How to Mentor So That It Means Something

3/12/12

There’s something magical happening in Boston right now, and it’s going to make history. Like many startup scenes, Boston’s is truly exploding, vibrant with passionate founders and bold teams, backed by a fresh crop of seed funds and experienced venture capitalists. But this isn’t merely a rehash of the late ’90s or early 2000s. This is something entirely different.

Beginning in 2011, Boston’s ecosystem started to deeply interconnect—like some massive neural network—and it’s now on the precipice of becoming one of the greatest startup organisms ever created. The reason for this is simple: this organism is nurturing, embracing, and considerate of its entire being. The startup system has bucked convention in a city where people don’t make eye contact on the T, and a honk and the finger is all part of the morning commute. What was once an environment of competition and posturing has been replaced by one of cultivation and brotherhood.

The momentum that’s bringing us into 2012 is irrefutable. Everywhere you turn new nodes are being created and synapses are firing. We’re seeing a similar trend in cities around the country like Salt Lake City, Austin, Las Vegas, and New York City. But even with all of the wonderful things happening in these cities, there’s a very real danger that we could miss the multi-billion dollar opportunity that lies in front of us. That’s because this interconnectivity is merely the beginning.  What will make or break 2012 isn’t the validity of the ideas created, the energy of the founders, or the willingness for capital to be deployed. Individuals will make the difference—entrepreneurs and mentors alike—by proactively fostering and enabling results through two specific activities:

1. SpiderWeb Mentorship: Successful entrepreneurs and executives actively pushing people up and into the ecosystem.

2. Horizontal Entrepreneurism: Collaboration across companies, with entrepreneurs enthusiastically supporting each other.

In the case of Horizontal Entrepreneurism, Boston is rife with examples: Workvibe profiling local startups to draw in new talent, #RubyRiot encouraging community members to “pay it forward”; BzzAgent offering office space to startups such as Runkeeper, the first company to take advantage of the opportunity in 2009.

But a horizontally-focused entrepreneur ecosystem also runs a very dangerous risk: It can turn into something like a startup high school “clique”. There are those on the inside, and then those who are unknown, disconnected, and unintentionally undermined. Whether Boston has splintered into its own “Heathers” vs. Everyone Else environment is up for debate, but what’s critical now is to consciously avoid this trap and to take specific actions that ensure we continue to grow our startup scene and not shatter it.

That brings us to SpiderWeb Mentorship, the determining factor in whether or not a startup ecosystem splinters and cliques—or becomes robust enough to optimize the likelihood for companies to thrive and succeed.

SpiderWeb Mentorship is about creating the strongest … Next Page »

Dave Balter is the CEO of BzzAgent (a dunnhumby company). Jennifer Lum is the co-founder of Apricot Capital. Follow @

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