Building Entrepreneur Mentoring Capacity in Ontario

Thu, Aug 16, 2012

Featured, Mentorship Programs

I’m sure it’s not a stretch to see why I was provoked by the subject of the email I received this morning, “Why Don’t Mentoring Networks Work?” from 1M/1M Founder Sramana Mitra.

It’s no secret that I’m really proud of the exceptional network of mentoring programs we have available to entrepreneurs here in Canada and in-particular Ontario– I’m staking the success of my business on being able to help scale it.  What might surprise you though is that I don’t disagree with the 3 pillars of her argument:

i. They fail where they are needed the most: in grooming the less sophisticated entrepreneurs.

ii. Why? Because it is very hard and often a thankless job.

iii. Where do mentoring networks shine?  In mentoring the cream of the crop.

Where I differ from Sramana is in the solutions I propose to the challenges faced in scaling “Mentoring Networks” for Ontario:

1. We need to continue building out the support ecosystem that helps produce and grow new entrepreneurs in all sectors.  A key element to that is scaling the success of mentorship programs like most of our innovation centres and accelerators employ.  This will rely on volunteer mentor program models, like those of CYBF and Innovation Factory.

2. Entrepreneurs looking to access mentorship programs need to be oriented on the process and etiquette of engaging a mentor and the principles of being coachable – or what I like to call being MENTORready.

3. Mentors need to have access to training programs and recognition like the ones offered by UK based Get Mentoring.

4. Stronger collaboration networks, like the one that exists in Waterloo Region with Communitech, need to be established between Regional Innovation Centres and Accelerators and the Univeristy and College entrepreneurship programs that feed into them.

5. Expand the Ontario Network of Excellence mandate to include all entrepreneurs – truly make “shifts between government programs seamless”.  Like a Service Ontario for business – perhaps Business Ontario?

Learning more about the 1M/1M program highlighted for me of some of the resources we can be particularly proud of:  that entrepreneurs have free access to programs like MaRS Entrepreneurship 101 Toolkit and ventureLAB’s BUILD Program, paired with consultation of the advisors at our RICs and SBECs.  In contrast, 1M/1M charges $1,000 annually for access to their consultation and video lecture series.  There’s no substitute for the 1-1 advice from another entrepreneur who has succeeded in a similar position.  The challenge for Ontario is to scale the proven systems that are working – providing access to mentorship to all entrepreneurs.

(If you would like to see Sramana’s 8-minute video on ““Why Don’t Mentoring Networks Work?” – you can access it here: http://www.sramanamitra.com/2012/01/18/why-dont-mentoring-networks-work/)

5 Responses to “Building Entrepreneur Mentoring Capacity in Ontario”

  1. While you are at it, check out this cartoon as well :-)


    It’s not that ‘mentoring’ doesn’t work. The point is, mentoring networks do not scale.

  2. admin says:

    Sramana, the point of my post is that we need to build the infrastructure and ecosystem to enable more mentoring networks to scale. There are great examples like CYBF and Get Mentoring where it’s working. Here in Ontario, we have a network of innovation centres that are in a prime position to scale their successful mentoring programs through partnerships and collaboration with universities, colleges and small business centres.

    The essence of innovation is that it doesn’t seem possible, because it hasn’t happened yet. That’s my point on where you and I differ. I’m willing to GO ALL IN on the possibility that mentor networks for entrepreneurs can and will scale!

  3. Linda Morana says:

    Jeremy, congratulations on this insightful post. I applaud your efforts to create momentum for building an entrepreneurial mentoring community in Ontario and scaling the successes of mentoring programs.

    To add to the conversation, I’ll share some of the factors that contribute to the Canadian Youth Business Foundation’s success in scaling entrepreneur mentoring capacity nationally:
    1) Connecting with and understanding the pulse of entrepreneurship in Canada for entrepreneur needs assessment; advocacy; as well as mentor recruitment and matching purposes;
    2) Creating programs and initiatives to target entrepreneurs’ varying needs;
    3) Building strong relationships with associations, corporations, non-profit organizations, academic institutions and like-minded national organizations who share our mission to champion and mobilize young and emerging Canadian entrepreneurs and are willing to provide support through mentorship;
    4) Having national representation for our mentoring program through regional Mentoring Managers who recruit volunteer mentors, match entrepreneurs and mentors, and monitor mentoring relationships in their respective regions;
    5) Establishing a new Mentor in Residence role to offer mentors training and engagement opportunities nationally as well as provide insights into entrepreneurial mentoring best practices for mentors’ ongoing professional development.

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  5. Wendy says:

    Hello … I just want to make a contribution here.

    I had a fantastic, world-class Architect mentor in the USA for 9 years. I was intensively trained in very strong design office; being groomed to be a Principal Architect, taking over the business when he was ready to retire. Much to my chagrin, he died before I could write the registry exams. I had no choice but to return to Canada.

    My portfolio was always described as “WOW…Impressive!”, followed by, “No thank you. I can’t use you right now”; “Is this all American work? No Canadian work?”; “Fantastic! May I keep this? No, we’re not hiring now.”

    It’s now been 2 years of unemployment and 100+ cover letters … not to mention networking. If I apply to companies with job vacancies, I don’t even get a chance to interview.

    I don’t understand. In the USA, the big question is, “What can you do for me?” Answer: I can do everything except stamp the drawings. But that doesn’t seem to matter here in Canada.

    How tremendously disappointing (euphemism) it is to not have my skills and experiences valued!

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