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The primary focus of the program is to assist student entrepreneurs in creating viable business ventures and to enhance the experience of student entrepreneurs in learning how to start an entrepreneurial business venture. The objective is to give students the knowledge and tools necessary for success as an entrepreneur. In addition, the service is intended to help create successful companies started by Duke students or alumni. The program also allows us to connect students with alumni in a meaningful mentoring activity. The program provides no investment capital to the ventures, rather focusing on helping move the venture toward securing this funding themselves. The EntreMentoring program is a joint program of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) and the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization (CERC) at Duke University, along with the DUhatch student business incubator.
The EntreMentoring program is an initiative created to support innovation and venture creation by matching student entrepreneurs with volunteer mentors in order to enhance the likelihood of business success. These mentors have sufficient business experience and domain expertise to actively assist the student in advancing this business plan in order to secure funding for launching the venture.
A wide range of student businesses may be supported by the program, from those still refining their ideas up to companies ready to solicit investors. While the goal of the program is primarily to enhance the educational experience of the student entrepreneur, the focus of the relationship will be on working to formulate a business plan and investor pitch that can be used to secure funding for the venture. The completion of the business plan and investor pitch is the primary deliverable and objective of the mentoring process. The formal mentoring relationship will typically cease upon completion of the plan and investor pitch.
The relationship between the mentor and student is completely voluntary, either may terminate the relationship at any point in the process. The mentors serve without any compensation during the mentoring process, which ensures that the student receives impartial and unbiased guidance and advice from the mentor. In fact, mentors are not allowed to invest in the ventures they are actively mentoring. The integrity of the mentoring process is critical, the Mentor Bill of Rights and the Entrepreneur Bill of Rights govern the relationship and interactions within the program (see Appendix). Upon completion of the mentoring process, mentors and students are free to enter into a mutually beneficial relationship that may include equity based compensation or investment in the student venture.
Student Eligibility for the EntreMentoring Program
Any Duke student working on a recognized entrepreneurial business venture is eligible. This includes all undergraduate, graduate and professional students. Ventures may be for profit or not for profit (social) ventures. In order to assure that entrepreneurs have demonstrated sufficient commitment and detail in conceiving the venture, an application must be submitted via the Duke Student Ventures program or the Fuqua Program in Entrepreneurship. The EntreMentoring program makes no attempt to evaluate the viability of the business concept, only the degree of commitment by the student to advance the concept and to engage actively in a mentoring relationship.
Identifying and Engaging Mentors
One of the main components of the EntreMentoring program is the active recruitment and engagement of experienced, motivated mentors. Much of the recruiting of mentors will come from the initial EntreMentoring mentors using their network and connections to attract talented and committed mentors. We seek to build a community of mentors that will grow as the program expands. While many of the mentors will be proximate to the Duke campus, others will necessarily be located across the globe
The mentoring process will provide mentors with a simple but impactful way of connecting with Duke student entrepreneurs.
Key attributes of the process for the mentor:
- Flexible for the mentor - allows for engaging with the student at times that are convenient.
- Provides a defined process with clear expectations for both mentor and student (see Bill of Rights in the Appendix)
- Allows mentors to select from a range of student businesses in order to best match their experiences and interests
Key attributes of the process for the entrepreneur:
- Clear process for gathering required information and matching with a motivated and helpful mentor
- Provides structure to support and guide the mentor-student relationship, yet is flexible enough to allow for easy and open interactions
- A source of honest, open and unbiased discussion regarding business direction
Key attributes in a Mentor :
- Connection to Duke University (preferred, not required)
- Suitable educational background
- Strong professional background - experience in business or technology relevant to the student venture
- Good interpersonal and communication skills
- Contacts and connections in relevant industries
The authors wish to acknowledge the helpful documentation from MIT's Venture Mentoring Service (vms.mit.edu).