Mentors are individuals who bring deep industry knowledge and expertise to significantly impact companies going through the program. Mentors help in areas like product-market-fit, business model, distribution, customers, partners, and (when appropriate) their personal networks with the companies. We attribute much of the companies’ success to their generous contributions of time and effort.
The simplest explanation of an ideal mentor relationship is that you care about the outcome of one company at a deep level. If you break that down there are many statements in there, that you are devoting time and energy to their success, that you actually like them and want to spend time with them, and that you actually get something out of the relationship yourself.
Although there are a million ways to mentor, something that we realize and fully support, we divide Techstars mentors into two main groups: lead mentors and mentors. The difference here is time commitment, not ability to help. Lead mentors spend more time with companies (an hour or so a week, on average) while mentors help out where they can (an hour or so, each month).
All mentors participate in a 1/2 day session meeting individually with the companies in a round-robin format. You get to spend 20 minutes with each company (with breaks, of course), and the expectations from founders if for you to provide tactical support, and make internal or personal network introductions as you see fit.
If asked by companies, lead mentors engage on a deeper level with them for the duration of the program, and hopefully beyond. We recommend committing to 1 or 2 companies at most, and meeting regularly with them (typically 30- to 60-minutes per week). It’s definitely OK to say no to participating as a lead mentor if you aren’t interested, or can’t make the time commitment. Each company generally lands somewhere between five and ten lead mentors.
Mentoring startups in a Techstars program is a great way to gain exposure to new ways of thinking, learn new innovative techniques that you can bring back to your teams, and stay up to date on current market and technology trends.
Where do the companies come from?
I probably spend a third of my time actively seeking out and inviting early stage companies to join the program. I source these companies from my own wider network, and the Techstars brand brings in thousands of applications every year to our programs around the world. This number continues to grow. Most often, the applicants have a strong team, but their ideas are simply too early. I track these, and re-engage when the company is in a position that allows them to fully take advantage of the program (i.e, once they their product is live on the market, or once the founding team is complete).