Among my recent experiments with grooming young talent has been a year-long effort at mentoring entrepreneurs using various distance learning tools and technologies that are now gaining maturity and becoming quite effective.
I started writing my blog in April 2005. Soon after, as I developed a readership in the technology entrepreneurship community, I started getting requests from all over the world to mentor entrepreneurs launching their first start-ups. Since then, I have been looking for a scalable way to address the growing number of requests that come from everywhere--Ireland to Brazil--so that I can continue to encourage this creative energy, but at the same time, not drive myself crazy!
The idea for a solution came to me awhile back.
In summer 2006, as the technology industry resurfaced from the nuclear winter that followed the dot-com meltdown, I was invited to speak at a start-up workshop. My session was supposed to focus on positioning your business. At a Silicon Valley law firm, some 60 entrepreneurs packed a conference room to listen to me. I asked each to pitch his business idea in one minute, and then I gave feedback for another minute or two. My 90-minute, rapid-fire session, alas, was not enough to accommodate all the pitches.
In the lobby, even as we spilled onto the front steps, I tried to respond to more entrepreneurs, but it was hardly satisfactory. In fact, it has always frustrated me to realize that I did not have enough time in my day to stop for each entrepreneur who asked for guidance. Friends--seasoned entrepreneurs--have expressed the same frustration.
A few months later, I repeated the same exercise in a roundtable format at the same law firm with 20 entrepreneurs, spending a bit more time with each. Once again, it was a dynamic session, and I felt that people learned from one another, not just from me. It was as if we were together going over a set of case studies, brainstorming about how to take each venture forward.
Two years later, in fall 2008, as I launched the first book in my Entrepreneur Journeys series, I decided that it was time to take this experiment online so entrepreneurs from around the world could benefit.
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As happens in all entrepreneurial experiments, one thing led to another. D.D. Ganguly, CEO of DimDim, an online conferencing technology vendor, offered to host my mentoring roundtables on its technology for free, and off we went. The first free roundtable was held last November. We asked five entrepreneurs to pitch and I interacted with each while over a hundred others listened. Attendees spanned the globe, time zone challenges notwithstanding.
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Image: Sam Zygmuntowicz, 52 Zygmuntowicz is an artist's artist.