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Supporting start-ups through entrepreneurial mentoring

Very popular in Anglo-Saxon countries, entrepreneurial mentoring has been established in France for about ten years. It was only in 2013 that the National Charter for Entrepreneurial Mentoring was signed by Arnaud Montebourg, Fleur Pellerin and Dominique Restino, President of the Institute of Entrepreneurial Mentoring. The principle of entrepreneurial mentoring is to put an experienced entrepreneur, the mentor, in contact with another entrepreneur who is looking for personalized, voluntary and inspiring support.

What is entrepreneurial mentoring?

Before defining entrepreneurial mentoring, let's go back to the origin of the word "Mentor". This word comes from Homer's Odyssey. Indeed, before going to fight the Trojans, Ulysses entrusts the care of his house to Mentor. He assumes the role of teacher, companion and guide to Telemachus, the son of Odysseus. Once grown up, Telemachus leaves to search for his father condemned to wander 10 years after the Trojan war. In order to accompany him in his quest, the goddess Athena adopts the voice and appearance of Mentor to inspire his confidence. Thus, "mentor" has taken on the meaning of a wise companion, a wise person or a motivator.

Here is the definition of entrepreneurial mentoring: it is a personalized, voluntary and confidential accompaniment provided by an experienced entrepreneur, called a mentor, to another entrepreneur, called a mentee, in the human accompaniment of his or her entrepreneurial know-how.

Corporate mentoring began in large companies in Anglo-Saxon countries at the end of the 20th century. The goal was to put a young executive in contact with an experienced manager in order to develop his or her career, his or her interpersonal skills, and his or her network, and to discover the company's culture and policies.

Today, the principle of entrepreneurial mentoring is to put start-up or small business leaders, called mentees, in contact with experienced and recognized entrepreneurs, called mentors. The mentor's goal is not to interfere in the management of the mentee's business, but to listen to the mentee with kindness and to help him or her open up his or her field of thought.

This mentoring relationship allows entrepreneurs to boost the development of their business thanks to the advice of the mentor, who shares his or her entrepreneurial experience.

What is a mentor?

A mentor is a manager/owner or significant shareholder of a company. He or she has some entrepreneurial experience and has successfully gone through the various stages of a company's growth. He or she has had a rich professional life and has a lot of knowledge that he or she wants to pass on to other entrepreneurs.

The legitimacy of a mentor resides in the fact that he has already experienced the entrepreneurial path marked by constant obstacles and challenges and can thus share his experience, his mistakes and his successes. The mentoring relationship commits the mentor to accompany the mentee on a voluntary and disinterested basis.

What is a mentee?

The mentee is a project leader, a manager/owner or a majority shareholder of a company. They may be in the start-up phase of their business, or in a more advanced stage.

He or she is looking for an experienced outside eye to help analyze his or her growth strategy and share ideas, in complete confidentiality.

Characteristics of business mentoring

Business mentoring can be considered as an offline help, i.e. without any hierarchical link or interest. The relationship must be voluntary and non-binding, for both the mentor and the mentee. It is a relationship of equals, the mentor does not have a leadership role. It is interactive and not a one-way street.

Entrepreneurial mentoring is a personal accompaniment with no conflict of interest, so the mentor must not be a shareholder in the mentee's company during the mentoring relationship. The coaching can sometimes be paid, but in most cases it is voluntary.

The mentor and mentee choose each other. The mentor accompanies the entrepreneur and guides him/her by bringing his/her experience and the mentee receives valuable advice, expands his/her network and gains confidence. The mentor's outside view allows the mentee to step back, evaluate different options and make decisions on his own.

It is important to note that mentored companies have a higher growth rate than others and fewer stop their activity. A real benefit for the mentored entrepreneurs!

Is mentoring effective in supporting start-ups?

Mentoring can definitely make a difference in the structuring and development of a start-up. The transfer of experience from a mentor can accelerate the growth of a start-up.

When you are an entrepreneur, especially within a start-up, you can feel limited or even blocked. Everything has to be done and making the right decisions can be difficult. Having the support of an experienced person, who will share his experiences in a disinterested way, is an undeniable advantage compared to other start-ups who would not receive such support.

The mentor helps the mentee to open his or her field of vision, to ask the right questions to make informed choices. It is not necessary for the two people to be from the same sector of activity; on the contrary, cross-disciplinary and complementary fields of expertise can be more relevant: the important thing is to have personalities that are in tune with each other to pull each other up. This also allows the mentee to discover other ways of thinking and other work methods.

In addition, having the benefit of a more experienced entrepreneur to listen to them makes the mentee feel less alone when faced with complicated decisions. The mentor has experienced these difficulties and can support the mentee entrepreneur as an equal. The mirror effect invites the mentee to put the situation into perspective in order to better understand the problems.

Entrepreneurship is a human adventure that it is pleasant to share with an outside person, capable of accompanying and challenging the mentee.


 X-Up, mentoring at the École Polytechnique

The Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center at École Polytechnique has its own mentoring system: the X-Up incubator, an intensive 6-month program to structure your start-up project. You will benefit from a workspace, conferences and workshops on technology, business and communication, customized coaching, training, access to the prototyping space and the X network to develop your start-up and access to the ecosystem of the Institut Polytechnique de Paris.

As part of the X-Up incubation program, a day dedicated to entrepreneurial mentoring is planned so that incubated start-ups can meet with former X students, with the aim of finding 2 to 3 mentors to accompany them in their project. These mentors are carefully pre-selected to meet the needs of the incubated entrepreneurs. This is the case, for example, of Kamil Beffa, whom we talked about in a previous article on mentoring.