Last week, President Obama announced the Startup America Partnership, a campaign to invest in the country’s startup entrepreneurs and create thousands of jobs. It relies heavily on established entrepreneurs mentoring startup entrepreneurs.
“We’re trying to support high growth companies,” TechStars CEO David Cohen said. “Mentorship is often the key missing element to get going.”
TechStars, a private, three month mentorship driven accelerator for first time entrepreneurs, pledged to create a national startup accelerator network. The goal is to have 5,000 established entrepreneurs mentoring 6,000 startup entrepreneurs in order to create 25,000 new jobs by 2015.
What the nation can expect
Mentor-driven programs have exploded in Boston, and include Founder Mentors, TechStars Boston, the Founder Institute, 12×12 and the Venture Mentoring Service. But there is an appetite for more.
MassChallenge, another accelerator, recently signed Karl Büttner to try to recruit new mentors to its three-month accelerator program, and improve the way that mentors interact with the entrepreneurs who participate. He spent 19 years at 170 Systems which he co-founded, culminating in a successful acquisition by Kofax.
A good mentor will have launched and run at least one successful business themselves. But since many mentors are still operating their own companies, they won’t be able to volunteer as much time to mentoring as founders would like. And that may be what the nation can expect.
Boston goes a step further
Boston’s next generation incubators – first the Venture Development Center, then Dogpatch Labs – have appointed an EIR to advise their emerging companies. But instead of turning their own ideas into a source of funding deals, or looking for their next gig, like they do at VC firms, an EIR at an incubator devotes undivided attention to helping others launch companies.
Founders favor an environment with an EIR not only because of an EIR’s experience, but because the EIR has powerful contacts with people who can help the startup.
This year, Gus Weber was recruited by Polaris Venture Partners’ Dogpatch Labs as EIR. For the last four years, he helped Microsoft’s New England Research & Development Center get off the ground. He’ll also be building upon the synergies between the three Dogpatch locations and the Labs’ alumni network.
After selling Silverback Technologies to Dell, Dan Phillips joined the Venture Development Center when it opened in May 2009, pledging a ten year stint as EIR, mentoring the companies in the incubator. He also teaches an evening course to budding entrepreneurs which is an alternative to joining an accelerator. During a 25 year career, two of his VC backed software companies achieved successful initial public offerings and another besides Silverback was acquired.
Phillips has been asked more than once by VCs to join one of their companies as a CEO. But after four startups, he wants to give back instead. (He’s been giving back for 15 years, funding scholarships for entrepreneurial students at UMass Boston, even though he is not an alum.)
Inspire entrepreneurs to give back
Inspiring more brand name entrepreneurs like Phillips to give back this way would be the best outcome of Startup America. Established entrepreneurs mentoring startup entrepreneurs is what makes Boston’s innovation ecosystem vibrant, and the envy of the nation.
What other serial entrepreneurs in Boston are also giving back? Please identify yourselves so Boston can say “thank you.”