Mentors and ‘mentees’ work together to give startups a leg up

By: Steve Porter Tuesday February 28, 2017 0 comments Tags: Fort Collins, Fort Collins Startup Week, Jeff Icenhower, Paul Harter, Mike Schott

 

FORT COLLINS #FCSW17 -- Mentors can help startup entrepreneurs avoid costly missteps and advance their companies much more rapidly than doing it all on their own.

But how to find that perfect match between a new startup and an experienced mentor?Fort_Collins_Startup_Week_logoNEWUSE

Sometimes it’s just plain luck.

Paul Harter and Mike Schott were chatting and enjoying some beers when they realized that locating their businesses at the same site might prove beneficial to both.

Harter, owner of Frederick-based Aqua-Hot with 38 employees, was the acknowledged mentor in the collaboration with Schott’s 3-employee company CMC, the “mentee” in the relationship.

Both companies are focused on providing engineering services, although not in the exact same field. That gave them a common language but not the kind of relationship that could become competitive.

“We had similar interests,” said Harter. “They needed some space and we had some extra space – it was that simple.”

“It’s kind of best if you don’t have that (business) overlap,” said Schott. “But it works out for these other things.”

Those “other things” include shared infrastructure, access to shared test equipment and -- for Schott -- being able to hold investor meetings in Harter’s spacious conference room.

That worked to Harter’s advantage, as well, with Schott’s out-of-town investors getting a chance to see his operation up close and possibly invest in it as well.

For the two business friends, the relationship has been free from money issues.

“No money has ever changed hands,” said Harter. “It’s been strictly barter.”

Harter and Schott offered suggestions for finding and keeping a strong and useful roommate style B2B mentoring relationship:

  • Be purposeful in your search and make sure there’s a culture match
  • Look for opportunities for partnerships
  • Set timelines with regular ‘How’s it going?’ reviews

 Asked whether lawyers should be brought into a situation like theirs, Harter advised caution.

“It’s something you probably want to look at eventually, but if you try to go there too soon it could kill the idea.”

Mentoring was the topic of two other sessions Monday during Fort Collins Startup Week, which continues through Friday and celebrates entrepreneurism in the city and Northern Colorado.

Startup owner Jeff Icenhower said his experiences with mentoring could be boiled down to a few principles.

No. 1, Icenhower said, is to remember that the ‘mentee” is always in an inferior position relative to the mentor and responsible for keeping the relationship alive.

Icenhower said startup entrepreneurs should know where they need mentoring help and seek out someone suitable. Mentors could be friends of friends, parental acqaintences or just about anyone – meaning one should always be on the lookout for possible matches.

Two other suggestions from Icenhower: Have a 60-second elevator pitch to get one’s message out clearly and quickly for that chance meeting, and to have a defined endpoint with periodic check-ins to make sure both parties are still satisfied with the relationship.

“You know what you need,” he said. “You just need to find somebody with the skills and experience you’re looking for.”

Monday’s mentoring sessions concluded with some mentoring “speed dating,” with established mentors huddling with those looking for some mentoring help.

Icenhower said mentors decide to help young startups for their own reasons. Sometimes it might be for a stake in the company, or it could be as simple as just wanting to help someone.

“Anybody who agrees to be a mentor is doing it because they get something out of it,” he said.

“For lots of people, it’s just how they want to give back.”

Steve Porter

About the Author: Steve Porter

Steve Porter, editor of InnovatioNews, has more than 20 years of newspaper experience in reporting, editing and managing news organizations. Steve brings a deep knowledge of the Colorado business landscape and award-winning writing and editing skills to the project.