Observations of Mentor-Entrepreneur Interactions

I've noticed two types of interactions between mentors and entrepreneurs: serendipitous and planned. Serendipitous meetings between mentor and entrepreneur tend to occur at networking events, events like Startup Weekend or Philly TechMeetup, or even at coffee shops. Just as the word implies, serendipitous is unplanned, and even though neither party knows they are going to be in the same space at the same time, they discuss business and the mentor provides advice. Planned meetings between mentor and entrepreneur tends to occur over the phone, Skype, or face-to-face in office space or even a coffee shop. Planned meetings are more secluded and are set for a specified amount of time when compared to serendipitous meetings. When performing these observations, I asked myself what is required for learning to occur? I conjectured that it must be a safe mental space. To answer this question and test the validity of this statement, I looked for evidence of the emotional states during the interaction between mentor and entrepreneur to see if I could determine whether the entrepreneur was receiving business feedback in a safe mental space. Even though this statement helped guide my observations, in the end, the observations were useful in designing the prototypes for serendipitous and planned interactions.

Serendipitous Interactions:
One of the major patterns observed amongst serendipitous mentoring is a reflection of affect between the mentor and entrepreneur. If one individual was laughing the other did as well, if one individual was serious as was the other. 

I’ve learned from observing several unstructured and spontaneous mentoring in action, that a similarity in affect creates a social lubricant creating a safe mental space. Once this safe mental space is created, the feedback provided by the mentor was usually better received. At it’s most basic, this observation is simply a factor of how humans interact and communicate. Let me provide two examples of the same entrepreneur. In the picture below from Startup Weekend, both the entrepreneur and mentor were relaxed when the entrepreneur was receiving feedback on marketing and marketing strategies. After the meeting, the entrepreneur felt confident, calm, and had a sense of self-efficacy.

During the follow interaction depicted in the picture below, the mentor and entrepreneur were both tense. The mentor was providing feedback on the entrepreneur's product, and what channels of distribution they're using to reach their customers. After this interaction, the entrepreneur felt confused and frustrated. He was unsure about what channel of distribution to incorporate into his business model and presentation to the judges at Startup Weekend.

Planned Interactions:
While observing planned mentor interactions, I discovered four distinct steps that the interaction followed – an in-depth analysis of these four steps can be readabout in the next section because it lays the foundation for the Request for Mentoring Form. The part that I will discuss here are the emotional states I observed when the mentor began probing the entrepreneur about his business.

I'll pull data from one of the interactions I observed to serve as an example. The entrepreneur was asking about when he should raise funds and the terms associated with raising investment funds. To answer the question about when he should raise funds, the mentor then began asking questions about how the entrepreneur had acquired a hospital as a customer. The startup is building an app for doctors. The mentor followed up with how quickly the entrepreneur can acquire new hospitals as customers. The mentor then walked the entrepreneur through a set of scenarios based on assumptions of how quickly the entrepreneur can acquire new customers. When the meeting was over, the mentor was telling the entrepreneur that the business he's starting is valuable and the business has potential.

There are three distinct emotional states I noticed in the interaction between the entrepreneur and mentor. The first emotional state is calm because the entrepreneur is bringing the mentor up to speed on the current state of his business. The second emotional state is anxiety because the mentor is pulling out of the entrepreneur, the information she sees relevant to answering the question, to provide feedback, and to give strategic advice. The third emotional state is encouragement because the mentor provides encouragement to the entrepreneur about the business he's starting and the problem he's solving. However, there's a limitation to what I've observed about the third emotional state. During serendipitous mentoring interactions, the third emotional state went one of two ways: either no encouragement or encouragement. Since I've only observed four of these planned meetings, it's possible that it can also end with no encouragement, and I conjecture that there would be no closure to the anxiety that surfaces during the second emotional state.

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