The West Texas Innovation Network has been sponsoring bi-monthly mentoring events for the past two years I Abilene, TX. These free events are structured with a “speed-dating” format whereby the mentors-for-the-evening move from station to station over the course of a 2-hour meeting. The commitment that WTIN asks from these existing small business owners is that they just show up for a couple of hours prepared to share their experience and expertise with aspiring and early-stage entrepreneurs who may still be in the investigating stage of their development.
Rather than taking a traditional approach that many mentoring programs apply, WTIN decided from the outset that our role was not to try “matching” mentors and mentees. Rarely have we seen such a prescriptive “mentoring” approach sustain long-term relationships in other mentoring programs that we have observed. Hence, the term: FORUM – a meeting or assembly for the open discussion of subjects of public interest. It so happens that our common “public interest” is entrepreneurship.
Since WTIN had already determined that we were not in the mentor matching business, we adopted Solomon’s proverbial wisdom which states, “There is safety in the multitude of counsel.” Thus the MENTOR FORUM was born. Nearly 100 local small business owners have volunteered their time over the past two years to bring their learned lessons of launching their own businesses to the listeners of these forums. These opportunities for organic, natural personal connections have been not only beneficial to the aspiring entrepreneurs, but have helped the business owner/mentors connect and network with other business owners with whom they previously had no relationship. Even in this age of multiple digital connections, there is nothing that can totally replace the value of the personal, face-to-face association available at these forums. We all need the “human touch”, the subtleties of an approving nod of agreement or the slight smile of understanding. Let’s not dismiss the organic thing as an outmoded means of relating to, or connecting to other living organisms…namely, other people. The value of developing and enhancing interpersonal skills should not be underrated when building a business.
One amazing fact so noticeably predominant at the forums is the willingness of the mentors to advise, listen to and help the struggling entrepreneur. They know what it is like. Most of them – nay, all of them – have had some help along their entrepreneurial journey. Perhaps this is their way of paying it forward. Once that the mentee/participant has cycled through 4-6 mentors throughout the evening, they are starting to get a clearer picture as to whether or not to embrace the hardships of the entrepreneurial journey or retreat to a “safe” place. Either conclusion is fine…and honorable. Not everyone should become self-employed. We all need to have an accurate estimation of who we are and what we are gifted/driven to do.