Mentorship was on the menu at Sitti in downtown Raleigh on January 26, where about 30 NC State students and 35 Triangle area entrepreneurs met for an informal networking event.
It was the first of four gatherings for this spring’s student participants in the NC State Entrepreneurship Clinic and area entrepreneurs who have signed on to be their mentors.
“The mentor network is an integral part of the Entrepreneurship Clinic experience,” said Lewis Sheats, clinic director.
Sheats stresses the term ‘network’ because the students are being embedded in a network of mentors who will be advising and counseling them through their entrepreneurial journey this semester. That network includes a diverse mix of men and women with expertise in fields ranging from agriculture to biosciences, finance, hospitality, investment, management, technology and more, working in a wide range of roles in local, national and global organizations.
The first two mentor/student gatherings provide an opportunity for the students to learn about a number of the mentors – not quite a speed dating session but something similar.
“These networking events provide a setting where the students can talk with and learn about the areas of expertise and experiences of those in the mentor network,” Sheats said.
By the end of the second session, the students select the mentors that they believe are the best match for their entrepreneurial learning and development. They will then have two additional sessions with their selected mentors to discuss topics specific to their startup activities.
Ryan Stevens, a senior in industrial engineering at NC State, participated in the mentor networking program in the fall 2016 semester, and said, “The mentor program has been incredibly valuable for me. Through one semester, I have been able to establish relationships among mentors who have done what I want to do: run a business and take an idea from concept to reality.”
Stevens said he places a high value on learning through real time conversations with a mentor who has had real world experience. “The mentors and mentees create a vibrant network that anyone can leverage, bringing experience and know-how together with passion and dreams. I am very thankful for all the people that help make the mentor program possible and I will continue to build upon the relationships that I have made,” he said.
Cortney Cox, a senior in business administration in the entrepreneurship concentration and a mentor program participant, says it is “unlike any other program. Entrepreneurship is a very unique subject in itself. Teaching it solely in a classroom setting would be inadequate.”
By providing students the opportunity to meet with established entrepreneurs in the area, the program “give us the opportunity to learn from their successes as well as their failures. The mentors also give us personal guidance and advice on our own ventures,” she said.
The mentor network gatherings enable the students to jump-start their relationship building by providing an environment in which they can develop networking skills that are vital in the business environment, Sheats said. “The mentor’s role is to advise, serve as a sounding board, and help the students make connections. But this is a long-term program, with the intent being that the relationship will last beyond the students’ time at NC State.”
Cox, who is currently launching her own product, is already benefiting from the program. “The assistance I have received from my mentors, as well as others in the program, has been extremely valuable. They have connected me with manufacturers, helped me improve my presentation skills for pitching to investors, reviewed and critiqued my business plan and financial statements, and most importantly, extended their network to me. The lifelong relationships and support that we are able to create with people who are experienced, knowledgeable and successful is what makes this program exceptional.”
Students participating in the NC State Entrepreneurship Clinic’s Mentor Program this semester represented about six different majors across campus and SKEMA, all with an interest in entrepreneurship.
Helping Students Set their Own Path
Amanda Cain, a senior at Poole College majoring in business administration with an entrepreneurship concentration, said the mentor program has been valuable to her as she prepares for her future career as an orthodontist.
“The mentorship program has become probably one of the most integral parts of my college career, both undergraduate and now going into my future doctoral degree. This program put me in a place where I was lucky enough to be surrounded by people who believed in the ideology of setting your own path and seizing opportunities that sometimes may seem a bit intimidating,” Cain said.
“It’s not easy to mold yourself into an entrepreneur or to take on the task of converging two seemingly separate worlds like I’m currently doing – with medicine and business – by pursuing my passion of becoming an orthodontist. However, the mentorship program puts you in a room full of people who help you take your ambition and dreams and manifest them into a reality. Because of the relationships that I have made in this program, I will be able to not only be a doctor, but a leader who has the knowledge and zeal to reach outside of my profession to make an impact on a broader scale of individuals,” she said.
“I’m looking forward to the day that I may come back as a doctor and entrepreneur to mentor other students with the same ambition that I’ve felt from both mentors and mentees alike in this program,” Cain said.
Fast Track Learning
“The mentor program has allowed me to fast track my learning process and also build an extremely powerful network that will last for a long time,” said Gabriel Orta, a business administration major with a concentration in entrepreneurship and an Entrepreneurship Clinic clinician.
“As an international student and aspiring entrepreneur, I came to the U.S. from Venezuela, without any connections. Through NC State’s entrepreneurship mentor program, I was able to interact and form many meaningful relationships with some of the most influential business leaders in the area. To be able to grab a coffee and meet regularly with the mentors has allowed me to gain insight on how to build and scale impactful high-growth businesses.”
The NC State Entrepreneurship Clinic was recently named an exemplary entrepreneurship program by the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE).
Read more about the NC State Entrepreneurship Clinic Mentoring Program.
View this video to hear from Lewis Sheats and one of the current mentors, Catrina Vienrich, founder and creative lead for Vine Rich Events, commenting while at a recent Entrepreneurship Clinic Mentor Program gathering.