The goal of the Mentor Smart program is to provide a productive and supportive environment for a one-year mentoring experience for mentors and mentees alike.
Each step of the program is designed to facilitate that experience:
September for Fall cohorts
March for Spring cohorts
Applications are accepted for one month (September for Fall cohorts and March for Spring cohorts).
The application form has three primary functions:
- Document the capabilities, needs and wants of potential mentors and mentees, including:
- Elevator pitch for mentee's startup
- Functional and domain expertise
- Industry experience
- Experience as a mentor and/or in startups
- Level of commitment
- Inform applicants about program requirements and guidelines, including:
- MITEF Cambridge membership
- Ability to meet locally
- Date of the mandatory Kickoff event
Submitting an application starts a process that informs committee members that a new candidate has applied and needs to be vetted, as well as providing the applicant with regular updates through the Kickoff.
September through early October for Fall cohorts
March through early April for Spring cohorts
Every applicant is vetted by a member of the steering committee via an interview, usually performed via telephone.
The purpose of the interview is primarily to ensure that there is a good fit between the expectations of the applicant and the program. We are looking for people who are excited about participating in the program, understand the constraints and commitment required, and fit with various criteria.
Vetting is essential as a poor fit in any of these dimensions typically leads to the mentoring relationship working poorly, wasting a lot of people's time and energy.
Early to mid-October for Fall cohorts
early to mid-April for Spring cohorts
We typically accept about two dozen mentees. Each mentee is assigned two mentors. We do our best to match the wants and needs of the mentees with those of the mentors, although there is rarely a complete set of perfect matches among a given cohort.
Factors taken into account include:
- Stage of startup development (concept, pre-startup, startup, emerging)
- Experience requested by the mentee vs domain and functional experience of the mentor
- Industry of the mentee vs experience of the mentor
Once the matches have been completed, the elevator pitch for each mentee is sent to each mentor. We ask that the mentor inform us if there is potential for a conflict of interest.
If there is a conflict, then we revisit the matches to accommodate a new match or recruit a new mentor.
Once all conflicts of interest have been resolved, we introduce the final teams to each other via email. Mentees are encouraged to reach out to their mentors (as mentees are expected to drive the process, it's important that they get the relationship started on the right foot) and set up an initial meeting at the Kickoff event.
Last week of October for Fall cohorts
Last week of April for Spring cohorts
The Kickoff is a mandatory evening program about a month after applications close. We open the meeting with a half-hour overview of the program, then break out into separate sessions for the mentors and mentees.
The goal of the breakout sessions is to answer questions specific to each group and give participants a chance to meet their colleagues. Typically, we ask the mentees to deliver a one-minute elevator pitch to introduce themselves. Mentors are asked to say a bit about their experience and expectations.
The breakout sessions typically last about 45 minutes, after which the focus shifts to team meetings. Teams usually meet for another 45 - 60 minutes, though some have stayed much longer.
Mentors and mentees are encouraged to submit an update and rating of their first meeting immediately after the event. These data help us to identify any problems early in the process, leading to a better experience for the teams.
November through October for Fall cohorts
May through April for Spring cohorts
At the Kickoff, the mentors and mentees will ideally meet their liaisons as well as each other. A liaison is a Mentor Smart committee member who has been assigned to a given team.
The liaison reviews reports and ratings from the participants and intervenes if there are any problems or challenges reported by either the mentors, the mentees or both.
In addition, the liaisons are notified if no reports are forthcoming for several weeks. This lack may be due to technical issues that can be resolved quickly or to a lack of commitment on the part of one or more participants, so following up is important.
Best practice in mentoring is to meet on a biweekly basis throughout a year. This frequency is important as it helps build the relationship and trust that are essential to a strong mentoring experience. Thus, we send reminders to the participants as follows:
The reporting forms
The primary reporting forms are designed to be quick to complete.
From mentees, we ask for the date and attendees for the meeting, a short summary of the meeting and the top three action items. We encourage them to also list their program goals. In addition, we ask for their feedback on their interaction with the mentors and whether they need to speak with their liaison.
From mentors, we ask for feedback on their perception of their mentee, as well as their goals for the program.
On request from our past participants, we have added another dimension to the reporting: Both mentors and mentees have the option of giving a "star" rating of their teammates after they submit the primary form. They are given five categories, each to be rated from 1 to 5 stars. This form has proven to be quite popular and helpful in assessing the quality of mentoring relationships.
Mentees receive email reminders (with a link) to submit a meeting report on a biweekly basis. If no report is submitted, a week later they receive another reminder. After another week, another reminder is sent. Finally, if no report is submitted within 3 days, the liaison is notified. I.e., mentees who appear inactive for more than a month will get attention.
While this may seem like a lot of emails, mentees and mentors are very busy people and it is all too easy for a month and then two months to go by without meetings, really damaging the benefits of a year-long interaction.
Once a mentee submits a report, the cycle starts again with a reminder for the next meeting two weeks later.
Mentors receive email reminders (with a link) to submit an update on their mentees on a monthly basis. If no report is submitted, two weeks later, they receive another reminder. After another two weeks, another reminder is sent. Finally, if no report is submitted within 3 days, the liaison is notified. Note that mentors who appear inactive will not trigger a response for two months. While this is a long interval, we try to minimize email to mentors.
The email system follows each cohort for a full year, requesting feedback on the program at the end. Mentors and mentees are of course welcome to continue their relationship as long as it continues to be productive.
Mentors are encouraged to return for new mentees when they have time available. In the most recent cohort, 50% of mentors had participated in at least one other cohort and at least a quarter had been in two or more cohorts.
Mentees who have lost a mentor due to time constraints or other reasons, or who have pivoted and need new mentors are also encouraged to reapply.
We have even had mentors return as mentees and mentees as mentors. It's a great community and we'd love to have you be part of it.