As a peer-to-peer learning organization, the core of the Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO)'s mission is an unwavering commitment to helping entrepreneurs at every stage learn and grow to new levels of leadership. EO attends events for startup entrepreneurs, including the upcoming Startup Grind Europe, where EO members volunteer time in support of next-generation entrepreneurs by offering free mentoring sessions that provide insights to help address startup challenges. We asked two EO members who volunteered at Startup Grind Global--Adrienne Palmer, EO Dallas member and founder of Insite, and Carlo Santoro, EO Melbourne member and founder of RetailCare--about their experience mentoring startup entrepreneurs. Here's what they shared:
Why did you attend Startup Grind as a volunteer?
AP: As a passionate volunteer for both EO and other non-profits that support entrepreneurship, education and mentorship, Startup Grind is an opportunity to convene people and organizations with aligned interests in the startup community to create mutual wins. I believe in the value of sharing the lessons I've learned throughout my entrepreneurial journey with those who are starting theirs. My favorite aspect of the event was talking to the entrepreneurs--their vision and passion are palpable; they reminded me how exciting it is to start something new. Their energy is contagious!
CS: I train mentors who participate in EO's mentorship program, so EO asked me to attend. I mentored many young entrepreneurs one-on-one about their business situations. The highlight was giving back to these young entrepreneurs, and showing them the value of finding a community where you can share business concerns without judgment and gain new perspectives to help work through the many challenges of starting a business.
What were your takeaways from the event?
- AP: The community focus on entrepreneurship and the resources to support entrepreneurs is miles ahead of where it was 20+ years ago when I started my first business. I was pleasantly surprised that young entrepreneurs truly want our advice, experience sharing and encouragement. As experienced entrepreneurs, we often underestimate our unique value and perspective--we take our way of looking at the world for granted. We have a lot to give, and it can be very gratifying to share.
- AP: The business savvy of the startup entrepreneurs I met was striking. Many have reached incredible milestones at a young age. A part of me definitely asked, "What was I doing at that age?" with a big dose of humility. They are creating mission- and purpose-driven businesses to make a positive impact on the world. The event gave me tremendous hope for the future. Our world is in good hands.
- CS: I learned as many lessons from the people I mentored as I shared with them. The quality, drive, energy and creativity of the young leaders I encountered is impressive. For those starting a business, the conference enabled attendees to find a way forward and connect with like-minded people and groups such as EO, so they don't feel so alone in their journey.
How would you assess the startup ecosystem?
AP: The entrepreneurial spirit and ecosystem are vibrant, if perhaps a little crowded. Organizations are popping up to support every aspect of entrepreneurship--there's even some "me too" energy around everyone wanting to be a part of it. New startup entrepreneurs must feel somewhat overwhelmed by it all, especially those in the tech space who are seeking venture capital funding. My advice to entrepreneurs navigating all of that is to stay clear on their purpose and vision, and focus on building a business model that makes sense and is sustainable.
What did the free mentoring sessions you conducted involve?
AP: I'm actively involved in EO's mentorship program, which brings a clear intent and process to mentoring, and helps mentors hone our coaching skills. When I sat down with mentees, I came from a place of coaching, listening and asking questions, rather than imposing my opinion on what they "should" do next. During the Women in Tech Mentoring Sessions, we enjoyed deeper conversations revolving around the unique struggles women face, including gaining respect in the tech and venture capital worlds.
What role does mentoring play in startup entrepreneurship?
CS: It's invaluable. During Startup Grind Global, I spoke with about 100 people and heard a wide array of outstanding ideas and enthusiasm. But I noticed a gap: Once they identify a million-dollar idea, young entrepreneurs aren't sure where to start or who to speak with to begin building a successful company around that idea. I think universities could step up their game in helping students learn the basics for commercializing an idea.
I also sensed that most didn't have an independent sounding board to bounce ideas off of; they had business partners, investors and sometimes boards of directors, but all of those players have a stake in the business. There is enormous value in finding an independent, objective source for entrepreneurial experience sharing.
I believe mentoring is the answer. With a mentor, you can have frank, open discussions with no pressure and no vested interest at stake. The mentoring process is about sharing experiences to allow the mentee to take away the specific value that resonates for them. The lessons learned can be applied without any agenda, which builds a more genuine relationship and method of learning.