Interview with Loren Guerriero of MicroMentor
MicroMentor.org is a free online platform, administered by Mercy Corps, that connects entrepreneurs in the US, Haiti, and Nicaragua with experienced business mentors. With more than 3300 volunteer mentors already signed up, the site offers entrepreneurs the ability to receive help in highly targeted areas and with specific questions and challenges. MicroMentor’s Community Engagement Officer, Loren Guerriero, was kind enough to answer our questions about the program and the ways in which entrepreneurs and organizations can benefit from its services.
Impact Entrepreneurs: How would you describe MicroMentor in a single tweet?
Loren Guerriero: Find expert advice for your business issues with MicroMentor, a free match platform for entrepreneurs and their mentors – micromentor.org
What kind of experience or background do you look for in your mentors?
Business mentors should have at least 3 years experience running their own business, or at least 5 years of professional experience in a particular skill that is relevant to entrepreneurs. While some industries and expertise areas are more popular than others, successful mentors share many common traits. A successful mentor is someone who can relate to the business issues the entrepreneur is facing, will be able to build trust and rapport in the initial communications, and will hold the entrepreneur accountable to action items set at each meeting.
Is there a certain stage of business at which you think mentorship is most useful for entrepreneurs?
This is a topic that draws conjecture. Some argue that existing business owners need less assistance than entrepreneurs in startup or concept mode. While it is true that existing business owners may have less time to engage in self-reflective activity like mentoring, existing operations create an enormous potential for growth with the right management decisions. Mentors may contribute at a critical juncture where the right knowledge could mean the difference between exponential growth and business failure. Conversely, startup and concept-phase businesses are more likely to launch successfully with the right guidance on first steps, especially with regards to business planning, capital acquisition, and marketing strategy. All business owners, regardless of business stage, benefit from the moral support of someone who has walked in their shoes before, and can provide motivation and structure in oftentimes stressful and chaotic business environments.
What are some examples of business problems that you see mentors helping entrepreneurs to solve?
Our experience indicates that while granular technical experience is appreciated, the majority of mentoring relationships focus on broader issues such as planning, goal setting, and getting customers. This perspective is supported by survey data. The top categories of expertise requested are Marketing (27%), Starting Up (20%), Accounting and Finance (16%), Management (15%), and Sales (7%). Within these categories, the top problems that entrepreneurs request assistance with are Business Development, Getting Started, Financial Planning, Goal Setting, and Selling Services.
More than anything, however, a mentor will be most successful by creating a profile that specifically reflects his or her top skills concisely, and searching for mentoring requests that best fit their skill set.
What are the additional benefits for paid subscribers?
This service has always been free for individual users of the site. However, organizations that serve entrepreneurs may purchase premium features that empower them to build and manage a local business mentoring program. These features include online tools and automated notifications to help a program manager facilitate quality matching, intensive training & support in the initial months of program launch, reporting mechanisms for delivering outcome data to funders and stakeholders, and support in delivering live mentoring trainings.
Similarly, corporations that sponsor a local affiliate will have access to skilled volunteering opportunities to fulfill employee community engagement goals, on-site training to motivate and educate employee mentors, and an account lead dedicated to ensuring meaningful and successful volunteer matches.
Do you have a favorite mentorship story from the program?
Our personal favorite is of Barbara Telle. [Barbara was a stay-at-home mom who started a medical and legal transcription service with “one doctor, a rented computer and a Sony walkman,” who is now CEO of a company with 5 staff and more than 50 contract employees.]
What’s next for MicroMentor?
MicroMentor is on the verge of becoming the go-to online platform for bringing business mentoring to scale. With strong corporate and not-for-profit partners, the site has the potential to rapidly increase the quantity and quality of mentoring connections for entrepreneurs. Furthermore, MicroMentor is eager to expand their initial Haiti and Nicaragua pilots into a Latin America-wide network of business mentors and entrepreneurs.
How can our readers support the MicroMentor program?
The best way readers can contribute to the success of MicroMentor depends on their role:
- Entrepreneurs and experienced business owners are always needed to engage on the site. This is a great learning opportunity for business owners at any point in their business.
- Employees of larger companies should join the site, but should also advocate for their company to consider sponsoring MicroMentor. This would position the company firmly as a champion of entrepreneurship and economic development in their local communities.
- If you have contact with a local small business development organization that might benefit from a business mentoring program, put them in touch with MicroMentor. The MicroMentor platform is flexible to fit the programmatic needs of nonprofits, chambers of commerce, and professional associations.