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Mentoring Start-Ups is Key but Tough

So I have been mentoring a number of start-ups that came out of the Invent DCU postdoctoral programme that ran in March-May this year.  Invent is part of Dublin City University, which encourages the transformation of cutting edge research into innovative and commercially exploitable products and services. The Ryan Academy developed an entrepreneurship programme with Invent for the postdoctoral researcher community.

After the programme was over we met with the researchers individually  and where they had a specific idea for commercialisation, we moved them onto the mentorship part of the programme. The plan is to set them up with at least one mentor but in reality it is more likely to be several as different mentors bring different elements to the mix. For quite a few of them, software and one clean tech start-up, I have ended up mentoring them pretty much all the time. Tough? Yes, it is time-consuming juggling several different technology areas and different people with different needs.

Fun? Totally, you get to play with a number of different start-up ideas, bounce ideas off the founders and others, think through both simple and complex issues. But it has also made me realise how vital good mentoring is, something that was rammed home at the Techstars Boulder visit earlier this month.

What are the key elements? Target market identification, what the positioning of the product might be versus competition (or in many cases not so much competition but ‘ the current way things are done versus a better way the new company can offer’), and getting into that all important, potential first customer or client.

Last week we helped to get a first sale to a prospective client for one of the companies. It was a decent sized sale with a larger potential to sell into the client’s bigger network. And it was a thrill to help set the deal up and advise on closing it. Now we are working on different product lines for this young entrepreneur, setting the company up legally and getting the word out. Hopefully we can help ‘birth’ two or three start-ups from the research community, with Invent’s support, between now and Christmas. And have a lot of fun doing it.

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