Did you know TIE Seattle offers a robust mentoring program? If you are serious and committed to your entrepreneurial efforts, you may be able to tap some world-class mentors to help you succeed! I recently sat down with Robin Beukers, TIE Mentoring Program Chair, to learn more about what the program is all about. Here’s what he had to share.
Q: Robin, let’s start with a brief intro. What’s your background and how and why did you get involved with NEST, TiE Seattle’s Mentoring Program?
Robin: I am a CPA by profession and consult to businesses of various sizes. My focus is primarily finance and accounting – acting as CFO /Controller/general problem solver, etc. I have also been involved as a founder/ partner in a number of startups. In both capacities, I have had the chance to appreciate the value of receiving advice from people who ‘ been there and done that’. I was looking for ways to give back to the community and that’s how I ended up getting involved in the TiE Seattle Mentoring Program. With it 60 odd chapters around the world and existing core of talented and committed members, I thought TiE offered the right environment. TIE facilitates a global view of the business world and truly offers a platform for entrepreneurs a way to reach beyond the Puget Sound area. In addition, TiE global has a global mentor program that we hope to coordinate as things develop.
Q: As you know, there are various other organizations focused on entrepreneurship. What’s unique about the NEST program and what value would someone get by enrolling in the program?
Robin: In looking at the various programs that are available to entrepreneurs locally, I saw that there are actually plenty of business competitions and incubators. What there was not, and what TiE NEST is, is a straightforward , no strings attached, mentoring program which brings together business leaders who are willing to devote a certain amount of time each month with no expectation of return and mentees who are really serious about building their businesses.
From the mentees perspective, the opportunity exists to have one-on-one face time with people who have experience that is directly relevant to their business. From the mentor’s perspective, the reward lies in making a really meaningful contribution to the realization of someone’s dreams.
Q: This sounds great. If I’m interested, what’s the process for getting in? And how do you decide who you take in the program as mentor or mentee?
Robin: The program will succeed only if both parties (mentor and mentee) are committed to their respective roles. I teach part-time at the university level and I have come to recognize that success in business does not necessarily translate into success as an advisor to others. It takes a certain empathy and ability to connect on a personal level that not everyone has. So we try to select mentors who have the ability as well as the desire to ‘teach’.
On the mentee side, the program is oriented around applicants that have real ‘ skin in the game’ and are looking to build on an existing base. While TiE is committed to helping the entrepreneurial community at large, the mentor program is not suitable for those who are, for example, looking for help in validating an idea which is still at the concept stage or are not willing or able to put themselves at risk financially and emotionally.
So, the mentees have to fill out an application which essentially focus them to put together an executive summary. Either I or Rohit Mathur [TiE Seattle Executive Director] meets with the applicant if we think the base qualifications ( commitment and a certain level of experience) are met. The intent of the meeting is not to judge the business potential. Rather it is to understand the motivation of the mentee for applying, in particular, are they clear about help they require and to really try to understand how committed they are to the business. If we are comfortable with the interview, then we approach one or more mentors with the mentee application, obtain preliminary acceptance and arrange a meeting between prospective mentee and mentor.
If there is a mutual agreement to move forward then, from that point on, it is up to the mentee to establish a schedule of meetings with the mentor. Having said that, we follow-up on a monthly basis with both parties to make sure that the relationship is ‘working’ as planned.
We are also starting a monthly series of breakfasts for mentees at which time we will have a speaker on various topics. Additionally, for the mentors we will have a quarterly breakfast to allow the mentors to meet each other and to gain ideas as to how to improve the program. We are also reaching out to entities like UW school of entrepreneurialism to see how we might work together to offers programs of interest to the entrepreneur community
Q: Can you share some mentee success stories or perhaps a little more about the current mentors/mentees to give a flavor of the participants?
Robin: Sure. We have seven mentees going through the process now. By process I mean either actually being mentored or having been accepted and getting aligned with a mentor. We have only been at this formally for about three months so I am gratified with progress to date.
Having said that, I view success as having helped an entrepreneur monetize his/her dreams. Given that definition, it will be a number of years before we really will see the fruits of the program. The Toronto TiE chapter has now some 75 mentors and roughly 400 mentees who have passed through the program over the eight years of its existence. My understanding is that a number of the mentees have turned their companies into real success stories – that is the type of success I am talking about.
As examples of the diversity of business type, we have one group in the medical devices business looking to grow whom we have introduced to the head of a biotech company and to a mentor with expertise in fund raising and investing. A second group has a web-based business that has been up and running for a couple of years. Their need was for someone who had built a business of similar nature to provide advise on how to scale the business. A third entity focuses on helping seniors age in place, The CEO needed help in thinking how to market the company to large institutions and what to look for in hiring sales people. We introduced a mentor who specializes in building sales organizations and developing marketing programs.
Q: That’s quite fascinating. We should followup in a bit and share more on the progress of these mentor/mentee relationships and associated impact. Now, for the last question: What are your plans for the mentoring program over the next 6-12 months?
Robin: We want to expand the base program – both in terms of number of mentee/mentor relationships. Additionally, as mentioned earlier, we believe there are synergies to be had with other institutions who have a focus on building a vibrant entrepreneur community in this area. We already are reaching out to angel/private equity and VC groups about TiE Seattle’s NEST program, and need to expand on this aspect. Finally, we will introduce the opportunity to participate in business competitions, whether run under TiE or other entities.