How can mentoring help my start-up?

We are privileged to have a large cohort of excellent mentors including Michael Walker who works for Barclays bank.

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As part of global entrepreneurship week, we spoke to him about his experiences mentoring and asked him what he has learnt from mentoring and how he helps his mentees. His answers might surprise you…. 

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  • Hi there Mike. What made you consider becoming a mentor?

M: I was given the option of mentoring as a young businessman on the Barclays graduate scheme. When I moved onto a permanent role I mentored Barclay’s graduates myself. I enjoyed this and so when the opportunity arose to mentor for Startup Direct I took it up. I knew that mentoring is a shared learning experience and that I could share my technology knowledge and financial services knowledge with a mentee and potentially earn entrepreneurial disciplines from the mentee.

  • For how long have you been a mentor?

M: I have been a mentor for 3 years in total with over a year working for Startup Direct. In this time I have mentored two businesses.

  • What do you think the value of mentoring is?

M: Shared learning. Learning different business areas. One of my mentees is a franchise guitar tuition business who is focusing on growing his student base and getting guitar tuition into schools. Through this I have shared my passion for the guitar. I can see guitar tuition from a consumer point of view and look for what I would want from a guitar teacher and can provide an impartial insight into what a consumer wants. Through him I have learnt about marketing and branding and seen a unique insight into franchise businesses. My other Birmingham based mentee is developing a language app. Through him I can share my knowledge of technology and learn about app promotion.

With both my mentees I learn and share and although I may not have specific knowledge of their sector of business, I can offer them a unique alternative insight into their business and provide them an impartial, confidential sound-board for their business decisions.

  • How do you relate or connect to the entrepreneur(s) you mentor?

M: I connect to my guitar franchisee business mentee through my love of the guitar and my knowledge of what a guitar loving consumer would want from a tutor. Guitar playing is one of my favourite hobbies and so I know a lot about this sector. I also can share my experience in the business sector to relate to the financial side of the business.

For my second mentee it is a technology business designing and developing a language app. This is more the area I work in day-to-day. I think a mentor must be interested in the field a mentee is working in to help them engage with a product and believe in a product and entrepreneur. I have enthusiasm for technology and can invest that passion into my mentees.

  • What do you feel you mostly contribute as a mentor? And how does mentoring enrich you?

M: I have learnt from the people I mentor. I have learnt how to apply my base set of skills and my knowledge from my career to different areas. Mentoring has improved my communication skills as when you first meet your mentee they are a new person who must be able to communicate freely and trust you. You must be a good listener and tailor your questions to not be advice but offer open ended questions which challenge mentees to find their own solution to problems. A mentor must encourage them to think outside the box and not just give mentee an instant solution or only advice so they do not become dependent on you. You can help them learn how to approach things differently.

  • Did the experience of mentoring change your life? How did it change the way you work in your business?

I have found it has improved the way I work with colleagues and probe colleagues. I have found it has improved communication skills and made me a better listener.

  • What advice would you give to a person who is considering becoming a mentor

M: I have found it has improved the way I work with colleagues and probe colleagues. I have found it has improved communication skills and made me a better listener.

Choose your mentee wisely as it is a 2 way relationship. There is a level of commitment to your mentee that you must provide. It should not just be a tick in a box for the CV, you must enjoy the relationship. Also be honest with your mentee and identify flaws in the relationship. You are both investing time into mentoring and so if the relationship is not working this should be easily identified and amended. This is a shared learning experience and so pick a mentee that will help expand your horizons as much as you will expand theirs.

Overall I would say just go for it. Most people have unique knowledge and experience to share and mentoring is a great way to do this whilst offering a varied, unique and fun learning experience. Do it!


If you need some advice on mentoring and how to get the most out of it, see our mentee or mentor handbooks in partnership with Global Entrepreneurship week.

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