Star Cunningham will tell you luck didn't have anything to do with landing investor Esther Dyson as a mentor. Instead, it took a whole lot of intention, planning and homework says the founder and CEO of chronic care management platform 4D Healthware who met Dyson about three years ago for the first time. Today she describes Dyson as a "catalyst" for the success of her company, which she says is poised to tap into a $16 billion market created earlier this year when Medicare changed how it will pay physicians for chronic disease management. Here's her advice on how to find an incredible mentor of your own.

1. Do your homework.

Cunningham read Dyson's books, followed her on Twitter, watched her on televised events and mapped her speaking schedule. As a graduate of Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, Cunningham was excited to learn Dyson would be speaking there and asked former professors to facilitate an introduction.

2. Make the seconds count.

With a throng of people vying for Dyson's attention, Cunningham had less than a minute to make an impression. With so much research under her belt she felt like she knew everything about Dyson, who didn't know a thing about her. Cunningham's singular goal: to connect with Dyson on a personal level. "A lot of times when someone has an opportunity to meet someone they would like to know better, there's a tendency to talk a lot about yourself, your company, or how you do what you do, and to try to get advice at that moment. And that may not necessarily be the best time simply because of the volume of people approaching that individual," she says.

3. Understand that sometimes it won't click.

Cunningham once traveled from Chicago to California to be in the room with someone and it didn't go as planned. "I thought it would be this wonderful thing and it ended up being more like a speedbump," she says. "So, have realistic expectations."

4. Never give up.

Dyson's speaking event at Kellogg wasn't the first time Cunningham had been in her proximity. "You don't always get to engage with the individual the first time around," she says.

5. Aim high.

Big names can be intimidating but they put their pants on one leg at a time like everybody else. "Just realize that it's important to be different because a lot of people are going to be coming after them," she says.

6. Focus on relationship.

A mentoring relationship isn't solely about business. And because any healthy relationship involves give and take, figure out what you can do for the person you want as a mentor. "A lot of people want them as a mentor," she says. "Because they've been an entrepreneur before, and they had mentors, they look for people who are willing to give back, perhaps in ways that you don't think about."

7. Respect a mentor's time.

"If it's a question you can ask of anyone, ask yourself how important is it to get feedback on this topic from this person," she says.

Published on: Dec 18, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.