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As an alumnus of InnovAction Lab (one of the top entry courses for budding entrepreneurs) now with the fancy title of COO of Talent Garden, I was given the opportunity to mentor a team of four young people in the new 2014 class.
The idea is simple: My role is to beat them up psychologically. Batter them until the last moronic mistake is out of their investor pitch. And for someone who has been battered on plenty of occasions before, it is a really sweet occasion.
Now you might think, this guy is a sadistically nice person, taking time from his busy schedule to help/mistreat young entrepreneurs. While that is obviously true, there are a few much more selfish reasons for being a mentor (and taking company time for it).
Anybody who is working in a company, from a startup to the most corporate of places, knows that recruiting is a pain in the ass.
– You have no way to know how people will be under stress.
– You have no idea what their REAL skills are.
– Maybe they’re annoying. Maybe they simply don’t fit.
Internships seem like a great opportunity to test these things out, but mentoring is better for two reasons:
1) Internships only help you scout for junior people who are looking for employment. But people who take entrepreneurship courses can be more senior, and often the most brilliant employees are entrepreneurs at heart. They maybe just need some time before they actually get on with building their own thing, and the companies who mentor them have first pick at getting them in this transition time.
2) Internships don’t really show you how the person will do under stress, unless you really challenge them. A startup course with a grueling competition to get in, survive, and win is stress.
Moreover, even if they are not looking for a job because they are lucky enough to make it as entrepreneurs, their friends probably are; and after four months with your mentees, you definitely know whether to trust their judgement or not.
2) Learning & innovation
You could be a top entrepreneur, innovator, or consultant, but the minute you become focused on your field, you lose touch with so much stuff that’s going on elsewhere. Take a group of four people from different disciplines who are competing/collaborating with another 130 doing the same, and … well, you’re going to discover a lot of new stuff.
3) Corporate social responsibility
Internships come across as cheap labor more than opportunities for young people. Mentoring is free, and you might get nothing back immediately. Do you think people are gonna think you’re really a bad person for doing it? No, I didn’t think so.
Plus those kids will be grateful and will do all they can to let anybody know. It’s a fair exchange.
“How can a bunch of wannabe startuppers help me expand my professional network? I’m a busy company executive!” you might think. Well, think again. Networking is no longer proportional to age. If anything, it is starting to be inversely proportional, with young people learning their way through networking events, meetups, social networking tools of any kind, and a hunger to get to the top but showing their skills to anybody who is on top. If the guys you mentor are actually brilliant, you can trust that their connections will be too.
5) Future clients
This might not apply to everyone, but it definitely applies to us. We host startups, feelancers, and companies that want to shape the future of digital and creative innovation. Do you think we are going to be sad if these young people end up making it and eventually need a space in one of our campuses? Strangely enough, lending a hand in the creation of new enterprises can be an innovative and useful customer acquisition tool that really benefits all.
In conclusion, you might say: Yes, all good, but what if the guys I mentor are just not that good? Well then you will be forced to see your own mistakes. You are working in a company that is established, they are building a startup. Getting back to trying to make someone think the way you used to when you started can only help you stay young at heart and remain an entrepreneur rather than simply a CEO/COO/C@# or whatever fancy title you’ve given yourself.
Damiano Ramazzotti is the COO of Talent Garden, one of the leading coworking space network in the digital sector in Europe and CEO of WeTipp, an online platform aimed at helping non profits, grassroots organisations and coworkers spaces in engaging their members through their passions and skills. Before becoming involved in this field, he worked for many years on active participation and intercultural dialogue in the framework of European programs for youth as trainer and facilitator.