Mentors make the difference
In 2006, Ella Nunes started developing skin care products in the kitchen of a tiny apartment in downtown Toronto. She worked part time in a health food store while attending school and had fallen in love with herbal medicine and aromatherapy.
“I took a number of courses with practicing herbalists. Then I began experimenting with herbs and essential oils at home and created skin care products that I couldn’t find anywhere else. The business grew from there.”
Today Ella’s Botanicals are sold in stores across Canada and will soon be available as far away as Taiwan. But success didn’t come easily.
“Having a very small budget was a huge issue. As was being a one-woman show and wearing so many hats — making, selling, and delivering products, as well as collecting money. I felt like I was doing a million jobs,” she says.
To help build her business, Ms. Nunes turned to the Canadian Youth Business Foundation (CYBF) where, in addition to a startup loan, she was matched with a mentor.
Having a mentor in the health and wellness sector provided a sounding board and an opportunity to learn from someone who understood the issues of logistics, pricing, packaging, and processes — information critical to starting and growing a retail business, she says.
Because mentoring was an important factor in her success, Ms. Nunes, 38, is paying it forward. She now volunteers as a CYBF mentor and is helping a young entrepreneur realize her dreams.
“Being an entrepreneur is a very stressful and brave thing to do and it can take an emotional toll. My role as a mentor is to be supportive, to help with problem solving, and to be there to help address the next challenge,” she says. “I enjoy sharing my experiences and watching my mentee’s business take on a life of its own.”
Mentoring is not just about helping a business to succeed. It’s also about ensuring the entrepreneur is well supported, says Linda Morana, CYBF Mentor in Residence, and understands the changes in the ways people are communicating.
Many young entrepreneurs and mentors are engaging in peer-to-peer mentoring, sharing knowledge through online communities and social media. Reverse mentoring is also growing in popularity as mentors in their 40s or 50s learn about social media, marketing trends and communicating with Gen-Y from their 20- and 30-something mentees.
This blurring of roles is being spurred by resources and tools that foster these kinds of relationships. CYBF’s MoMENTum, Ment2B, and Entrepeer are just a few.
MoMENTum is a stand-alone, six-month mentoring program provided at minimal cost to qualified applicants. “This is something that entrepreneurs who do not require funding have been asking for – an opportunity to work one-on-one with an experienced business mentor that has been matched to their specific needs,” says Ms. Morana.
Entrepreneurs that receive funding support through CYBF commit to a two-year mentoring experience. Ment2B is an interactive, online orientation program that helps mentor and mentee to jointly develop guidelines and expectations for the relationship. Ment2B outlines the role of each person and helps the entrepreneur establish a baseline and goals to help the mentor move them forward.
Entrepeer is a three-part program that includes a LinkedIn forum where experts answer questions from entrepreneurs and mentors; an e-newsletter with advice, case studies and success stories; and face-to-face networking events for both mentors and mentees that are held across the country. Networking events offer learning opportunities from both perspectives, says Ms. Morana. Entrepreneurs welcome the business expertise provided by mentors, while mentors appreciate the innovative thinking and ideas that come from an entrepreneurial perspective.
Mentors also have the support of the CYBF Mentor in Residence and Mentoring Managers in most provinces.
Mentoring relationships are richly rewarding, not only for entrepreneurs, but for the mentors who enjoy giving back. “Some find it a great way to live vicariously, others gain renewed enthusiasm and a real sense of satisfaction,” says Ms. Morana. “And along with the personal rewards comes the satisfaction of knowing that being a mentor is contributing to the success of entrepreneurs across Canada, and helping to build our economy and our communities.”