Mentorship for entrepreneurs: a powerful catalyst for innovation
“Always pass on what you have learned”: this phrase from the famous movie StarWars defines in six words the essence of being a mentor. A role that has become increasingly popular in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, but that has its origin in the oldest history of humanity. The concept appears in Greek mythology with the story of “Mentor,” a character appointed by “Ulysses” to prepare his son as the kingdom’s successor; since then, the term has been used to refer to a person who guides another in the fulfillment of a mission.
Long before this story was told, humanity had already established practices that could be called “mentoring”: the transmission of knowledge and our inherent condition of imitating referential behaviors show that this is not an emerging practice. Even so, in the last decade the concept took a quantum leap into the business world, making it popular around the world.
Being a mentor is an art
Mentoring is about weaving a collaborative relationship, focused on enhancing the capabilities of the person receiving the mentorship. This is the relationship’s usual logic, however, many claim that it is a mutual learning experience, where even the mentor rediscovers parts of himself, questions and reinvents himself. This is what Kathleen Fernández, Director of the Ciudad del Saber Foundation’s Network of Mentors, says: “The reward that one gets as a mentor is that by encouraging entrepreneurs to take their business to the next level, one also learns and acquires lessons.”
In this way, the two merge in a multi-purpose synergy, in which profoundly revolutionary metamorphoses often occur. “When someone says: I managed to do what you told me and it works! There is the true payment for this mission” says Paula Barrios, pioneer mentor, expert in marketing and tourism, who has had the opportunity to work accompanying groups of women indigenous and rural sector.
Mentoring is an expert support that guides the entrepreneurial path, channels ideas, facilitates access to knowledge and financing networks, accelerates learning processes, stimulates the achievement of goals and supports conflict resolution. Entrepreneurs who have received this close accompaniment, walk trails with footprints that others have marked and avoid unforeseen stumbling blocks that have previously been avoided.
The mentor is that person who knows the way and offers a high beams vision to identify what is not perceived by the naked eye. For the Director of the Mentor Network, Kathleen, the role of tutors is key: “the support of mentors is one of the tools that most supports the survival and increasing the impact of entrepreneurship.”
Choosing the mentor’s path is opening your hands to give everything. “The first thing a mentor needs is to be detached. He who does not release everything he knows and has, his contacts and his skills, and who does not feel the venture as if it were his, is not a mentor. The second thing is to understand people to know how you can help them. You have to do it from the heart,” says Barrios.
The Innovation Center of the City of Knowledge Foundation has recognized the relevance of mentoring as a resource that supports entrepreneurship and maintains optimal conditions so that businesses can remain in time. The Foundation has always accompanied new entrepreneurs who are part of its community with personalized advice in different key areas.
A couple of years ago this group of people was formally consolidated into a single fabric: the Network of Mentors of the City of Saber Knowledge Foundation, this formal space that has become a solid community of more than 70 people -90% women and 10 % men-,who accompany Panamanian entrepreneurs from different parts of the world.
The Network is strengthened thanks to the people who voluntarily decide to contribute with highly relevant topics such as empowerment and gender equality, overcoming barriers to entrepreneurship, Design Thinking techniques, traction and scalability of projects, e-commerce, among others. “The Network is made up of a very large group, where all are people with a high professional profile and specialists in branches that provide a lot of knowledge to entrepreneurs. There are experts in marketing, finance, communication, social networks, and other key issues to grow a business,” says its director, whose experience in multiple sectors has been relevant to provide a vision adapted to the needs of each entrepreneur.
Networks have special meaning to us: “many times we work together. If a mentor is not a specialist in a subject that requires specific advice, he or she can find support within the network ”adds Fernández. The network’s objective is to impact the lives of others. Mentors “marry” the cause and work for it: change people’s lives and above all increase female leadership in entrepreneurship; as well as having more companies that seek to contribute and add value to society. Nothing exists as an isolated entity, so everything assumes the form of relationships, from subatomic particles to ecosystems. In life itself and in entrepreneurship, nothing lives, it exists by itself; this justifies mentoring as a relationship that is established to join forces in a common purpose.
According to Larú Linares, Entrepreneurship Manager of the City of Knowledge Foundation, “within the Foundation’s entrepreneurship promotion program, the mentoring phase is the most important of all, as it is an experience of brotherhood/sisterhood and connection; it is an approach with someone who is going to help you and who is going to stay connected with you ”. Mentoring relationships never fade, they are long-term links that are nurtured and remain over time, and this is also perceived by mentors: “you become deeply involved in the business success of that person and you feel it as your own, I am in frequent contact with those entrepreneurs that I have accompanied and I have seen them grow,” says Barrios.
Mentors who join the Network must have proven expertise in some specialty, which opens the door for them to start their selection process as official members. Once selected, they join the Master Mentor program, a space for reflection and learning that professionalizes them and focuses their work before starting the accompaniment process with the new employer.
The mentors’ main mission is to support the Entrepreneurs Channel and secondly to other entrepreneurs from the Innovation Center at the City of Knowledge Foundation. However, the Network has partnered with other actors to promote entrepreneurship in other programs in the country.
Some entrepreneurs who have gone through the program become mentors. This is the case of Heily, a Salvadoran woman who was part of the UNHCR refugee program and received mentorship in previous years from the City of Knowledge Foundation. This year she returned as a mentor with a powerful sensitivity for the refugee group. “She wants to give back in some way what she received from her mentor,” says Linares. And this is that being a mentor is like: giving something back to the world, promoting economic development, strengthening job creation and strengthening the capacities of communities. “I am personally highly appreciative of the mentors. Their role has been key in promoting innovation and entrepreneurship. This is a great step that we are taking in the innovation center and in the country ”concludes Linares.