Mentorpreneurship: lifecycle support for students and innovators

Lifecycle mentorship that begins pre-university and continues far beyond graduation offers a golden opportunity to nurture ongoing communities of support for socially conscious entrepreneurs, says LJ Silverman, Head of LSE Generate

Business degrees often top the leagues for popularity among undergraduate students, with many drawn towards this subject area as they feel it offers the best guarantee of post-study employment. 

With enrolments onto business studies degrees likely to continue rising over the next couple of years, increased emphasis needs to be placed on nurturing entrepreneurial thinking among business students, so that they can excel in their studies and create impact in the world once they graduate.

To achieve this, fundamental support and resources, such as mentoring, must be offered in order to help students understand what is required to run a successful business. But this alone is not enough – now, more than ever, mission-driven companies are outperforming more traditional business models and universities have a responsibility to fill a clear gap to provide specific and tailored entrepreneurship training to early-stage social ventures to help them grow and deliver social impact at scale.

The mentoring lifecycle in action

Mentoring has been used throughout history and the expectation is that the knowledge, power and influence of the mentor will assist the mentee in achieving their objectives in whichever aspect of their life or work they are being supported in. These relationships tend to be longer term, allowing mentees to benefit fully from learning and developing over time. This model has been used countless times within both education and the workforce, as it assists in embedding the learning that individuals undergo.

In more recent times however, mentoring has evolved and one new approach, among others, is a ‘lifecycle’ model which challenges traditional methods of mentoring by introducing ‘reverse mentoring’, where a senior leader is mentored by a younger or more junior employee. 

Educational institutions are beginning to adopt more radical models that are more representative, innovative, and diverse. LSE Generate, the entrepreneurship hub at the London School of Economics (LSE), has created the ‘Mentorpreneurship’ programme, in partnership with OakNorth Bank. The programme seeks to engage past, current and future student entrepreneurs in a lifecycle of mentoring, helping to develop their businesses and creative ideas. 

The model is designed to facilitate mentoring across the participating groups: [secondary/high] school students will be mentored by LSE students, early-stage entrepreneurs can receive support from alumni entrepreneurs who will have access to senior innovators, who will, in turn, be ‘reverse mentored’ by school students. Peer-to-peer support is also encouraged and supported across all of these groups.

Each year, LSE Generate will also host a tailored programme of online and offline activity. This includes mentor bootcamps, founders’ retreats, one-to-one coaching, keynotes, and pitching practices, alongside a series of podcasts and audiobooks to connect entrepreneurs with mentors locally and internationally. With several international entrepreneurship chapters across the world, including Mumbai, Chengdu, Los Angeles, and Lisbon, with Nigeria, Shenzhen and Colombo on the horizon, the programme aims to create an ongoing global community of support for socially conscious entrepreneurs. This approach ensures that mentorship is part of the DNA of impact-driven companies and founder mindsets rather than something that is sprinkled over business plans at a later stage.  

The importance of mentoring

Offering a lifecycle-style of support from the early stages of a student’s educational career up until graduating from university – and beyond – allows periods of sustained and productive activity, where pupils are continually reviewed and able to adapt to ensure that learning continues and is relevant. This generates a cycle of constant nurturing and support, resulting in more prepared, confident and business-minded students entering higher education with an increased likelihood of not just surviving but also thriving in the entrepreneurial environment. 

In the world of business, the ability to overcome adversity and accept a decent amount of failure are essential assets and mentorship facilitates this transfer of knowledge and insight, potentially having a huge impact on the resilience of both a founder and their team. Knowing that others have been through similar situations and have come out the other side can make a lasting impression. However, this exchange can be threatened if the mentorship fails to continue to proliferate and evolve. This is why the lifecycle model is a more sustainable and fruitful method – there is always someone new to learn from and something new to learn, even in challenging times. 

Mentors can play an important role in an individual’s success, and many CEOs say they have received some form of mentorship throughout their career journey. A good CEO will know that the use of mentoring, particularly the lifecycle model, can inject creativity, new perspectives and ideas where a business needs it most. This can help create a sense of security for potential investors due to added trust in startups who are recommended by experienced peers and open to learning – both giving and receiving advice from others. 

Strong relationships with the next generation can benefit leaders and investors with decades of industry experience equally. Strong mentee connections can help mentors obtain a greater understanding and respect for the guidance they give, as well as new insights into how their own business ventures can relate to new ideas.  

The role of Business Schools and universities

Much of the resources that universities and Business Schools provide – including assisting students in making the transition from education to the startup world through career-planning programmes and mentoring – have grown in popularity as proven methods of supporting students. By offering mentorship at the early stages of students’ studies and careers, mentors are allowing them to connect, collaborate and receive as much support as possible, which in turn often results in increased alumni engagement and more significant prospects for future endeavours.

In particular, universities have a duty to advocate for the creation of more socially conscious startups among their cohort of student entrepreneurs, especially given the current climate in which we find ourselves. Socially responsible companies tend to attract employees who are eager to make a difference in the world, cultivate positive brand recognition, and boost consumer loyalty. This type of business is becoming highly appealing to both consumers and shareholders alike, accelerating economic growth as well.

However, to achieve these business goals, student entrepreneurs need to connect with an alumni network of experienced professionals for crucial contacts, insight and motivational support. Universities should engage alumni mentors to improve a student’s overall education and career/business planning experience. Through mentoring programmes and by providing startups with mentors, universities are more likely to produce a portfolio of successful student entrepreneurs. However, to encourage thinking that is truly impact-driven, confront biases and stimulate innovation, the mentoring lifecycle approach goes one step further by integrating reverse and peer-to-peer communication. As a result, it supports entrepreneurship as a viable means of driving local change and establishing long-term impact communities. 

The future of mentorship in business

Recent times have proved hugely challenging for startup businesses but have also presented opportunities to think about the type of innovation and support needed to make a real difference in society. At LSE, the launch of the Mentorpreneurship programme comes at a time when the need for human interactions and mentorship is fundamental – not only to navigate the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, but also to create real change for the future. We believe that entrepreneurship should be the great equaliser. No matter what challenges the world presents, or where you are based, an inclusive startup culture that benefits a global community can flourish with the right support, access and materials. 

For entrepreneurs, learning rarely stops, and to foster the spirit of creative thinking, mentoring is most beneficial when it starts from the early stages of career development and continues throughout education and beyond. Universities play a crucial role in advocating and championing support for their business students, especially those looking to pursue entrepreneurial careers with a social purpose. 

By pioneering social impact businesses, universities demonstrate the value of social sciences, as well as the arts and humanities, in encouraging collaboration to tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges – and the lifecycle of mentorship is fundamental to this, helping to develop these businesses and creative ideas even further for the betterment of society.

LJ Silverman is Head of LSE Generate at the London School of Economics (LSE). Previously, she ran her own careers and recruitment consultancy focussed on climate change. LJ holds a BA and a master’s degree in modern and medieval languages from the University of Cambridge. 

This article is taken from Business Impact’s print magazine (edition: November 2021-January 2022).

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