Wit & Wisdom

Game Changers & Tales of Triumph and Woe

Why We Need Mentors In School & Work More Than Ever

CJW, March 18, 2010 3:44 PM


"The young entrepreneurs who are starting companies for the first time are best served by seeking out and getting experienced serial entrepreneurs
 as angel investors, board members, and mentors.

We encourage all of the first time entrepreneurs we work with to do this.

                                                     - Fred Wilson, Union Square Ventures

By C.J. Westerberg

One of my big obsessions in the school arena is the importance of role models and mentors for students.  I've been known to beat the drum incessantly about this subject in school board meetings, parent conversations, and frankly, to anyone who will listen. 

In our schools, we often think about teachers, school and extra-curricular activities separate from role-modeling.  For example, my daughter went to a school which touted its mentoring program when it really was nothing more than an occasional presenting of a rose or some other token by an older student after a school play or award ceremony.  There was no real meaningful interaction.

The school my daughter now attends happens to have a great Head who believes very strongly in how the everyday behavior of teachers and coaches IS one of the best opportunities for role-modeling.   There are also real initiatives such as having students read to the younger, less accomplished kids or the many collaborative opportunities where the bar gets raised with the collective input of all . . .students as role models for others.  (We know parents are key role models and is worthy of its own separate conversation).

When I came across this post by Fred Wilson, principal of Union Square Ventures, from his popular blog AVC, it was just too good to pass up.  He parallels role-modeling in school with role-modeling in the business world.  I personally think with the state of our unemployment and economy, we need collaboration and mentoring more than ever.  Here's Fred's take:

"Both of my girls played in this league in their middle school years and then assistant coached in it during their high school years. The skills and experience they developed playing in this league allowed them to be leaders and top players on their high school team.

Earlier this week, when I showed up at my daughter's high school game, I saw one of the younger girls on her Greenwich Village team in the stands cheering her on.

As I sat there this morning watching these little girls play basketball, I was thinking about role models. . . .

 . . . Role models are so important. When my girls were young, they had high school players who were their assistant coaches to look up to. They had women head coaches who had played college ball. They had Becky Hammon who was the point guard on the NY Liberty to go root for. They wanted to be them, they listened to them, copied them, and got a lot better as a result.

The same thing plays out in startup land. The young entrepreneurs who are starting companies for the first time are best served by seeking out and getting experienced serial entrepreneurs as angel investors, board members, and mentors. We encourage all of the first time entrepreneurs we work with to do this. And the serial entrepreneurs who work with young founders get something out of it too (in addition to equity). It is a truism that the best way to learn is to teach . . .

One of the best things about the startup programs like Y Combinator, Seedcamp, Techstars, and many others is that they provide a vehicle for young entrepreneurs to connect to experienced entrepreneurs. Mentoring is a big part of these programs.

 . . .  Everyone would benefit from more role models, mentoring, and coaching."

To link to the complete post at AVC, click here.

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We spend the first twelve months of our children's lives teaching them to walk and talk, and the next twelve years telling them to sit down and shut up.
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