When I was first asked to write this blog post I realised that I had never had a formal mentor. However, throughout my career senior leaders have pushed me beyond what I thought I was capable. They saw in me untested proficiencies and potential. For example, I was asked by a client to be a key negotiator in a multimillion dollar joint venture negotiation, even though I was the most junior member in the deal team. And I was offered a CFO position by a client at a major brewery where I would be leading thousands of people although I previously had only lead 25. Even my rock climbing instructor who continually shouted encouragement to me until I leapt in midair to another rock believed I would be land safely on the other side. He persuaded me to take a ‘leap of faith’ you could say.
To me, the word mentor is just a title. Call it coach, trainer or mentor. A true mentor sees untapped potential, supports you and pushes you beyond what you thought was possible.
Finding a mentor
Upon starting my own company, I did a great deal of research into what types of services I wanted to offer and what sorts of leaders that I wanted to emulate. I scrolled through Linkedin and read numerous blogs. I went to countless networking events. I read many books, one of which (the Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley) inspired the name of my company when I was struggling to find a .com.
When I discovered someone doing what I wanted to do, I reached out. I never asked if they wanted to be my ‘mentor’. I got to know them first and established our common interests. From these interactions I have formed lasting friendships. These mentor/friends are still available to me today, however now I find that I can also offer advice in return.
If you know what you want, people are happy to help. The key is being specific – don’t make them work on discovering what you want/need.
The benefits of mentorship
Now that we are in the startup era, the word mentor is being used more frequently. As a ‘mentor’ at Rockstart I found, based on my growth capital raising experience, I am most able to help startups with their go to market strategy and with pitching for capital. I can offer advice to help de-risk the company story so that investors feel more comfortable, and can suggest pivots to focus on larger markets with greater customer needs. I open up my network to the startups for pilot projects. Also being a Chartered Accountant I can give investors the confidence they need to believe in the numbers.
Of course it goes both ways. I originally started mentoring at business accelerators like Rockstart as I really enjoyed the high-energy buzz of the startup environment. I wanted to stay in touch with new technology trends and sharpen my capital raising skills. Through my involvement as a mentor I discovered which skills were most needed by the startups and which skills came to me more naturally.
Witnessing the passion, dedication and focus of the founders and watching the companies grow from concept to startup was like seeing ‘children’ grow into teenagers. I have retained relationships with many founders for years after.
Mentorship is about giving and receiving. For me it helped me realise my value add in the startup / scale-up world and has helped me to better focus my business across industry and service lines. In a way, mentoring at Rockstart was like being in my own business accelerator.
Kim Oreskovic is a Canadian Chartered Accountant and former M&A Director at KPMG. She is the founder of Innoviance, where she assists scaling technology companies with their funding and business strategy, financial and strategic planning, growth capital raising, IPO prep and investor readiness (business professionalisation). She also assists corporates with strategic acquisitions of startups and scale-ups. Kim is a mentor at various business accelerators, including Rockstart where she is a mentor of the Digital Health program.
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