Mentors Can Save Time and Effort
Inventors often bring decades of experience to a new venture in their respective areas of medicine, engineering, and biochemistry, just to name a few. As founders of spinout ventures, some inventors hope to become leaders of their ventures, while some are looking for experienced management to lead and are comfortable with active technical support roles.
There are many people willing to give advice to new entrepreneurs. The challenge in forming a successful new venture is finding the right advice. Here are a few guidelines:
Carefully select advisors from trusted people, or people who are recommended
Try the mentor out. Don't promise money, stock, or equity up front.
Don't jump directly to setting up a board of directors.
Set the expectations with mentors before they start.
Mentors Based on Your Needs
The UIVentures program pairs participants with mentors based on needs. There are several types of mentors, which are listed below. If interested in more information or becoming involved, please contact UIVentures.
After deciding to commercialize through a new venture rather than licensing, it's time to refine ideas by discussing them with experienced business people. The University of Iowa Research Foundation (UIRF) can help with these initial discussions, and may recommend an Executive Mentor to work with the venture one-on-one. These mentors are experienced business people who are interested in volunteering their time to help develop new ventures. They often have domain experience, have been involved in startups and have senior management experience.
Executive Mentors are willing to spend time educating and advising first time entrepreneurs. They will take the time needed to understand a venture’s specific intellectual property (IP), market, and business needs in order to jump start the project. Mentors may develop into long term advisors, and interim or even permanent management.
UIVentures is developing a group of Executive Mentors, and can make introductions. The program can also interview a perspective mentor and initiate confidentiality agreements.
Before even starting a company, gather a team of advisors (not the Board). Advisors are used as needed for outside guidance and perspective on a long-term basis. They advise for free because they are interested in venture success. The following advisors are recommended:
Legal - Many attorneys will donate some time to set you on the right path in hopes that you will retain them later. Use their time wisely.
Technical/Scientific - The technical advisor should be someone who understands the technology but is not directly related to the company.
Business/Marketing/Industrial - As a researcher or academic, this will probably be the weakest area, so seek out one or more experienced business advisors.
Scientific Advisor - To be credible to the business world, have an outside scientific advisor to "validate" the need and potential of a discovery (even if someone on the team is the leading expert in the area). Choose one; do not overload the advisory group with science. Do not just choose a “big name” who will not be available when needed.
A new venture team will need advice in management, marketing, sales, funding, industry and more. Even if there is an MBA on the management team, outside perspective and validation is helpful to avoid costly mistakes. Having several business advisors with varied experience is recommended. Remember, these are people to call on occasionally to get advice, review proposals, make introductions, etc. They do not LEAD, they advise when asked!
As a venture grows, the management team must grow with it. Whether a team member is interim or permanent, early stage or growth stage, brought in from outside, or "promoted" from a mentor or advisor, seek advice from several trusted sources before making a decision. Implement an organized review process, and vet future partners carefully.