Millennials, Meet Your Mentors

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BY ANDREW BACCHUS  |  PIVOT WRITER

Millennials have been reared with the notion that they can do anything. Fair enough, but there is a caveat – they probably can’t do it alone. For Millennial entrepreneurs, aka Gen Y, aka the Startup Generation, mentorship offers the same value to the startup process as does Wikipedia to fact finding, wherein mentors can save entrepreneurs countless hours in information seeking.

A mentor, someone who has already been there and done that, can help an entrepreneur avoid pitfalls along their startup journey. Mentors can be valuable sources of information on  markets, growth, human resources (HR) – whatever it may be that an entrepreneur is struggling with at the time. Millennial entrepreneurs have innovative, sometimes radical ideas, and the uncertainty and immaturity of the market process can be greatly improved by working with a mentor.

According to a recent survey Intuit Canada conducted with millennial entrepreneurs, those born between 1980 and 1995, nearly 75% of the workforce will be made up by Millennials by the year 2028. The same study noted that Millennials pursue work opportunities that are personally fulfilling and consider entrepreneurship because it allows them to chart their own course. Whether they’re working a 9-5 job, or have founded a startup of their own, Millennials want mentors. According to a poll with 2,200 professionals, research from the Harvard Business Review demonstrates that Millennials want to learn:

  • technical skills in their area of expertise
  • self management and personal productivity
  • leadership
  • industry or functional knowledge
  • creativity and innovation strategies

From their “boss,” they want:

  • help navigating a career path
  • sponsorship for formal development programs
  • a flexible schedule

Ask questions

Your mentor can’t read your mind. During a Q&A session of the film screening of Day Job – a film about the gruelling process of three start-up companies in Toronto’s Extreme Startups Accelerator – entrepreneurs were reminded that while mentors can provide essential value, the entrepreneur has to clearly communicate what he or she needs and where they want to go. Jack Dorsey, Co-Founder of Twitter talked about mentoring high school students, and noted that they are not afraid to ask anything. “The program gives them the confidence to keep asking those questions and to keep answering them through building something,” he said. ”Asking a simple question that might be really transformative for them.”

Also, while some entrepreneurs may have just one mentor, if the startup has been selected for a prestigious accelerator program, there may be dozens of mentors. Asking the right mentor the right questions will help to parse the information, so that it can be understood and implemented.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Mentorship does not have to always be a one-on-one scenario, it can also be a one-to-many setup or a many-to-many group situation. Entrepreneurs need to choose the mentorship model that suits them and their company’s stage of growth. Findings from a journalist at Bloomberg show that not all Millennials want to follow a defined roadmap, but instead “make a leap.” Some “younger employees prefer to be mentored in the way they interact with the world, in short informal and useful bursts from people they like and have independently formed a relationship with… After all, how much can a millennial rely on a mentor when their eventual goal is to found something that disrupts their industry?”

Also, a mentor does not have to provide a blueprint life for their mentee. Instead, their role is to support the entrepreneur with relatable advice at different points along the journey. Hilda Morra, an Ambassador of African entrepreneurship, says startups should “start lean by learning through their peers – trading ideas, recommendations, and getting feedback from peers as an elementary form of mentorship.” Peer-to-peer mentoring, she says, enables startups to learn from others who have been able to curb the challenges they are facing.

Location doesn’t matter

Thanks to technologies like Skype, Google Hangout, instant messaging and other collaboration tools, mentorship today doesn’t have to happen in a face-to-face physical meeting. If an entrepreneur lives in a small town, or just plain busy with life, the availability and use of virtual and online resources means mentorship can happen from almost anywhere, at any time.

“Some mentors may help you without their knowledge through books, seminars, speeches, videos on TED, TV programs and the internet,” says Adam Toren, Co-Founder of youngentrepreneur.com. “My brother and I always looked to Richard Branson as one of our mentors. We don’t have to meet him in person to appreciate all he provides to entrepreneurs and others all over the world.”

Ready for the next step?

Don’t have a mentor yet? Here are a few great ways to find your perfect mentor match:

Canadian Mentorship Challenge

The Canadian Mentorship Challenge is a nation-wide challenge during Global Entrepreneurship Week, November 18 – 24, 2013, to fuel entrepreneurial mentoring activities across the country and to celebrate and raise the profile of mentors as a key part of the Canadian entrepreneurship community.

Hosted this year jointly by Startup Canada and the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, the Challenge’s goal is to collectively mentor more than 10,000 enterprising Canadians over the course of the week. Organizations and individuals across Canada will be organizing mentorship events in their communities, open to anyone to participate.

Past events have included everything from youth mentorship luncheons and speed networking events to pitch competitions and virtual mentor meetings. A full listing of all participating events will be available on the Canadian Mentorship Challenge website leading up to Global Entrepreneurship Week.

If you wanted to do more than just attend, you can take the lead on organizing a local event yourself. The website has a number of helpful resources for coordinating and promoting events, and you could be in the running to win the Challenge for the best overall event. The deadline to submit events is October 22. For more information, click here or contact mentor@startupcan.ca.

Startup Generation Global Fellowship Program

The Startup Generation Global Fellowship Program brings together the world’s most enterprising young leaders who have demonstrated a commitment to advancing entrepreneurship in their communities, countries or internationally. The Fellowship unites young leaders and connects them with the world’s foremost entrepreneurial experts and catalysts.

The six-month online project-based learning Fellowship is supported by some of the world’s most esteemed academic institutions and market players. The Global Fellows are selected from a pool of ambitious applicants aged 18 to 32 from anywhere in the world who are currently spearheading projects, startups, organizations or activities with strong mandates to drive transformational change through advancing micro or macro entrepreneurship. For more information, visit the Startup Generation website.

Applications for the Fellowship program are due by October 16.

Mentorship and Bridge Building

The Canadian Youth Business Foundation (CYBF) offers an industry-leading mentoring program, where entrepreneurs are hand-matched with a business professional that suits your needs. Also, the CYBF recently teamed up with Intuit Canada to provide a group of CYBF entrepreneurs with hands-on financial literacy learning, through a program called Financial Bridge Builders.

Intuit and the CYBF hosted a live panel event with the CYBF entrepreneurs and mentors on October 09, where they shared some of the top challenges and lessons learned from starting a business. An archive of the event is expected to be available online soon.

CanWIT National e-Mentorship Program

In technology, women are still in the minority, and finding role models can be challenging. At CanWIT, they’re working to encourage more women to pursue successful careers in different technology fields, by connecting them with the networks, support and knowledge they need to excel!

CanWIT’s eMentorship platform is a unique online community where experienced professionals in technology can connect with young women to help them accelerate their careers. Mentors with years of knowledge and expertise are matched with young women who are seeking guidance and support. For more information, click here.