“Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

About this Guide:

Finding empirical evidence on the value of mentorship programs is difficult. In part, this is due to a lack of theoretical frameworks for entrepreneurial mentoring – a lack of an understanding from which we can develop a strategy, measure results, and identify meaning from mentorship activities.

Compounding the relative lack of qualitative data on the value of mentoring is an ongoing debate among psychologists as to whether entrepreneurism is an innate talent or can be learned. Some think that people either have an entrepreneurial bent or they don’t and that resources spent on mentoring to foster creativity and corporate innovation are better spent elsewhere.

The truth is that theoretical perspectives on mentoring relationships are constantly changing due to workforce demographics, increased diversity, and shifting work-life demands, which alter employees’ needs, expectations, and work relationships. Our research, available data, and case studies show, however, that even in the absence of established frameworks or the consensus of psychologists, mentorship in many forms benefits both mentors and mentees. We also argue that while not everyone possesses the drive or the inclination to become an entrepreneur, the skills required to do so can be learned.

A mentor can be a strong presence during times of both stability and transition, and industry leaders are using mentoring to gain competitive advantage. A Stanford University executive coaching survey found that 80 percent of CEOs received some form of mentorship and in a Sage study, 93 percent of startups stated that mentorship is integral to success. According to a study from the American Society for Training and Development, 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies provide mentorship opportunities.

And it’s not just tech companies who have stopped debating the merits of and started investing in mentorship programs. Consider the following match-ups: Eric Schmidt mentored Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin; Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was mentored by Steve Jobs; and Steve Jobs was mentored by Mike Markkula, an early investor and executive at Apple.

The Data Behind Mentorship

Stanford Engineering’s Edmund L. Andrews describes a study by Charles Eesley and Yanbo Wang (Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing) consisting of a randomized four-year trial that tracked the career paths of Stanford students working on a new business concept as part of a class on entrepreneurship.

Three-quarters of the students had hopes of starting their own companies. Most had a high tolerance for risk and around 31 percent said they had a parent who had been an entrepreneur. Student teams were randomly paired up with mentors, and just over 60 percent of the teams received mentors who had started their own companies.

Two years after graduation, approximately 34 percent of the students had started or joined a new company. Mentors who had been entrepreneurs were most effective at spurring students to pursue entrepreneurial careers: 37 percent of the students who had entrepreneur-mentors started or joined new companies compared to 28 percent of those whose mentors were not entrepreneurs. Among students who had no intention of starting a company, having an entrepreneur for a mentor increased the likelihood that they would start a company from 6 to 16 percent.

It’s true in this study, however, that the parental effect was strong and overwhelmed the mentor effect. According to Eesley and Wang, people who come from entrepreneurial families have benefited from family members acting as mentors, whereas people who do not come from entrepreneurial families are more likely to be concerned with failure. Around 26 percent of studied students that came from an entrepreneurial family eventually became entrepreneurs themselves, even though they had no initial plans to do so. While both types of people can benefit from a mentor, this study does find that people who have never been exposed to entrepreneurship could benefit from the encouragement, skills, and confidence that come from having a mentor.

The Mowgli Foundation is a not-for-profit mentoring organization for the Middle East and Africa that is premised on the notion that mentoring is a highly effective way to improve personal growth and leadership. Founder Tony Bury credits his own business success to the mentors who encouraged his development, and he wanted others to benefit in the same way through the Foundation. Bury spent over 40 years in the Middle East and North Africa region, and he believes that developing leaders and supporting entrepreneurship ecosystems could be a solution to the region’s economic challenges, such as unemployment and poverty.

The Foundation has monitored its mentoring efforts since its inception in 2008. The results shown in the table, below, confirm that mentoring is an effective way to encourage growth and advancement.

Source: Mowgli Mentoring, 2015

These findings are a valuable source for developing mentorship theory.

In this series of articles on entrepreneurial mentorship, we explain why most Fortune 500 companies are incorporating mentoring as a valuable tool in their talent development, we present critical analyses of the concept, and we detail examples of existing mentorship programs. We also parse the latest data and information on mentoring to provide an overview for those who want to use mentoring to maximize their development and advancement efforts.