Existing preconceptions suggest that the Middle-East is a place where events, trends and technologies take time to arrive. The traditional thinking is, what happens in the West takes two to three years to arrive at our shores. However, through my travels I can confidently say that this is gradually changing. I have had the privilege of presenting our technologies at conferences in Germany all the way to Australia, and in more than one instance, the feedback was that we were on par, if not ahead, with many other countries of the world.
Despite this paradigm shift, there remain several avenues where there’s need for a lot of catching up, mainly in areas of helping entrepreneurs. You must keep in mind that less than five years ago in the Middle East, most people would equate entrepreneur with being unemployed. If one wasn’t a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer, one was regarded as a failure. Now perspectives are changing, and there’s nothing I love more than change. However, we must be wary so that this awakening is sustained. Those of us who understand start-up culture must do our utmost to support budding entrepreneurs wherever they may be. In other words: provide mentoring!
Currently, along with driving the business at pixelbug, I also mentor at Turn8, a Dubai based accelerator and co-working space. Here, I advise and support several entrepreneurs and start-ups on different ways they can build viable businesses. It’s crucial to highlight the following point. Not every entrepreneur is a mentor and not every mentor is an entrepreneur.
Experts from all walks of life and professions can, and should, be welcomed to impart their knowledge onto those seeking it. What’s important is that they should have a proven track record as a leader in their respective field. Before a person can serve as a mentor and evangelize a certain message, such persons must be distinguished, not solely in their careers, but also in the following traits:
Too many experts are inclined to hastily share their opinions before getting full understanding of what is driving the ones receiving the mentoring. Limited time, impatience and the upper-hand position might be their reasons. However, it’s important that the mentors give their full attention and allow their pupils to fully express themselves before jumping in.
Another mistake is to approach a mentor-pupil relationship by believing that if it worked for the mentor then it will work for the pupil. This is not the case. Simply put, each person is an individual and has their own way of doing things. A way that they will feel comfortable with. The objective of a mentor is to help find direction, not push them down a specific path.
Mentors are practical
The mentors’ value comes from having life an field experience. Therefore, one of the most notable pieces of information that they can share is how to keep moving towards their goals by applying tangible tasks.
Mentors should be open in their communication and share their life knowledge and experience without any apprehension. It’s important that the pupils also value this life experience and show interest at all times by asking pertinent questions.
Mentors provide insight
An extension of the previous point; it’s up to the mentor to relate their acquired set of skills through years of experience and translate this to applicable insights. This helps their pupils to avoid doing certain mistakes. The pupils must also have to awareness to connect the dots and apply the received information to their current situation.
Mentors are accessible
Being a mentor is a commitment. It’s crucial for a mentor to be accessible and respond regularly to the pupils’ requests. The pupil must also be sensitive to the mentors time. In order to avoid misunderstandings, it’s important that the guidelines and allocated hours are set from the beginning.
Mentors criticize constructively
A mentor’s objective isn’t to be likable at all times. When necessary, mentors must point out areas of improvement immediately. The approach here is to give positive and tangible feedback that the students can apply on their own. Focusing on their behavior, not attacking their character.
Mentors are supportive
Mentors are there to support and uplift when necessary, no matter how discouraged the pupils get. Nevertheless, for a positive dynamic, it’s also imperative for the students to accept the positive attitude and that they absorb that energy to show the mentor that their efforts are not going to waste.
Mentors are specific
Mentors should schedule recurring meetings to make sure that their students are on track. They should provide specific feedback on what their students achieved or where they could have improved their approach, in case of lack of complete success. Mentors should also help their students structure their plans and provide measurable parameters that can be assessed at any time.
Mentors must actively show that they care about the progress of those they choose to take under their wing.
Success breed success. Mentors should foster the skills that helped them get to the top into those they choose as students.
Mentors are admirable
Mentors are respected figures in their community and in their field. Mentoring is not only about sharing knowledge but also about being a role model. Showing integrity, loyalty and respect with whoever they interact with, to name a few qualities, are thus very essential. ‘What’s in it for the me?’ All of these seem like a lot of responsibilities for a mentor to take on and it’s only natural for any expert seeking to be a mentor to wonder, ‘what’s in it for me?’
A mentor might receive a token of appreciation from the start-ups in the form of small equity stake in the company, usually 0.25% to 2%, depending on the mentor’s level of involvement. In addition, if the start-up is providing a service or product that the mentor can use to further advance his or her business, then there can be some sort of collaboration there. Finally, the value is also intangible. From my own experience, I notice that by sharing ideas and experiences, it helps me continuously revive the excitement that I had when starting my own business. When you genuinely give your energy to do good, it will always have a positive impact on one’s own business.
Infographic: What is Mentoring?
The folks at Sainsbury Management Fellows’ Society (SMF) has published an Infographic explaining what is mentoring in an easy to understand illustration.
Mentors are a crucial piece of the puzzle in a growing start-up ecosystem and it should become part of the region’s culture to appreciate the level of impact mentors can have. Here are a few tips on how one can get involved if they feel like they can add value as a mentor:
- Join a local start-up incubator or accelerator, in Dubai there are a few noteworthy ones like Turn8, in5 and Impact Hub
- If you have some spare cash and would like to get involved as an early stage investor then seek out local early stage funds and angel networks. Early stage investors can also act as advisors and mentors.
Here’s the seed of an idea. There currently exists no user-friendly online platforms in the region where mentors and students can upload their profiles and evaluate whether they could be a good fit for each other. If a person is looking for an idea to start a business, then this is one. I’d be happy to take another team on board!