Mentoring an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Lessons from Boston

Dave Balter and Jennifer Lum have written a piece in Inc. about mentoring and how this is helping to connect the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Boston.

It really excited me for two reasons. Firstly, I find myself formally and informally mentoring entrepreneurs on a regular basis. It is something I’d like to formalise more into a wholistic entrepreneurial coaching program. Given this, many of the points made in the article resonate with me.

The second reason for my excitement is that I am a big believer in creating truly matrixed entrepreneurial ecosystems. I’ve experienced first hand how Silicon Valley, for example, works and one of my passion areas is fostering such an ecosystem in Sydney and across the region. Sydney is currently where Boston was circa 2010. We have a solid level of entrepreneurial activity bubbling up and some high profile wins. We also have successful serial entrepreneurs returning to our positive economic climate. But we are not sufficiently matrixed.

I was talking with a colleague yesterday who, having returned from a stint working in Silicon Valley, found Sydney to be bubbling with pockets of activity, but no true connection between them and unless she was looking hard these pockets were easy to miss completely.

This article explains beautifully just what is required to create a more matrixed ecosystem. It was only once:

Boston’s start-up “ecosystem” began to deeply interconnect – like some massive neural network…the community is nurturing, embracing, and considerate of its entire being…what was once an environment of competition and posturing has been replaced by one of cultivation and brotherhood.

Are you starting to get the picture?

The momentum that’s brought Boston into 2012 is irrefutable. Everywhere you turn new nodes are being created and synapses are firing.

Similarly, Sydney can benefit from the approaches Dave and Jennifer are advocating, namely spiderweb mentorship and horizontal entrepreneurism.

The crux of the piece is around spiderweb mentorship, which they illuminate on as such:

This is about creating the strongest start-up “web” possible, by weaving an incredible tapestry of ideas and connections, allowing for random new offshoots, connecting divided webs, and oscillating the whole entrepreneurial ecosystem into action.

How can this be achieved?

They argue, and I wholeheartedly agree, that this occurs when experienced veterans (mentors) focus not on making each individual entrepreneur better, but on making the system as a whole stronger. Mentors must be open and willing to (a) connect with people beyond only those with the right “credentials” and (b) focus on the development of “web-like” interconnectivity to other mentors and entrepreneurs.

There are 5 critical behaviors mentors need to follow in order to achieve this:

1. Take the unknown meetings with ambiguous agendas.

Yes, I do this, but will counter that while I’m a big believer in serendipity it can sometimes prove frustrating and one does have to balance the number of such meetings versus those with specific business agendas.

2. Follow the law of three introductions

I like this. I’m always looking for connections across my network and love watching synapses occur when like minds meet.

3. Be constructive – and critical

Indeed. Enough said.

4. If you’re a spider, show up!

I agree that corporate execs should be more prepared to mentor.

5. Start your own web

Looking back 15 years – it was the best thing I ever did!


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