The first mention of the term “mentor” in literature was about three thousand years ago. In the Odyssey, Mentor, was the name of a trusted friend of Ulysses who was placed in charge of his son’s, Telemachus, training, and of his palace, at a moment of crisis, when Odysseus left for the Trojan War. The word Mentor evolved to mean trusted advisor, friend, teacher and wise person. “Mentoring is a fundamental form of human development where one person invests time, energy and personal know-how in assisting the growth and ability of another person ”. Today, more than ever, aspiring Greek technology entrepreneurs need active support, practical help and advice from experienced mentors who have a clear view of the international trends and market and what it takes to reach them successfully.
Caught in the middle of Greece’s broken economy and social turmoil, young tech entrepreneurs, like their counterparts in other sectors of the economy, try to rise through the cracks and succeed in what they doing following a long period of stagnation and deep recession. In Greece, voices supporting that entrepreneurship can play a vital role in Greek economy, are increasing. Startup accelerator programs, such as the MITEF Greece Startup Competition, in countries where the startup ecosystems are relatively “young” and building up, are a trial-by-fire opportunity that provide a springboard for emerging tech startups. These programs offer a variety of high quality education resources, and draw an influential audience of tech insiders, investors, media, startups, and mentors. Accelerator programs and competitions link up-and-coming entrepreneurs with an international network of resources and provide expert advice through mentoring. Matching both prospective and experienced entrepreneurs with skilled mentors is pivotal, as they start from concept development and continue through team formation, incorporation, initial operations, continuous refining of products and services, identification of markets, business organization or funding.
The main role of a mentor is to guide, provide practical advice and support the mentee, enhance the strengths and spot the weaknesses of the team. “It is important to share from one’s experience, ideas that can move the start -up forward, to provide critical and candid feedback, in a constructive sense, to introduce as appropriate, potential new team members, customers, partners, advisory board members, etc.” remarks Alec Karys, CEO at Genesis Inc., who has over 25 years of experience as a start-up adviser, coach, angel investor and currently mentor at the MITEF Greece Startup Competition.
MITEF Greece Startup Competition is providing hands-on educational activities that generate actionable knowledge and networking opportunities to help promising startups improve their businesses and successfully compete into the global market. “Our effort at MITEF Greece Startup Competition is to pair right. Very early on we ask our 25 semifinalist teams to state and also prioritize their needs. Then we make every effort possible to match them with the right mentors, from a significant pool of international and accomplished CEOs, CTOs, CFOs, investors, marketers and the like. For me this was a streamlined process from day one. To sum up my experience with my teams the last two years in one phrase: successful startups are always the result of competent and driven teams. It all comes down to the execution. And my teams are executing”, highlights Charalampos Papadopoulos, Economic Diplomat & Business developer for tech startups and mentor coordinator for the MITEF Greece Startup Competition for the years 2015 and 2016.
According to Manolis Stefanakis, Principal at Sustainable Strategies International and mentor, a successful mentoring process focuses on building stronger entrepreneurs and developing the human capital, more than the venture itself. To do so you need a highly qualified and committed group of successful business people that are motivated to “give back” as volunteer mentors and find the experience compelling and rewarding. “It is important to deal with creative people with a lot of ambition to promote their ideas in a structured, entrepreneurial way that absorb and try to get the maximum of the ideas and support given by the mentors”, agrees mentor Emily Filippou-Klopfer, C-Level Executive in Financial Services.
A good mentor is worth his or her weight in gold. He lends his wealth of experience, brings a range of diverse insights and gives valuable information about what works and what fails. All these can be just as important as funding in the early stages of starting up in business.
Furthermore, with so much hyped discussions about industry disruptions, mentoring provides the valuable insight of an industry expert, which helps in navigating the risks and opportunities facing a tech startup. “Mentoring is not about teaching, it’s about understanding the strengths and the weaknesses and offering the best possible advice and support for the mentees to grow and develop. My personal experience has shown that good mentoring relationships can last a lifetime”, highlights Myladie Stoumbou, Director, Cloud Productivity Sales, Germany & CEE at Microsoft and active mentor of MITEF Greece Startup Competition. When it comes to choosing a mentor, industry experience and gravitas count great deal.
The 25 semifinalists, that participated in last year’s competition were selected by an international judging panel from a pool of applications, and participated in a 3 month period of intensive mentoring with their assigned local and international mentors while attending free workshops. Their insights provide useful information about mentoring…
During this period of extensive mentorship and workshops participants have the opportunity to improve their pitch by attending a unique workshop and receive one-to-one coaching on how to improve their pitch deck and skills. The Perfect Pitch workshop, presented by Linda Plano, the founder of Plano & Simple, provides pitch and business coaching for entrepreneurs.
Though the thought of bringing your idea in front of a group industry experts and investors can be daunting, the benefits proved to be worthwhile during the MITEF Greece Pitch Night event.
So, should you enter your startup into an accelerator? The answer is yes! You need to start dreaming, discovering, meeting, inspiring and sharing. When starting your business in a difficult macroeconomic environment, you need an extra “push” from people that have the experience and willingness to support and mentor you towards your goal. “I also had the good fortune for people to help me as I developed my career and now I’m paying them back by doing what I can to help others. Aside from that, I learn about new products, I meet interesting people, and I have the personal pleasure of exchanging ideas with today’s newest leaders before they are widely recognized as such” explains Anita Peil that has more than 30 years of experience in Integration of Strategy and Operations.
Mentors were absolute beginners too at some point in their lives, so they understand better than anyone how important it is to have someone to help you go further, faster. Sometimes we forget that entrepreneurship is a long journey that involves unexpected surprises, challenges, setbacks, and rewards… but as any good journey is as much about the process as the destination. And as for Ulysses the return in Ithaca was the ultimate goal, he and his trusted companions did not hurry the journey and came home wiser. Remember: “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” Plutarch
 Shea, Gordon F. (1997) Mentoring (Rev. Ed.). Menlo Park, CA: Crisp Publications