What is the role of a mentor?

Pubished 8th May 2019

“I would love to be able to look back in a few years at some businesses in Manchester that are succeeding, and see them really scale. And be like, you know what? We were a part of that journey.”

Patricia Keating (Director of Tech Manchester) muses over coffee.

Patricia Keating heads up Tech Manchester a non-profit organisation funded by British hosting firm UKFast, which supports early-stage technology companies.

Tech Manchester provides tech-focussed businesses with a host of support initiatives including intensive educational workshops, a structured mentor programme and continuous PR and comm’s support.

With future plans for a media centre and workspace incubator space, UKFast’s mission, through Tech Manchester, is to help develop a greater Manchester and contribute to the city’s vision of being a leading European tech hub.

As we go through the UKFast campus, we pass a ‘quiet, filming in process’ sign.

Patricia explains. “Currently we have a weekly podcast dedicated to entrepreneurs and challenges that keep them awake at night. (Fast Forward tech) That’s to try and reach a wider audience beyond Manchester, it can be found on SoundCloud and iTunes. People find us by looking up certain topics, our latest stats surprised us. We are now in 50 countries so the content is resonating with people who are looking for that type of episode.”

“The podcast forms part of our education support. It is complemented by a series of tech class business skills workshop here on campus. They’re recorded by our in-house media team here and then broadcasted for free on Tech Manchester YouTube.” It doesn’t stop there. They also have “curated collections of additional learning resources on Tech Manchester Wakelet. They’re a free evergreen accessible resource for anyone looking to develop their business”

What is Tech Manchester?

This leads us to Tech Manchester, Patricia describes it as “a support organisation for early-stage tech businesses and the form of support start-ups’ who want to develop their businesses. If entrepreneurs are learning, they are more likely to be successful. We’ve provided a number of different pathways for them to learn, the mentoring programme is another initiative where they can find the support they need. These open channels are available to any entrepreneur who is interested in them.”

“You can't buy that experience of buying, launching, and growing a start-up. It’s a mixture of research, consulting with other organisations, and looking at what resources are available how we can deploy them.”

How do you match a mentor with an entrepreneur?

On July 2017,100 people from the tech community came along to our first evening.  They were asked “Mentoring...what do you think?”

What was found was that there was an appetite in the city for people that wanted to get involved. “They wanted choice, they needed a start-up who fit their skills set. They need governance and support. We spent the next three months researching other mentoring programmes out there and we combined the findings from that with the research draft to come up with the programme we have today.”

“The whole language of mentors and mentees gets laborious. So we describe them as mentors and start-ups. Because that’s really the type of person that they’ll be working with, Start-up entrepreneurs.”

Patricia describes the process of matching as “a speed dating approach.”

“We do some extensive pre-matching through their profiles. All participants have an induction workshop. By the time they all meet their expectations have been aligned. It doesn’t matter who the start-ups’ are assigned to, they’ve been given the tools to withstand that relationship.”

The ‘matchmaking process’ involves start-ups’ meeting six mentors (pre-chosen after considering online profiles) they have 15-minute windows to make the mentees initiate the request.

“It’s that first impression. When you get down to peoples third and fourth choice then it’s more challenging… what we’ve learned is that although the match hasn't been as successful in the first impression stage, we’ve found that time investment is even more important. If they put the time into their start-ups’, they rate that partnership higher. If you’re putting in the time, you get something out of it.”

“No matter how much we plan or learn. The first speed dating is always crazy.”

So why is mentoring important?

Well it’s free, for a start.  

All the mentors are volunteers and are members’ business community in Manchester while giving impartial support.

Patricia makes it clear it’s more than a commercial interest. “It’s about the way we work. Our parents and grandparents think that these are crazy places to work. But how they perceive work from past experience may be more labour intensive. Working in large administrative pools, where you were heavily engaged with people. Work can be much more isolated now, people spend a lot more time on their own.”

“So now it’s more mental challenges that people face. In previous times your mental wellbeing was looked after by your mates at work or a vent at the pub. That doesn’t happen anymore.”

Having someone in your corner when your journey is just beginning could give your start-up the crucial support it needs.

How has it helped people?

After tracking down a success story for the programme. I asked Tanya Nicol (Tripptee) how the programme has helped her and her career. “He’s helped me expedite the start-up process. (Gareth Healey. Beyond Noise) There were several times when we first started meeting where I was trying to do everything. He helped me focus on the more important aspects. I don't have a business background. But he also saved me from disastrous financial decisions and I think that was one of the biggest things.”

“There was one time when I was focusing on the backend of development as the priority. Through discussing with him, I learnt to prioritise the front end, getting the user journey sorted before we focus on the backend. When I say disastrous consequences I could have spent a lot of time and money developing something not knowing if the customers wanted it.  You need to know that the customers want the product. If they don't, you need to figure something else out.”

Why is it so good?

Tanya reflects on her time in the programme “Through working with Gareth I’ve done things I’ve never done before and realised that I can do things that I didn't think were possible. It builds your confidence. One of the things garret did that I’m incredibly grateful for, He always offered his knowledge, support and suggestions but always left the decisions to me. This empowered me to understand the process as well as trust my own decision making.”

“We’ve found that the ones who pick each other from the very start when asked ‘how well do they think they’ve been matched?’ If they say it’s a perfect match, they’re usually saying the same thing at the end of the programme.” Patricia explains.

She then highlights some findings.

“On average they double their confidence and knowledge across 14 different skill sets from the start to the end.”

“94% rated their mentors’ skill set to be good or excellent.”

“90% continue to carry on with their mentors after the programme finishes. Which was always a goal - to build long lasting business relationships. Will the relationship change from being on the programme? Most likely, they can become customers, investors or even simply commercial.”

From a start-ups’ point of view, they’re pretty good odds.

As I travelled down the office slide (you did read that correctly) I left with a sense of confidence that Patricia will be a witness to some great success stories. Watch this space.