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Let's say you're an entrepreneurial food scientist. Your company makes liquor from fermented cheese byproducts--it's tasty, you swear--and you need a mentor. Who do you ask?

If your name is Emily Darchuk and your company is Wheyward Spirit, the answer is obvious: Gary Hirshberg, founder of pioneering organic yogurt brand Stonyfield Organic. After all, dairy is dairy, whether you're eating it for breakfast or drinking it at a bar on a Friday night.

Hirshberg started their first mentoring session with a blunt question: What are you living on? "Hopes and dreams and laughter and, sometimes, fumes," Darchuk replied. "I want to look at funding--but I want to personally remove as much risk as possible." Hirshberg approved: "Good for you. I wish even just 10 percent of the companies I work with thought like this."

For Inc.'s 40th anniversary this year, we're launching the Founders Project, which will match 40 aspiring founders with 40 of America's most accomplished entrepreneurs--starting with Darchuk and Hirshberg. Throughout the year, the interactions of all 40 pairs will play out in the magazine, on the website, in videos, and at live events. (If you're attending South by Southwest next month, request an invite to our Founders House and come by to say hi.)

As my colleague Leigh Buchanan writes: "You'll see [everything] in real time: the blocking and tackling, the strategizing and hedging, and the occasional tear or fist bump."

The hope is that by the end of 2019, those emerging founders will know what they need to thrive--this year, next year, and for many years to come. If you follow along and learn from their journeys, you should be able to do the same.

Here's what else I'm reading today:

Published on: Feb 19, 2019