Guest post by Tom Jensen, co-founder of Enterprise Futures network who helped source mentors for GSEC 2013, and mentor to Grand Prize winning team Jorsey Ashbel Farms.
Last week, 15 people including investors, entrepreneurs, consultants and non-profit executives joined students on 14 teams that competed in the Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition (GSEC) in Seattle – either in person or virtually, to finalize their business plans and presentations for a winning social enterprise. The teams from Africa, Asia and the U.S created business plans to address health and economic development problems in developing countries and competed for prizes.
After mentoring and judging in university competitions for the past 12 years, I know what it takes for a university to make a competition successful. UW’s Foster School’s Global Business Center did a great job making the experience very rewarding for the teams, judges, coaches, student ambassadors, mentors and sponsors. An organization that I am a co-founder in, Enterprise Futures Network (www.enterprisefutures.org) , is the Competition’s Mentorship Partner and has helped source mentors for two years.
GSEC’s mentors are located in Seattle, the San Francisco Bay Area, and from Europe, particularly Denmark. Each mentor donates about eight hours of his or her time over a six week period to help the team prepare before the competition and then several more hours during the week of the competition if possible. While about half of the mentors have mentored for GSEC before, the other half experienced this competition for the first time this year.
One of those new mentors for this year was John Locher, who co-founded internet companies Classmates.com and Redweek.com. He thoroughly enjoyed mentoring his team from Bangladesh with his co-mentor Mike Siemion, a co-founder with John at these companies, and plans to be back next year. John and Mike were joined by Norm Bontje, George Economy, who co-mentored with Linda Long, Merrill Grogel, Greg Free, Michael Gilson, Thomas Jensen, Nils- Michael Langenborg, John Raabo Nielsen, Søren Therkelsen, Rick McPherson, Kim Nelson, Carol Sanford, Craig Bruya, Michael “Luni” Libes and Pete Peterson.
The teams also got coaching on their presentations from other volunteers that UW’s Foster School of Business engaged during the week of the competition (February 25-28th).
UW made our job to provide and train mentors to support the competition very easy. The GSEC team led by Deborah Wolf and Kirsten Aoyama had a great plan and executed it flawlessly. They were responsive to the needs of the mentors and made it possible for mentors to participate in very meaningful ways, including networking with other mentors at a mentor breakfast EFN and UW organized.
UW created the right environment for successful mentoring, including educating the teams and mentors on the benefits of a mentor based program, and by creating clear expectations for both mentees and mentors. UW and EFN shared helpful tips and examples of best practices, maintained regular communications and gave mentors the opportunity to share ideas to improve the process throughout the mentoring period. While all competitions that engage mentors do it somewhat differently, certainly UW’s well organized and straight forward approach makes it easier for mentors to engage compared to institutions that, for example, only facilitate informal mentor-team matching without framing mentoring expectations for participants (e.g., such as inviting mentors and teams to events where they can self-match).
Tips that really helped the teams included encouraging mentors to ask teams for a specific milestones schedule to complete their plans and pitches. This tool served as a roadmap from which the mentees and mentors could work from. From my experience mentoring Jorsey Ashbel Farms (JAF), a scalable chicken production venture in Nigeria that won the grand prize, the framework and expectations that UW created mentoring made the process more efficient, allowing JAF and me to focus on the hard work of validating assumptions and developing a scalable business model.
On a personal level, working with JAF’s co-founders, Mene Blessing and Ayuba Ashbel from the Nigeria was a tremendous pleasure, because of their commitment to the venture, professionalism and sincerity. I look forward to visiting with them in April when they will compete in the finals for the Global Social Venture Competition in Berkeley, California.
I was very impressed that most of the local mentors attended the finals and even the preliminary round to coach their teams. Many non-local mentors worked with their teams remotely until the preliminaries or finals. Greg Free, who mentored Breathsuite, a UW based team that invented a respiratory diagnostic application delivered through mobile phones, viewed the Foster School’s “live stream” of his team in the final round when he could not be there in person. Greg, a non-profit director and sales and software executive, told me that “over the time I spent with them, I dropped lots of suggestions and was left somewhat uneasy about whether they were landing. They got it – in spades – and did an outstanding job of transforming what they started with into a pretty darned good presentation.”
Carol Sanford, an author, consultant and speaker on responsible business, shared her thoughts about mentoring for this competition over the past three years. “I’m getting better at it; knowing how to help my team meet challenges and to ask them to focus on what judges look for”. She loves to help teams pivot their businesses “to improve and to think bigger about what they can do.” Carol’s team, Social Cops, won the competition’s ICT prize sponsored by Microsoft.
I hope that people who attended the events (and read this article!) will be inspired join the fun next year and chose to mentor or coach a team or become a judge. Take my word for it, future mentors will find this experience extremely rewarding and a great opportunity to engage with entrepreneurs changing the world. If you would like to apply to serve as a mentor next year, please apply! http://www.enterprisefutures.net/mentorappl.html.