Entrepreneurial Mentoring is Mutual Learning

Entrepreneurial mentoring is not as easy as some may think. Entrepreneurs have an idea, and they are eager to convert it into a growing business. Mentors have startup experiences, and they are enthusiastic about sharing their experiences with emerging entrepreneurs. In the middle of this relationship, dangers lurk. Some risks include:

entrepreneurial mentoring
  • More telling than listening
  • More directing than coaching
  • More ignoring than absorbing
  • More confusion than clarity
  • Hearing what you want to hear rather than what you need to hear

Even with these challenges, mentoring entrepreneurs is one of the critical components of a successful startup accelerator program. Matching good mentors with good entrepreneurs makes a positive difference. Some of the best startup mentors are those with the real stories and authentic ups-and-downs of starting a business. Finding the right mentors with the right experiences matters to new entrepreneurs.

Mentoring is Mutual Learning

A key to productive entrepreneurial mentoring is a mindset of mutual learning. A good entrepreneur-mentor relationship is one in which both learn and grow through a give-and-give relationship. In a research study, entrepreneurial mentoring is explored as a learning process (St-Jean & Audet, 2009). Entrepreneurs learn by doing the work “in the trenches” and through “trial and error.” Both elements are vital for entrepreneurs. By doing the work, they create their own experiences from which to learn and grow from. Mentoring adds to the learning pursuit.

The research classifies entrepreneurial learning in the following knowing ways:

  • Know why – attitudes, values, motivations
  • Know how – vocational skills
  • Know who – social skills
  • Know when – experience and intuition
  • Know what – encyclopedic knowledge

This model is an excellent one to think through when launching a new venture. It also can serve as a way to think about how to engage a mentor, knowing where the gaps are and beginning to fill them through a supportive relationship.

On the other side of the round table is the mentor. The above knowing model serves the mentor, too. A mentor can think about it in terms of their strengths and weaknesses, identifying where they can best serve an entrepreneur. It also can help to balance what the entrepreneur is sharing and what the mentor can give. The model calls on mentors to guide and challenge entrepreneurs to discover the answers. Through the relationship, mentors can add to their experiences and insights to share with entrepreneurs.

Mentoring is often described as opening doors, coaching, and having accountability in a trusted relationship. These activities align with the knowing model. Also, what a mentor can learn through the process is essential. I believe a learning mindset changes the mentor’s perspective from a fundamentally directive one to an engaging, challenging, and growth one.

The Mutual Self-Efficacy of Mentoring

As the mentioned research unfolds, two themes apply to the discussion here. First, cognitive knowledge is gained in a good mentoring relationship. Growth in understanding management skills or reading financial statements are areas in which entrepreneurs learn from mentors with specific experiences. Where entrepreneurs gain is in areas of vision, leadership, and functional insights.

Another area is in affective learning. Affective learning relates to interests, attitudes, and motivations. In many ways, affective learning is how to learn. Through a mentoring relationship, an entrepreneur learns more about themselves. Self-awareness is a learning practice, and with good affective learning, the entrepreneur and mentor should learn more about themselves and create realizations that assist in being successful in navigating the workplace and marketplace. Creating a good business model requires good mental models. When an entrepreneur and mentor have a mutual learning mindset, sharper critical thinking skills emerge. Combine self-awareness and critical thinking, and the entrepreneur has a new superpower for their venture. Likewise, the mentor becomes a better person and mentor through the same process.

The Empowering Nature of Mutual Mentoring

Knowing why, how, who, when, and what is a helpful approach for mentors and entrepreneurs. With a mutual learning mindset, the relationship is strengthened – enhancing business, leadership, and life skills, as well as insights. Creating a good company is vital, just as developing good citizenship and leadership skills are. Mentors and entrepreneurs can build a relationship that benefits both beyond what is initially imaginable. Let’s create the connections to launch good businesses with people who do good works for the company and in the relationships they develop.

Join the Santa Fe Innovates mentoring community! Let’s create a mutual model to initiate success and embrace the joy of learning and growth.


St-Jean, E., & Audet, J. (2009). The role of mentoring in the learning development of the novice entrepreneur. International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal, 8(1), 119–140.

Jon Mertz

About Jon Mertz

Jon is a 25-year tech and marketing executive. He led brand development, product management, marketing, and sales channel efforts for startup and enterprise companies.

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