How to Mentor So That It Means Something

3/12/12

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startup “web” possible, by weaving an incredible tapestry of ideas and connections, allowing for random new offshoots, connecting divided webs, and oscillating the whole entrepreneurial ecosystem into action.

This occurs when experienced veterans (Mentors) focus not on making each individual entrepreneur better, but on making the system as a whole stronger. Mentors must be open and willing to (a) connect with people beyond only those with the right “credentials” and (b) focus on the development of “web-like” interconnectivity to other mentors and other entrepreneurs. This can be accomplished by Mentors actively engaging in a set of critical behaviors:

1) Take the Unknown Meetings with Ambiguous Agendas. Regardless of someone’s experience or who they know, SpiderWeb Mentors connect with people who reach out to them, to create new connective threads. The strongest Mentors are willing to take a meeting, just to listen and share, with no specific agenda. We both have SpiderWeb Mentors to thank for starting our own careers.

2) Follow the Law of Three Introductions. Once you meet with an entrepreneur, it’s key that they are introduced to at least three others—2 active/known entrepreneurs and 1 mentor—to create more connections across the horizontal entrepreneur web.

3) Be Constructive—and Critical. It’s key to push each other to grow and improve. While it is important to celebrate and talk about the wins, cheerleading alone will not ensure business success. As they say: If you see something, say something.

4) If you’re a Big Spider, Show Up! Executives at mature companies need to engage with the community. You big guys know who you are and you have a lot of knowledge to share. This is one of the best ways for you to give back.

5) Start Your Own Web. Have the initiative to take charge, reach out, and speak up. As the Mentor it’s up to you to activate the web. Get involved with the universities, sit on panels, hold open office hours. Whatever it takes, make yourself available.

So, this is a call to every Startup City, to inspire their entrepreneurs and mentors to do the work. To protect ourselves against the one virus that can take us down: the failure to support each other. We need to go out of our way to make it happen. SpiderWeb Mentorship and Horizontal Entrepreneurism are the keys to ensuring our organism thrives and survives.

This is the moment. Let’s weave the web, people!

[This post also appears in Inc. Magazine---Eds.]

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

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