In our digital world, the next big thing is already old news. Whether it’s a hot product or the latest big-splash startup, give it a week and we’ll already be raving about something else. But before any of these companies even hit the market, chances are somebody from the outside has been helping them along the way.

Whether it’s seasoned entrepreneurs and C-level executives still at the top of their game, or those who’ve made multiple exits and are transitioning away from the grind of day-to-day operations, any innovation ecosystem thrives off of these people as mentors.

For the older folks, maybe it’s all about The Itch, like a retired athlete who still has that urge to gear up one more time. To compete.

For those still in the middle of their careers, maybe it’s yet another roll of the dice, or a desire to grow a more integrated, healthier economy in their region.

But the bottom line is this: long-term mentorship is a vital component of the startup experience. And for every one startup in this country, there’s ten times as many opportunities to help guide the next wave of American entrepreneurship.

So we’ve decided to highlight a particular organization that not only helps streamline seasoned entrepreneurial and executive advice into its own innovation ecosystem, but also helps other organizations to outsource its mentorship model and grow networks in their own regions.

MIT Venture Mentoring Service (VMS) model

Founded in 2000, MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service began as an idea between two serial entrepreneurs–the late MIT Professor David Staelin and alumnus Alexander Dingee. The two men wanted to help bridge the transition of MIT’s young entrepreneurial efforts from the university sphere into the real world.

After several years of tapping the volunteer services of seasoned/retired executives and serial entrepreneurs, VMS eventually received enough interest from other universities and institutions that it started an Outreach Training Program.

“Many successful entrepreneurs are philanthropic, but would also like to share the understanding gained in the process of creating and leading new enterprises,” says Ray Stata, Chairman of the Board for Analog Devices, Inc. “The Venture Mentoring Service offers an ideal vehicle for putting these hard-earned lessons to work in support of a new generation . . . ”

The idea is that, if an organization wants to develop a mentoring system for a particular community, whether it’s local entrepreneurs or even a university space, the VMS Outreach Training Program is a perfect starting point.

It’s scalable, it’s replicable,” VMS co-director Jerome Smith says. “Wherever you are, we’ll teach you how to find highly qualified mentors.”

How It Works: An organization sends its leadership team to participate in a two-and-a-half day “Immersion Training Program” where VMS executives explain how to operate the VMS model:

  • its team-mentoring methodology (three or four mentors per session)
  • how to choose long-term volunteer mentors
  • how to ensure an ethical relationship between mentors and entrepreneurs

–”Mentors must sign a blanket nondisclosure agreement, can’t sell their own services to ventures, and can only invest under very strict guidelines, to ensure mentees receive objective mentoring”

  • what VMS operational protocol is, and how to scale this model
  • Then, if requested, VMS will follow up on-site when an organization begins training for its first round of mentors

Big Results: According to its Outreach Training Program brochure, VMS:

  • is “taking in an average of 15-20 new ventures each month
  • boasts ”170+ active mentors
  • “has served over 1,435 ventures (mostly early stage) resulting in 172+ successfully-launched new companies
  • “ventures altogether have raised over $1.4 billion of financing

VMS Model in Action: In 2011, VMS trained the Chicago Innovation Mentors program, itself a consortium of the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, the University of Illinois, the iBIO Institute, and the Argonne National Laboratory. Now CIM has 200 mentors in its arsenal and recently joined MATTER, a Chicago community of healthcare innovators.

What About the Tarheel State? Two organizations out of NC have also completed the VMS Outreach program:

Council for Entrepreneurial Development – A nationally-connected network of entrepreneurs, investors, strategic partners, service providers, academics, and researchers that’s headquartered in Durham.

Venture Asheville – Started as a growth initiative between the Economic Development Coalition of Asheville-Buncombe County and the Asheville Chamber of Commerce, this organizations helps to grow the Asheville area’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and connects entrepreneurs with mentorship and investors.

Mentoring in ILM. We’re extremely proud of the mentorship we have in place here at tekMountain, but we’ve also never been one to rest on our laurels. The more that connect Southeastern NC startups can be connected with the wisdom and networking they need, the better off all of us are.

So are you interested in mentoring? Join us on Monday, September 19th for a Mentor Evening at tekMountain. For more information email amandas@tekmountain.com.


This blog was produced by the tekMountain Team of Sean AhlumMike PattonRod WhisnerAmanda SipesBill DiNome, and with lead writer Zach Cioffi.

Comments are closed.