Mentorship is one of the best gifts.
Having someone you admire invest time and energy in your goals builds successful companies and careers. Likewise, transmitting your experiences to others is energizing; it’s what being an entrepreneur is about. Many of us are fond of our mentors, particularly if they took an interest in us while we were pushing our boulders uphill. But no one person has all the answers, and gathering multiple viewpoints is particularly important in our rapidly shifting world.
As a 25-year member of Entrepreneurs’ Organization Forum, I know this firsthand. I’ve made monthly peer-mentoring sessions of 10 to 12 other entrepreneurs an integral part of my ongoing education. In no small part, the knowledge I’ve gleaned from my EO peers led me to my newest undertaking.
Through the University of Missouri-St. Louis, I helped found UMSL Accelerate, an entrepreneurship certificate program that’s organized and taught by practicing entrepreneurs and grounded in the principle of experiential learning. Of paramount importance to our students’ success has been their access to mentors — both in and out of the classroom.
Why Peer to Peer?
Peer-to-peer mentorship and learning programs provide multiple benefits — not the least of which is perspective. Even if peers’ specific niches or industries differ, issues in financing, markets, technology, human resources, and management often overlap. When someone presents a problem in our group, I find a greater responsibility to seek solutions, not just because my colleague asked, but because finding a solution can have positive effects on my endeavors, too.
We’ve all had that experience where we’ve stared right past the milk, then someone else comes along and shows us it was in front of our face the whole time. Likewise, when we can view a problem through our peers’ lenses, the solution often comes into focus.
Accountability is another major benefit of peer mentoring. I can always count on one of my peers to circle back days or weeks later to ask, “What happened with that thing we talked about?” Research consistently shows that accountability partnerships, formal or informal, lead to better outcomes. Imagine having a dozen partners keeping you striving toward your next milestone.
For instance, at our 2017 Ameren Accelerator — a program in partnership with UMSL Accelerate that connects entrepreneurs with investors and opportunities in the energy-tech sector — one of our startups, Rebate Bus, was wrestling to find a unified voice. Its lead mentor provided firm accountability and no-nonsense pushback on practical matters that allowed the founders to organize their goals, then focus on achieving them. As a result, Rebate Bus was able to pilot a proof of concept program that led to a profitable, scalable campaign for the company.