Iowa Startup Accelerator (ISA) has invested in 39 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.
Originally, ISA was designed as a 90-day program. In 2017, Iowa Startup Accelerator was changed to a year-round program. We now invest in 10-12 early-stage companies and will be accepting teams at different times throughout the year.
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.
What’s my 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.
- Tactical guidance, such as:
- Connections to other people “Why don’t you call X? Let me introduce you.”
- Pushing your team out of the building and into the marketplace, to aggressively validate assumptions. In the early weeks of the program, we (and you) will push them to make dozens of customer contacts each week. Those people you know, who might be prospective customers? Have your rolodex ready, so the teams can quickly get their concepts validated in the real world!
- 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?
There are two reasons:
- 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 we 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 work with any of the teams, 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.
What makes a great mentor?
- Quality of input – (most often comes from extensive domain expertise)
- Domain expertise & deep experience
- The Socratic approach – they don’t force an opinion onto a company. Ask thoughtful questions and let them get there on their own.
- Diving deep – A mentor that will dive deep with a company, get down and dirty with the product, the business, the customers, the financials can be the most helpful.
- Lead Mentor – a lead mentor is one that will spend time weekly with the company for the duration of the program.
- Makes introductions when appropriate. Introductions to the industry, and potential customers, can be the critical difference for an early stage startups’ success.
- Doesn’t ask for anything in return. A great mentor isn’t going to say “Sure, I’ll make that intro for you, but I want x% of the sale.” During the program, a mentor should be willing to spend time without expectation of any return.
- Connects with the founders on some level, whether it be personal, knows the business, etc. A mentor that doesn’t connect with either the business or the founders won’t be motivated to help the company.
- Gets involved day 1 of the program and stays involved until the end.
Help us be successful:
- Stay in touch and communicate with the accelerator staff! We only know as much as you tell us about your interest, your availability, and your ability.
- There are many reasons to be a mentor. Know what yours are and make sure they are the right reasons. Mentors in this community are not financially compensated throughout the program and should expect nothing in return. Mentors who keep this in mind always end up getting the most out of the program.
- Remember that much of what you’ll be exposed to is highly confidential, sometimes including the company’s participation in the program. Please do not discuss the company outside the walls without the company’s permission.