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Blog: Mentoring resources for innovative businesses

What do Harry Potter, Mark Zuckerberg, and Elizabeth Taylor have in common?

They all, famously, had mentors (Professor Dumbledore, Steve Jobs, and Audrey Hepburn respectively).

Mentoring is an incredibly powerful way to gain skills, knowledge, and experience, and it’s likely that most senior leaders have been part of a mentoring relationship at some point – as a mentor, or mentee.

Mentors are sounding boards, coaches, and motivators, and those in the innovation space may find a good partnership can help them through everything from identifying opportunities and gaining insight, to honing communication skills and launching projects.

But where do you find them?

If you’re struggling to establish a valuable mentoring relationship – on either side – there are free opportunities out there for finding a pairing. Here are just a few.

 

Be the Business

Be the Business Mentoring matches leaders from small and medium-sized businesses with executives from some of the UK’s leading companies, including Accenture, Amazon, John Lewis, Lloyds and Siemens.

Mentoring is done across 12 weeks or 12 months, and is government-backed and fully funded.

Find out more here.

Certain membership organisations and networks have also partnered with Be the Business to offer their own mentoring programmes more tailored for regions or topics.

For example, Silverstone Tech Cluster, who MPA partners with to promote innovation in and around Silverstone, has their own free mentoring scheme funded by Be the Business called Mentoring for Growth for employees of businesses within their region. So it’s worth asking your networks about opportunities too.

Find out more here.

UKRI councils

UK Research and Innovation brings together the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and Research England.

Each of the seven councils offer some kind of training, and many have mentors on board that will take on mentees.

If your project or business operates in or for one of the topics covered by a council then it’s worth reaching out to them for advice on seeking a pairing. These are: arts and humanities, biotechnology and biological sciences, economic and social, engineering and physical science, medical, natural environment, and science and technology.

Find out more here.

Innovate UK EDGE Scaleup Programme

Scaleup offers something similar to mentoring but more structured, and potentially more powerful.

Run by Innovate UK in collaboration with the Scaleup Institute, it’s peer learning for business leaders.

Those involved in the programme get access to one-to-one, bespoke and funded support centred around their specific needs. Participants are assigned a Scaleup Director who can help identify challenges and enablers, and then a larger board of Directors are on hand to unlock the resources, skills and connectivity required to overcome or access them.

Available to companies achieving, or with the potential for, 50% compound annual growth rates (CAGR) and over, winning a place in this programme is more formal than building a typical 1:1 mentoring relationship might be, with evaluations and site visits part of the application process. That being said, becoming part of this programme would no doubt be worth the effort.

Find out more here

The SETSquared Partnership

SSP has a number of options for students connected to the UKs top research-led universities, as well as entrepreneurs, start-up founders and innovative SMEs.

They have programmes framed around sustainable, digital, healthcare and transport innovators so it’s worth taking a look if you fall into one of those sectors and are looking for help.

Find out more here.

Universities

For school leavers, there are many Universities that offering mentoring as just one of the learning routes within their faculties and courses.

The University of Bristol’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, for example, emphasises challenge-based, collaborative learning and as such students work with a variety of industry partners who are also there to connect students to grant funding and incubators for great ideas.

Those looking to enter into research-led careers should consider the availability of mentors a big tick on the list of things to look out for in a degree, offering an early opportunity to learn from an experienced professional and expand their network from the start.

Your own networks

If you’ve ever worked or collaborated with or for someone whom you respect the opinion, knowledge and skills of, then that is a great place to start if you’re thinking about seeking a professional mentor. All you have to do is reach out and ask, and the relationship can be as formal or relaxed as you like. The key thing to remember is that mentoring is part of learning, so try to go into the partnership with an idea of what you want to gain from your mentor and stay on track as much as possible.

 

Most of the resources we’ve mentioned above are also open to applications from those wishing to become a mentor, so if you’re looking to share your own knowledge and skills with the next generation then they are also great places to start.

There is a recognised skills gap widening in many of our industries so anything we can do to help those with a passion for innovation thrive and succeed is certainly worth the time and effort.

Have you been part of a successful mentoring relationship, and if so, what did you learn? We’d love to hear about your own experiences; what you found useful, any challenges you faced, and where you found your mentor; or if you’ve been a mentor yourself, what would you say to someone just embarking on finding or becoming one?

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