.  It is particularly important to ensure that the mentors understand the importance and nature of each stage and do not jump into suggesting solutions before they have fully appreciated the context and needs of their mentees.

In moving the business forward, the better the foundations within the early stages the better the business opportunities in the later stages. Therefore having specialist mentors for these stages provides the best results.

Location Network

One of the core resources needed to grow a business is access to a network of like minded people who may be customers, competitors, investors or collaborators and a mentors can be the fastest way of accessing this network. We also find that certain industries have a culture that lends itself to a sustainable network of experts who are willing to ‘put something back’ into the system in the form of mentoring, such a lawyers, accountants and educators.

Peer or Near Peer Mentors

Peer-based activity is regarded as the best way to transfer tacit knowledge critical to business success. This is a very powerful and meaningful proposition in a entrepreneurial social context with the opportunity to develop a sustained and long term relationship.


Enterprise in the Community

Entrepreneurship doesn’t happen in isolation. Think about it, its true. So why do Universities think they can create entrepreneurs without developing a sustainable community around them. So what is best practice from universes in the UK?

Network of Entrepreneurs – Open the doors and get all who start and own businesses to bring their networks into the university and also get those startups to go out into the network of local entrepreneurs. This open door policy helps reduce costs but also helps foster stronger links between those starting a business and those who have strong businesses.

Mentors – The vast majority of entrepreneurs will mentor a student or graduate who is looking to start a business. However you should be provide training, support and knowledge enhancement for these mentors. How and what is mentoring, when should I do it and what should a say, how far can I go in forcing them to do something? Once you set the ground rules and provide clear guidance they are a great resource. Its about giving before taking.

Local Customer – A lot of startups think global sales without seeing that just outside the university there are thousand of customers. The fact is the global and local customer are the same distance from them, about a million miles. By bringing local customers to the university and the startups you build a customer base who will provide feedback, cash and support to these startup business.

Fail Safe – The majority of startups will fail within the first 2 years and the landing pad for this ride should be prepared. Allowing them to understanding the learnings from the business and develop a real knowledge base which can be applied to the next star up will help create better businesses in the future.

Connected Events – Co-sponsored events which student, entrepreneurs and business professional attend from around the city ensure that students get to understand the wider context of entrepreneurship and able to pitch and network with potential investors.

The trinty structure for an entrepreneurship centre

Last week I attended GCEC 2014 and was able to spend time with practitioners of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship. It was a very worthwhile experience, especially when so many of them were from the USA which have a much more advanced culture of enterprise.

It became clear to me that there are three elements for a successful entrepreneurship centre within a University:

Research – Everyone knows if you start a business in Silicon Valley its great for technology businesses and the eco-system, network and financial institutions are set up to start, grow and IPO these businesses. This is a one place and the rest us don’t live there or want to start a high tech high growth business. This eco-system DOES NOT exist in any other part of the world. Cambridge also has its own eco-system. So we would expect each location, cluster and university to have a set of features that facilitate the growth of certain businesses? We would expect the university to have researched these and further more be able to articulate this through its research papers, education programmes and practical support for startups and growth businesses.

Education – The core business of a university is education. We are experiencing great changes in the higher education environment and universities need to react in real time to the needs of their students and business community. The majority of universities in the UK get more revenue from CPD training than research grants. This is why local business is so important to them, as it provides a great sustainable revenue stream and also the opportunity to understand their local business needs, which helps feed the research. It also brings educators from cross disciplines together which is needed to build robust community focused institutions.

Practice – The development of students into entrepreneurs and the development of entrepreneurs to leaders of high growth businesses is the most important part of the trinity. It enables the university to substantiate its research in the ‘real world’ environment and provide a practical outlet for the costly education resources. Moreover, it provides the feedback loop which all research and educators need to contextualize the theory.

I know some universities in the UK have some of these parts, but there is not one University in the UK, which ensures these three parts work together for the common development of the university and its community.

Looking forward to hear from those that think they do!!!

Investment Ready Check List

One of the major problems with starting a business is getting the business into a situation in which you can scale and make the business truly sustainable. This normally means getting some form of investment, this may be from other founders, employees, but most often from investors.

So what are the minimum set of items to check off the list to become investment ready?

1. Domain Name: Make sure you secure the .com site and your country domain, e.g. If these are not available then you should seriously consider renaming both the domain and trading company or someone else could end up with your website traffic.

2. Registered Company: In order to issue shares to an founder, employee or investor in return for their money time/you will need to form a Registered Company, such as Ltd. This normally means going to and completing an online form.

3. Have a working Business Bank Account: This must be in the name of the Registered Company with the current directors as signatories. It takes a little longer than expected and make sure you have all the documents before setting foot in the bank. For you first business bank account I recommend you have a physical bank with a business manager, so shop around and make sure you get on with them. This means you can ask questions and get advice for nothing.

4. Trademark, Copyright or Design Rights: It is very important to ensure you are covered by a Trademark in your main trading country(s) so that no one else can use your product or company name.

5. Financial Forecast: In order negotiate a fair deal for both you and the investor it is very important to have robust financial forecasts and a proper valuation of your company. Again there is professional help with accountants if you are having problems.

6. Business Plan: Planning and Execution are key to becoming a successful entrepreneur. I have never liked writing a business plan as it becomes an exercise in writing and not planning, risk management and strategic thinking. I highly recommend that you write this yourself in no more than a day or two as this should be short and concise as the majority of angel investors are busy people and will skim read it at most.

7. Presentation: Once you have got through the door to meet the angel investor, then you only have a few minutes to impress and show you know what you are doing. So use the rule of five, five slides with five lines with five words, the rest is in your head. Remember, the five slides are Problem, Proposition, People, Proof, Request.

8. Shareholder Agreement: It is advisable for you to create a fair Shareholder Agreement rather than use one the investor provides which is likely to be highly stacked in their favour as it has been written by their lawyer.

Good Luck!!

Your startup journey – Hatchery to Investment Ready

There is a wealth of support out their for students and graduates who are starting a business. Its important to use the system to your advantage, so below we set out the path you should take in moving you business through the start-ups stages.


This typically aimed at entrepreneurial students who will utilise a designated and specially designed space to conceive, launch, and “hatch” their own independent businesses. Normally there will be a series of adhoc events, networking and awareness raising activities which are supported by business counselling and academic advising. Examples:

Key Things to look for?

  • Networking opportunities
  • Access to early stage businesses
  • Development of enterprising skills

Start-up Course

A set of events or a week long course which gets you to work on and around your business. These force you to think about the key aspects of the business model, marketing, sales, operations, finance, legal and financial aspect of your business. The programme should help set the plan for the business. These are normally free (you will have to fill in some forms) to attend and offered through universities and support agencies. Key Things to look for?

  • A intensive programme covering topics above
  • Mentoring with a local mentor
  • Follow through support
  • Business Start-up Success rate (should be greater than 50% after one year)


Business Incubator

A physical space which is dedicated to start-ups and early stage businesses. Businesses apply with a feasible business plan which supports the funding of the place and support over a period of time. A portfolio of support is provided through a adhoc series of engagements with external “interested” parties, such as mentor, legal advice and funders. Normally providing the physical elements to start a business including hot desking, serviced offices and internet. Key Things to look for?

  • Number of events
  • Types of business
  • Size of business, you want those of the same size or a little bigger which shows they can help this size of business
  • Wifi Access and Speed
  • Spaces for quick meeting, chats and brainstorming



These are normally national or regional scheme which take normally trading businesses which have further potential and up skills, network and re-organised the business to be able to take advantage of that potential. They have a mixture of fixed programmes and adhoc support which accumadates the business, at its stage and sector. Key Things to look for?

  • Number of current businesses
  • Number of staff and their networks
  • Location to other clusters of start-ups you need
  • Mentorship programme,
  • Alumni : Number and size of the businesses


Seed Investment Programme

These open investment programmes offer early-stage investment to entrepreneurs who are looking to develop new ventures. The programmes provide funding and support to help entrepreneurs nurture, develop and test their ideas. They normally last 10 to 13 weeks programme of skills development, networking and investment injection. The majority of these provide each entrant up to £15,000 to £20k of investment capital. Key Things to look for?

  • Support for similar or complementary business sectors
  • Make sure the investors know something about your industry
  • Check their success rate based on increased business valuation
  • How many in the portfolio and how many successful exits from portfolio
  • Do you ready need the money
  • Have you considered other sources of funding

Investment Ready Advancement

Research has shown that it can take up to 18 months on average for enterprises to become “investment ready”. The majority of businesses which are within an investment route need more than 20k and therefore they need to become investment ready before taking on 500k plus. Therefore this stage is about getting the company ready for significant investment. Key Things to look for?

  • Are able to share control of your business
  • Have you analysed the right type of investor for your business
  • Have you a clear idea of what stage your business has reached