Iowa Startup Accelerator (ISA) has invested in more than 40 early stage tech-based companies since 2014 and our program is designed to be mentor-driven. That means that the diverse and experienced network of 165+ mentors is a key asset for our program.
While the accelerator staff will provide the core program and handle the day-to-day details, the mentors are the linchpin in a successful accelerator. Accelerator programs are often described as “mentor-driven” because the bulk of the actionable information the teams receive is from the mentor network. Mentors have the industry knowledge, experience and connections; these are often the most important factors in the startup teams’ long-term success that they’ll receive during the program. We have over 165 mentors involved in the program, designed to provide the teams with a variety of sources for ideas, input, and networking.
Types of Mentors and Mentor Expectations
Mentors-in-Residence (MIRs) are available with free office hours every week during the program. Our portfolio companies get to know these mentors deeply, as they work together through some of the thorniest issues young companies face. MIRs are typically successful founders and/or have significant domain expertise relevant to the program.
About 40 hours total during each 14-week program cycle:
- 2 hours per week, regularly, during the 14-week program. Most MIRs spend significantly more time than that.
- Attendance at EntreFEST (2-day event June 4 and 5, 2020) but at least the Launch Day event held (tentatively) on the evening of Thursday, June 4, 2020 – about 4 hours.
More than 50 of our mentors are founders that’ve been through it all before. They’ve founded or co-founded one or more notable companies and can share their experiences – warts and all.
About 20 hours total during each 14-week program cycle:
- Attending one or two 2-hour mentor office hours sessions per cycle, probably with some additional outside meetings with selected companies.
- Some founder mentors are featured during Founder Fireside events as part of 1 Million Cups or privately with ISA teams. Attendance at the Launch Day event held (tentatively) on the evening of Thursday, June 4, 2020 – about 4 hours.
Mentors with a wide array of domain expertise, our 70 expert mentors will be matched with teams as needed during or after the program.
About 10-12 hours total during each 14-week program cycle:
- Attending one or two 2-hour mentor office hours sessions per cycle.
- Attendance at the Launch Day event held (tentatively) on the evening of Thursday, June 4, 2020 – about 4 hours.
Your role as a mentor
Whether you’re a mentor-in-residence, founder mentor, or expert mentor, most of what you’re being asked to do is the same. You should be providing:
- Strategic guidance, such as identifying and correcting gaps in your team’s business knowledge and understanding
- Asking clarifying questions, ensuring the founder has thought things through
- Making connections to other people in your network that might be valuable to the founder(s)
Ensure your team is not simply hearing what they want to hear from their research. Challenge them on the conclusions they’re drawing, and the assumptions they’re making.
Why don’t mentors get paid/compensated?
Mentors are not allowed to be compensated by participating companies in any form during the program, or for three months after the program ends.
There are two reasons for this:
- We want mentors that are aligned for the right reasons, not personal gain.
- We can get far better volunteer mentors than we could ever get by paying for them. There are incredible people who will happily donate their time to causes they believe in, but would never sell their time to a cause they didn’t.
How are mentors matched to companies?
Mentors and teams will self-select to work together. You may meet all of them if you wish, but we will start you with the ones we think best match in terms of experience, situation and needs. If you want to meet all of the teams, you are formally introduced to them in the first few weeks of the program using a method akin to speed dating – you have a few minutes with a selection of teams to learn about each other.
It’s also possible that you won’t want to mentor any of the companies, because you don’t feel a “fit”, or you feel your expertise might be better matched with the next batch, and that’s ok. It’s also possible that none of the teams want to work with you. That’s ok too. An alternative is that sometimes your expertise might be best showcased through our speaker series or Founder Firesides. You have total control over the depth and intensity of the mentoring relationship – you’re volunteering your time, after all – but we ask that early on you clarify your commitment of availability and intention with the team(s) you select, and stick to it.