Fantastic mentors and where to find them

Key points at a glance:

  • Mentorship has become a cottage industry, offered by entrepreneurs, executives, and government programs.
  • Choose a mentor with relevant industry relationships, relevant market expertise, or familiarity with your product or business model.
  • There are many ways to find and connect with a future mentor, including LinkedIn, incubators, networking events, and personal relationships.

A few months ago, the Australian Government cut the ribbon on its Singapore Landing Pada. A core part of the government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda, the landing pad is one of five that aims to create a space for Australian startups to explore ‘in-market business development, investment, mentorship and strategic partnership opportunities’b.

It’s worth drawing attention to the use of the word ‘mentorship’. Mentors have existed since antiquity, however it was the late Intel CEO Andy Grove who was instrumental in popularising the modern mentorship ideal: top-level executives doing their part to empower the next generation. In Grove’s case, his most famous protege was Steve Jobs, who sought Grove’s advice when considering a return to a beleaguered Apple in the late-1990sc.

Since then, mentoring has become a cottage industry in the startup scene. In one corner are figures like Grove, who took Jobs’s phone call on a Saturday morning, dishing advice without wanting any sort of compensation. In another are professional mentors, charging upwards of tens-of-thousands for their words of wisdom.

Other mentorship services, meanwhile, provide support for groups facing extra challenges in the business world, such as professional bodies and organisations.

How can a startup founder in need of some crucial wisdom seek out the right mentor - what should they look for and how should they connect? We’ve gathered three Australian examples of successful mentor-mentee relationships that can inspire startup founders considering a dip into the shark tank.

1. Condom hero hires grocery veteran

For Dustin Leonard, founder of socially conscious contraception brand HERO Condomsd, his ‘aha’ moment came from a service most of us use everyday: LinkedIn. After researching new ways to get his product ranged at large-scale Australian retailers, Dustin came across his future mentor, former IGA COO Silvestro Morabito. Dustin reached out through the networking platform, and one coffee later he’d found himself an invaluable mentor.

2. Custom sportswear brand gets help from custom shoe maven

Before a TV appearance and prior to securing a spot at the government’s Silicon Valley Landing Pad, sports gear startup Disrupt - which lets customers design their own surfboards, snowboards and yoga mats - had a little help from Jodie Fox, the visionary behind the tailor-made footwear brand Shoes of Preye.

Coming together while Disrupt was still at its early stages at a Sydney accelerator, this mentor-mentee relationship was a natural fit given the similar business models and differentiation strategies behind both brands.

3. Get by with a little help from a friend

While LinkedIn and a startup incubator can be great ways to find a mentor, sometimes it pays to look a little closer to home. That was the case for Andre Eikmeier and Justin Dry, who in 2008 teamed up with friend Brendan Yell - a successful ecommerce entrepreneur in his own right - to launch an online wine startup called Qwoff. Later, the startup was rebadged into its current name: Vinomofo/f.

At PwC, mentorship is highly valued. Each of the Nifty Team have mentors who support them in their roles.

Learn more about how Nifty supports startups and small businesses access the R&D Tax Incentive.

(a) Media release