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Mentors: The Secret Sauce in a Successful Social Enterprise

August 29, 2014

Katie Wyatt, Program Manager at Social Traders start-up incubation program “The Crunch” explains why a mentor should be part of any social enterprise start-up success strategy.

Starting a social enterprise is tough. Creating a business that will deliver social impact as well as deliver financially is a challenge. Many social enterprise start-ups we meet through our work with Social Traders start-up incubation program “The Crunch” are deeply skilled and experienced in the social issue they are addressing but can be less adept at the commercial reality of starting a successful business.

We know that the right team is critical. Finding an engaged and committed mentor who can add tools to your kitbag can be the key to unlocking success for your start-up.

1) A GOOD MENTOR WILL HELP YOU LEARN AND GROW

A mentor is will provide counsel or wisdom, sponsorship or support. Mentoring is not about telling, but guiding conversations that help you figure stuff out for yourself. A great mentor will be a supporter but also play the devil’s advocate. They might fill a skill gap for you, or open up new networks and opportunities.

“My social enterprise were at first very focussed on the technology part of their business rather than the problem they were trying to solve, or their market opportunity. Helping them out of the technical weeds and into the bigger picture was my role.” – Peter Young, Australia Post, The Crunch Business Mentor (OpMarket) 2014

“My mentors are not afraid to constructively criticise, to question what I’m doing, to guide me, to build my understanding.” – Dave Burton, The Song Room, The Crunch participant 2014

2) MENTORS ARE CHAMPING AT THE BIT TO CONTRIBUTE

Many social enterprises balk at the thought of asking a mentor – or anybody – for help. They can’t see why someone would want to give so much time – for free! Here’s a little secret – the mentors often get even more from the experience than you do! Successful business people are often looking for ways to use their skills in a meaningful way. Businesses are always on the lookout for high quality skilled volunteering opportunities to provide their most talented staff.

At Social Traders we bring the two together – providing a quality, whole-of-business strategic mentoring opportunity to business mentors, and quality support and connections for the social enterprises. And the proof isn’t in the pudding but in the eating – many of our mentors go on to become board members of the new enterprise or have an ongoing role in some way.

“I wanted to use my everyday business skills to support a social enterprise to deliver a really important social impact – supporting disadvantaged youths to obtain training and employment. My favourite moment was being part of their achievements and excitement at the knowledge they were gaining.” – Van Dissing, Westpac, The Crunch Business Mentor (Uplift Digital) 2014

“My mentors are incredibly business savvy people but also have a really strong connection to what we’re doing, to our social purpose. They want to see it succeed.” – Jamin Heppell, Gamechangers Australia, The Crunch Participant 2014

3) THE SECRET SAUCE

Starting a relationship with a mentor is just a chemistry experiment. We have matched more than 70 business mentors with start-up social enterprises over the past 4 years and learned much about matching skills, experiences, interests and locations. We think we get it right most of the time, but you can’t match for chemistry. So we add the vital ingredients and wait for the magic to happen.

“It was rewarding to work with a diverse group of committed professionals and MBA students. Moreover it was satisfying to help my mentee with facilitating introductions to prospective partners to support the concept to flourish. Ultimately it was great see the growth and development of a social idea, that when scaled may benefit so many people in the community.” – Lali Wiratunga, Westpac, The Crunch – Business Mentor (SIMO) 2014

About the author:
Katie Wyatt is the Program Manager (and mentor matchmaker) for Social Traders’ flagship start-up incubation program The Crunch. The Crunch is an intensive, six month process of feasibility testing and planning for start-up social enterprises.

Next steps:
Social Traders are currently recruiting participants for the 2015 Crunch program. The first step is to attend a Warm-up event in September. Find out more and register now.

Social Traders’ The Crunch is supported by business mentors from senior management from valued mentor partners; including Westpac, the Westpac Foundation, Australia Post, Accenture and Telstra.

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