By Thomas Klem Andersen, Published on February 22nd 2016
During the past two years Scion DTU has developed the mentoring program Scion TeamMentoring in collaboration with the MIT Venture Mentoring Service (VMS MIT) in Boston. In Scion Team Mentoring +60 experienced business professionals have helped 37 technology-based companies accelerate their development.
The mentor program differs primarily because an entire team of mentors is involved in each mentoring session. This model is based on solid experience as MIT VMS has been around for 16 years and provides mentoring to about 200 entrepreneurs annually with a mentor network consisting of 180 mentors. One of the reasons that MIT VMS is the successful mentoring program it is today is the meticulous care invested in building the mentor network:
“A key to success for MIT VMS is vetting the mentors. This involves extensive screening and a rigorous interview with program executives to ensure they have relevant business experience. They also have to be willing to, openly collaborate in a team-mentoring environment, which is quite a foreign concept to almost everybody. People are used to just one-on-one mentoring”
- Jerome Smith, mentor Co-director to MIT VMS
A need for qualified mentoring among technology-based SMEs
Scion DTU's hardware focused environment houses +200 companies. Several of them are high-tech SMEs, who have placed themselves close to the Technical University of Denmark in a development environment where innovation is on top of the agenda. Among these companies, we experience a demand for qualified advice from experienced business people.
SMEs has to cover the same tasks as larger companies. No matter the size, someone needs to be in charge of product development, production, sales, service and management. If there are only few employees few will have to play several roles. In addition - high-tech companies are often run by engineers and engineers are technically very competent, but who do not necessarily have the same business skills.
A fledgling venture is more likely to thrive when an idea, good business planning, and an entrepreneur are matched with proven skills and experience
- One of the Core Principles of MIT VMS
For the manager of an SME it can take a while to realize all the tasks needing to be taken care of in order to build a healthy and sustainable business. When resources are scarce, and the ones that are available are technically specialized you need qualified advice within the areas outside your own expertise. Here is what one of the companies at Scion DTU says:
"Our mentoring process has been an amazing journey. To begin with, I was unsure if growth was possible, and whether or not it was relevant for us at all. With the mentor teams’ help, we have redesigned the organizational structure and we have grown 60% within one and a half years. I am now confident that we are on the right track to secure the future of the company. The sparring I have received has been a tremendous help!
- Christian Mammen, Director of JJ X-Ray
Mentor teams and a comprehensive framework makes all the difference
Like MIT VMS, in the Scion Team Mentoring program we also group mentors in teams for each company and offer a structured framework for the collaboration between mentors and mentees.
There are many advantages to putting mentors together in teams. The challenges of companies in Scion DTU are diverse and they change quickly. There is rarely one person who has the answers to all questions a company face. When we put mentors together in teams with complementary skills, we can offer a competence mix that can handle multiple challenges. For this reason a mentor team really can accelerate the development of a technology-based SME.
The composition of teams can be adjusted on an ongoing basis as the company's challenges changes. Mentoring does not cease if a mentor exits a team or cannot attend a meeting, and the meetings themselves become extremely dynamic, as the mentors have different perspectives on the same issues.
"Once again a super meeting! Our mentor team contributed with sharp analyzes of the product, particularly in relation to how the business model can be improved. It is excellent with a mixed mentor team - we get topics covered from all angles"
- Gustav Erik Skands, Director of SBT Aqua
A mentor team works somewhat like a flexible advisory board that can offer 360-degree sparring but without the formal relationship which characterizes an advisory board or a professional board. We find that a mentor team can help a company avoid many time-consuming and costly mistakes that can be committed at all stages of the company life cycle.
It obviously requires a little extra when coordinating a meeting between this many people where the mentor competencies has to match the company's challenges. There is a risk that an otherwise good match between company and mentors doesn’t lead to anything for the simple reason that both mentors and mentees are too busy to coordinate meetings, prepare agendas, or write decision summaries.
In Scion DTU, we take responsibility for the coordination, the structure and the process of mentoring. We have well described guidelines for companies and mentors, and we have solid and proven procedures for matchmaking and coordination of meetings. In this way we ensure effective and valuable mentor meetings for both companies and mentors. It is important for us that no one is wasting their time.
A strong and committed network of mentors
We started from scratch in 2014 and scaled the program gradually to the +60 highly qualified mentors we are today. MIT VMS stressed that the gradual scaling was important to ensure the quality of the program. The Mentors in Scion Team Mentoring are people with solid professional, industry or business experience. They are serial entrepreneurs who have been there themselves, managers with years of experience in management, operations and development who understand what it takes to get a business to thrive. There are specialists in sales, marketing, legal issues, HR, finance and industry experts within hardware, cleantech, medtech and life science. They can challenge the companies in relation to pricing, B2B selling, commercialfeasibility and market validation among many other things. What is most unique to our mentor program is that we have mentors who are experienced in product development and production, which is required for our hardware based companies.
Mentors in Scion Team Mentoring show great enthusiasm and they create tremendous value for the companies who participate. The mentors are excited about the opportunity to offer their experience and thus help SMEs in their development. Of course it is also exciting for mentors, to keep abreast of new technologies that are emerging in the industrial growth layer and they expanding their network by meeting other mentors in the respective mentor teams they are part of.
"You get really inspired by the energy of startups. They must have more than 24 hours in their day. I can bring that energy with me back into the large corporation where I work: Well of course we take the US market in a year! Conversely, I can help the startups become a little more realistic in their approach to the market. Their energy has to transform into concrete results – it shouldn’t be exhausted in a blaze, just because it's fun to run fast"
-Dorte Thulstrup, Regulatory Affairs Manager at Phillips Healthcare
We look forward to setting the stage for even more mentoring for high tech companies in 2016!