Mentoring Week with Andre Richards

What is your favourite aspect of mentoring young entrepreneurs?

There are so many talented founders with amazing ideas, building incredible companies. My favourite part is honestly listening to these early ideas and helping them think big and chart a course to success. I get excited listening to all potential and it really makes me smile when I’m able to pass on a helpful piece of knowledge that gets them that big “Aha” moment!

If a student wanted to start a business, what is one piece of advice you would share with them?

Talk about it. Don’t hold it in. If it’s something you’re serious about pursuing, sit down, really think about the business model, not just the product or idea, think critically about how this is going to turn into a long-term, sustainable business. Then, take that idea to friends, family, colleagues and start getting some honest feedback. Don’t get discouraged if things need to change because they always do, especially over time. So try to also have a little fun while you’re doing it.

How do you suggest going about finding a mentor?

There are tons of local groups and communities you can start participating in. Find local startup events at the University or publicly hosted at different times of the year. Oftentimes it can take a while before you find the “right” mentor, but in the meantime, there’s nothing stopping you from connecting with experienced individuals at these events with years of the collective experience and getting their advice. If there’s someone you’re interested in, ask to connect for a 15-minute call and simply come prepared with honest questions that they can help with. As time goes on, you’ll have a much better idea of what you as a founder really need in a mentor. Look for someone that’s been where you have before, or in a similar space, and make sure to come prepared. As an alternative, if you’re part of an accelerator program or group, peer-mentorship is a good way to navigate, share tips and build key connections together as well.

Do you have any advice on Networking?

When it comes to networking, I try to think of it more as a learning experience. Instead of thinking of what you can get out of it, take a genuine interest in those around you, their stories and their experiences. Very often you’ll find a more natural conversation leads to you learning something new or unexpectedly discovering ways in which there’s a mutual benefit for both individuals. Networking is a great way to also get comfortable discussing your business idea, answering hard questions and telling your story. Use that opportunity to practice, and pay special attention to the feedback as it comes.

*This feature was published in honour of Mentoring Week, 2021.

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