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3 Lessons I’ve learned as a Startup Mentor

Some of you may know that last November I made a huge career shift: I had my last day at Google in London and moved to the US to become the first female Global Entrepreneur in Residence at CU Boulder. I’ve always been passionate about entrepreneurship and have worked at a few startups before, but this role was going to take me on a new adventure: becoming a mentor for entrepreneurs.

To be completely honest with you, I was intimidated and the imposter syndrome was REAL. Before leaving London, I went to the Google Campus to mentor startups there to get some practice. That was a good experience, however, the thought of doing this as a job still scared me. I was constantly asking myself: What could I possibly help them with? What if I don’t know the right answers? Is my experience enough?

Fast forward a few months later: I’m very happy with that career move and feeling satisfied with what I’ve achieved so far at CU. I’ve learned so much about entrepreneurship, universities, communities and of course mentoring. If you need a little extra support for impostor syndrome, check out this post!

So in case if you’re thinking of becoming a startup mentor or if you are looking for mentors, let me share some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned so far:

1. It’s all about asking the right questions.

You don’t need to have all the answers and in fact, you shouldn’t. The entrepreneurs need to be able to figure out these things by themselves, they need to learn how to navigate the unknown and mitigate uncertainties. Your job as a startup mentor is to guide them by helping to see the right questions and directions to explore.

When I was signing up to mentor at the Google Campus in London, I received a briefing one-pager that asked all of the mentors not to give out the answers, but to ask open-ended questions to get the entrepreneurs thinking. They compared it to the famous proverb: “

Now having mentored for a few months, I can say that this is key. As a mentor, you need to become good at asking questions and listening to the thought process – not giving your ideas instead. Yes, brainstorming is good, but your job is to guide your mentee.

2. Peer to peer mentoring is just as important

When you hear the words startup mentor, what comes to mind? People who are experienced and wise, and typically much older or further ahead in their career than you – right? Well, that’s one type of mentor you can have, but you can also have (and become) a peer mentor.

As a peer, you might face similar challenges and can see the picture with insider’s eyes. This means that the range of questions you can ask each other might be different from what a more senior mentor (who is also removed from your situation or industry) may ask. Yes, it’s a different kind of mentoring and might almost look like brainstorming at times, but it’s also super valuable because you benefit from the diversity of perspectives. And the beauty of this process is that you’re inspiring each other because you’re all in this together. You are facing similar challenges and can learn from each other in the process.

3. Female entrepreneurs will change the (and your) world and we need to support them in doing so

I have no doubt about that. Entrepreneurship and innovation go hand in hand, people with this mindset are problem solvers, who take initiative and push forward. Yes, sometimes they fail, but a lot of them learn from their mistakes and try again. In fact, there’s a notion that failure is almost the only way to success – because you’re much stronger and wiser after that experience, you’ve been through your battles with yourself.

Why female entrepreneurs? Because historically they’ve had so many obstacles along the way, but they’ve been pushing forward against all odds. They have to fight that much harder and be that much stronger to go against societal norms to prove that they can achieve what the want to. Yes, there are still fewer of them and there’s still a large gender gap in both startup and tech worlds, but I believe that this will be solved. Women are stronger than ever and are designing their own lives and careers and we need to support them: to help them solve more problems and change the world!

So this leads me to an action item for you, my friend:

Do you have a great idea about how to improve gender equality in the digital world or do you know someone who does? Nominate yourself or your friend for the 2018 EQUALS in Tech Awards! They’re searching for cool projects and plans to help girls and women get equal access, skills, and opportunities online and in the tech industry.

Winners get a paid trip to the awards ceremony on September 22 in New York City, but that’s not all. They also get to meet like-minded entrepreneurs, activists, teachers, and leaders. And they join an advisory panel that chooses future award winners.

Hurry, nominations close on 20 July! #EQUALSinTech


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