The Importance of Mentorship in Tech and Innovation
Schulich has long been a leader in entrepreneurship research and teaching, a field where our School has some of the leading entrepreneurship researchers in the world, including Eileen Fischer, Moren Levesque and Yuval Deutsch. When we established a new Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship several years ago, we did so to create a hub at Schulich that would drive the development of accelerator/incubator services for our students, build new partnerships throughout the wider innovation ecosystem, and lead the continued expansion of the ‘Schulich Startups’ Community, while at the same adding a powerful real-world dimension to all of the School’s entrepreneurship activities.
Since launching two years ago, the Office has helped cement our School’s leadership position in entrepreneurship at a time when Toronto is beginning to emerge as a global innovation and startup hub. But more importantly, the Office was created to recognize the growing interest among our undergraduate and graduate students to acquire entrepreneurial skills and networks, as well as the desire of corporate employers to hire business graduates with an entrepreneurial mindset.
In this month’s column by Cherry Rose Tan, Schulich’s Entrepreneur in Residence, we look at the vital role that mentorship plays in building successful startups. The column also shines a light on some of the practical and meaningful steps our School has taken to support our aspiring entrepreneurs and help startups get off the ground.
We’re confident that the mentorship guidance and support our School provides to a growing number of Schulich startups will help them to one day become industry leaders and successful tech innovators. It’s gratifying to know they’ll be able to look back and point to our help as one of the reasons for their rapid growth and success.
Detlev Zwick, PhD
Dean, Tanna H. Schulich Chair in Digital Marketing Strategy
Schulich School of Business
The Importance of Mentorship in Tech and Innovation
As the Entrepreneur in Residence for the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Schulich School of Business, one of my key activities is teaching, coaching, and supporting the next generation of Schulich founders. As a tech founder turned venture capitalist who has built several companies, the idea of having and selecting mentors has been paramount to my success.
Forbes states that 90% of all startups fail, while Entrepreneur reports that 75% of venture-backed startups fail. In a world of growing uncertainty and exponential technologies, all companies (from startups to corporations) must adapt quickly and accurately. Once a competitor in your space has found a new innovation or a new market, the clock starts ticking.
Mentorship, whether short-term or long-term, can help mitigate this technical and execution risk. According to a study by UPS, 70% of mentored businesses survive five years, double that of non-mentored businesses.
As a company gets more successful, there are not necessarily less problems, but “better problems.” These problems come with more responsibilities and more money to manage, so having veteran mentors like a Board of Advisors or a mastermind (both peer supports) can allow entrepreneurs to learn from others’ experiences and to leverage the resources of a collective.
In sharing best practices, how have we been leading mentorship at the Schulich School of Business? This past year, the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship launched the inaugural cohort of the Schulich Startups Mentorship Program, a 4-month, invite-only program where Schulich Founders are mentored by veteran Schulich Alumni, who are accomplished founders and investors in their own right. This program was born from many conversations with my colleague Chris Carder (Executive Director of Schulich’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship), as we saw our Office now supporting over 200 startups built by Schulich students and alumni. As the number of startups we support continues to grow, our mentorship and programming must scale to sustain the momentum of this community.
The Mentorship Program was a significant and exciting milestone for the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship because mentorship is an important risk mitigation tool. When we pair Schulich Alumni (who want to help their alma mater) with Schulich Founders (who are eager to learn), we create a dynamic where both learn from each other. Mentors get to impart their lived experiences and the expertise they have built over many years, while the Mentee gets to be the eyes and ears on the ground, sharing the trends that are upcoming.
Recently, Chris Carder and I also co-created a Schulich course called Intelligent Innovation Ecosystem Design (ENTR 6905). As the course instructor, I was able to teach exchange students and Schulich MBAs the pillars of tech ecosystems. Ecosystems like Toronto, which are seen as reputable hubs for tech and innovation, depend on mentorship to stay competitive. Early-stage founders who are starting their journey benefit from mentorship that occurs at incubators, accelerators, and communities like Schulich’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, who vet and provide industry mentors. Equally important, late-stage founders live and die by the mentorship they receive, where a single mistake can ruin a deal with a major client or the negotiations around an acquisition.
To deliver the Schulich Startups Mentorship Program, we partnered with not-for-profit MindFrame Connect, an organization that is making a difference in this space. Co-founded by Brice Scheschuk, Managing Partner at Globalive Capital and Special Advisor to Chris Carder, MindFrame Connect has done incredible things in the mentorship space. Scheschuk was inspired to create MindFrame after mentoring hundreds of tech founders and realizing the importance of sharing best practices around mentorship. Since then, MindFrame’s mission is to elevate the craft of mentorship across Canada.
The Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship was honoured to be one of 10 pilot sites chosen last year, and we are excited to continue our partnership with MindFrame Connect for future programming. As we reflect on the ways each of us can grow ourselves, our startups, and our communities, we hope you consider being a Mentor and/or Mentee in your ecosystem or organization. The future of our industry depends on it.
Cherry Rose Tan is the Entrepreneur in Residence for the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Schulich School of Business.