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Mentoring programs explored to find best practices

January 11, 2018

Mentoring programs may be celebrated across the nation as January marks National Mentoring Month, a movement started in 2002 to raise awareness of mentoring in all its forms. But more could be done to make programs more effective in both university and non-university settings, according to a recent working paper from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. Mentoring in Startup Ecosystems, by Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, et al, found that mentoring is fundamental to founder education, but that such programs could be improved, especially at universities.

While the authors contend that mentoring has become an essential factor in entrepreneurial success and that it can make a significant difference in education, “the full potential of mentoring relationships is rarely realized,” they write. Their research aims to address the gap in knowledge about the success factors behind mentoring. To be effective as a mentor, one needs a growth mindset (the belief that most abilities can be learned), as well as a broad professional background and true empathy, the authors write. The mentors also should not provide all the answers to questions a mentee may ask, focusing instead on how they can learn most effectively.

In looking at different programs, the researchers found non-university programs are ahead of university programs in several ways. Non-university programs provide more advanced formal processes and training, and more interactions between mentors and mentees. The data also revealed that non-university programs were able to attract more experienced mentors. The authors go on to suggest that university program administrators may be able to improve program success by expanding the role of the mentor, for example, by encouraging mentors to enable connections between their mentees and their professional network.

While there is room for further research, the authors contend that many lessons could be shared by creating a community of practice, beginning with the study’s 33 public and private research partners. They also suggest an online database to engage more qualified mentors and manage mentoring programs, and training to help both mentees and mentors.

The researchers surveyed 33 entrepreneurial programs across the U.S. drawn from NSF’s I-Corps universities, Techstars and the Enterprise Futures Network (EFN), looking at multiple perspectives (mentor, mentee, administrator) in both university and entrepreneurial accelerator programs. 

recent research, entrepreneurship