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What are the characteristics of a good mentor?

RIT’s VMS functions best with a pool of mentors with deep industry, investment, or entrepreneurship experience.  For example, corporate executives and serial founding entrepreneurs with experience in key disciplines such as finance, marketing, engineering, sustainability and law.

Mentors come from a mix of industries and provide assistance with a broad range of business activity, including product development, marketing, building industry alliances, intellectual property law, finance, human resources, and founders issues.

Additional characteristics are:

  • Respected by colleagues; a role model
  • Has significant experience and domain expertise
  • Enthusiasm for the program; desire to “give back”
  • Will share of their knowledge and guidance freely
  • Socratic approach; they don’t force an opinion onto a company.  They ask thoughtful questions and let them get there on their own.
  • Time to participate
  • High credibility; will work with the companies pro bono, without expectation of reward or compensation
  • Ability to advise and coach in an unbiased manner
  • Comfortable with team mentoring

What is the profile of the ventures being mentored?

The typical profile of those accepted into the service is a first-time entrepreneur with potentially a small team who has reached a point of maturation with a developed idea.  Many entrepreneurs are experienced in corporate management but have not yet started a company.  Due to the significant experience levels of mentors, the service is open to later stage entrepreneurs with growth, expansion and employee issues as well as liquidity challenges.

How does the mentoring process work?

VMS strives for mentoring to be done in teams of at least two and no more than five mentors per start up.  Once a mentor has been accepted and enrolled, VMS will arrange for a short training session.  Mentors will be introduced to a list of ventures needing assistance.  Mentors will select the companies they wish to work with and notify VMS. 

When a team is assembled, the entrepreneur will request a first mentoring session.  The initial meeting may be with one mentor or with multiple mentors, depending upon the current status of the venture, the needs, and mentor availability.  Meeting frequency is up to the venture but averages once a month initially, and further apart at later stages.  Mentoring content is often practical, operationally-oriented, focused on helping the venture set and get through critical short-term milestones.

Every venture is unique in its status, needs, trajectory and priorities.  There is no single set process; each mentoring process is necessarily custom crafted.  There is an ebb and flow to session activity.  There may be times with multiple intensive sessions over a short time span to help crystallize strategy and plans.  There will also be times when meetings are less frequent as the venture executes those plans.

How are mentor matches arranged?

The formation of a relationship between a mentor and entrepreneur is purely voluntary. The mentors assign themselves depending on their interests or areas of expertise.  Though RIT VMS assists matching appropriate mentors and entrepreneurs, the decision to form a relationship remains with the prospective mentor and entrepreneur.  On occasion, RIT VMS may not have the appropriate resources and may have to decline a request for assistance.

Are there rules mentors must follow?

Mentors agree to minimum participation requirements.  Additionally, to maintain an environment of trust with entrepreneurs, mentors sign conflict of interest forms relating to investment and solicitation of services.  Should those relationships form over the course of mentoring, the mentor would recuse him/herself from the mentoring relationship.

How much time is involved?

Mentors are asked to serve a minimum 1-year term. We expect the time commitment for mentors will be 1-5 hours a month, on average per venture. However, the relationship between entrepreneurs and mentors is voluntary and may last as long as it is beneficial to both parties.  The nature of the mentoring and the composition of the mentoring teams may change over time as the needs of the venture change.  There may also be breaks in time where a venture needs less assistance, and returns to the service at a later date.

 In addition, mentors may be invited to attend occasional events where they can network with each other, provide updates on the ventures they're coaching, volunteer for new assignments and occasionally hear guest speakers on topics related to aiding startups.

What are the potential benefits of involvement for volunteer mentors?

  • Opportunity to give back
  • Ability to select ventures of interest
  • Ability to set their own schedule
  • Opportunities for additional activities within VMS
  • Collegiality and opportunities to network
  • Experience is fun, exciting and rewarding

How do I apply?

Contact the VMS Coordinator, Jane Tibbitts via e-mail at or by phone at 585-475-7953.