Jennifer Byrne on the power of mentoring
Jennifer is Co-founder and President of Quesnay Inc. based in New York. She’s led innovation efforts and transformations in both top, global companies and startups, and is an investor, entrepreneur, a speaker and author, and a mentor on several platforms, including Rise FinTech Fridays.
I launched Quesnay when I became frustrated by how little large companies collaborated with smaller ones on technology innovation. We first launched our female founders innovation competition in 2017, focusing on FinTech, InsurTech and, in 2020, mobility, but things really took off when we started augmenting mentorship and training, pivoting into an accelerator. The appetite for advice for female founders was really clear. Since then, we’ve hosted a variety of competitions, accelerators and events, and have partnered with Rise, created by Barclays on a number of female founder FinTech events in New York, and on the London FinTech Summit at Rise.
Mentoring means different things to different people and is a big and complex area. Founders will never learn everything in a single programme – advice, practical skills and counselling are acquired at different stages of your journey. It’s not an ability or set of you pick and run with out of the blocks, and you won’t have a fully formed network from day one.
Creative mentoring has many formats. It’s not always a 1:1 conversation. There’s team mentoring as well as modular learning events. There’s a lot to learn, whether it’s If there’s one bit of advice I’d give new founders, it’s to keep asking lots of questions and to build relationships with those who have gone before.
Although the particular learnings of entrepreneurs are varied, their needs are generally around fundraising and business development.
Funding is one of the most challenging areas for any entrepreneur but especially female founders, whose investment levels (already low compared to male counterparts) are now pitiful due to the impact of COVID-19. Investments in women-led startups have plummeted by 27% (according to Crunchbase), down to just 2.2% of total venture capital raised.
Times might be tough but I would still caution against jumping at immediate offers of capital injection. Sometimes you need to walk away from deals, and seek out better funding sources from smart, open-minded investors who are truly interested in your proposition. Start by learning how to build your funding strategy, develop the type of KPIs that VCs will expect to see, and always consider your options as they come in.
Building business development skills is of course key for many founders (in particular technical founders), who quickly realise how much there is to learn. How do I network with different types of leaders across various lines of business? What marketing assets do I need and what material should I put in front of potential investors? Should I outsource my processes without losing control of my customer journeys? How do I optimise my sales pipeline? Do I really understand what corporates want and how they buy?
These are just a few of the questions mentees have, in addition to many technology, finance and legal basics.
Mentoring isn’t a competitive past time. I’ve found that collaborating with other organisations and mentor networks is important. It’s not something that’s often spoken about, but working with other teams and programmes can really benefit mentees as they gain a wider range of perspectives and it means they meet a wide set of experts and fellow entrepreneurs. The same is true of investors.
The three types of mentor
There are different models of mentorship. While it’s difficult to pigeon-hole people, I find the mentors I’ve worked with often fall into one of three categories:
- Counsellor – a sounding board who provides feedback and questions for the entrepreneur to reflect on
- Consultant – an industry expert who shares knowledge, assists with pitch deck preparation and offers business development support
- Cheerleader – someone who helps the entrepreneur stay enthusiastic about their purpose and impact
Cheerleaders are just as important as counsellors and consultants. They remind founders of their achievements, their big milestones and the hurdles they've overcome.
A diverse mix of male and female mentors work best so be sure to seek out male allies of you and your business too.
While much is made of mentoring the leaders of startups and scaleups, I also spend time with large corporations. These large organisations value the creativity and exposure it brings to employees not only as a tool to foster talent but also as a way of developing innovative products. Executives are often eager to hear what mentees are learning and sometimes even being reverse-mentored by them. I think that’s a great sign because to make bring a fairer world for women in business, it’s got to happen both from the bottom up and the top down.
- The business world needs a new mentoring mindset as a way to train the next generation of women
- I challenge the VC world to be more open to female investors and female tech. Will VCs start asking the same questions of female founders as they do of male ones? Ask how they will win, not just how they will mitigate risk
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Visit https://www.quesnays.com/ for more information on what my company does.
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