How do we get mentor/advisor support for a new incubator program?


Few of us, recent MBA grads, just launched an incubator for start ups in consumer goods and B2B business services. Already have a small team and a few qualified companies in the first class of the program.

We are looking to expand the network of mentors and advisors for the program.

We need ideas for reaching out and gaining interest and support from mentors and advisors in the industry. Any ideas?


asked Dec 11 '11 at 04:50
26 points
  • Why are you running an incubator? As recent MBA grads what could you possibly offer? I suspect you will have a hard time attracting the desirable startups - since one assumes you are just in this to get lucky by owning 5% to 10% of many startups, one of which might make it big. – Tim J 12 years ago
  • Tim, thanks for your response. You're amazingly oblivious and biased. The grads had started/exited 2 startups, CFOs, lead multi-million transactions before joining the program. The goal now is to get more advisors/mentors so we can cater to lot more startups rather than just a few. so if you don't have anything to offer, pls don't bother commenting. – Kpin 12 years ago
  • I am oblivious - that is becuase you provided no links or details as to what your incubator provides and why anyone would want to go through your program. The very fact that you are asking how to get mentors on a site like this is a good indication about the resources and support the mentees would receive. I don't mean to be offensive, but unless you can provide value then you are out of luck. – Tim J 12 years ago
  • Generally successful mentors and incubators have been around the block and have some experience and have resources they can share (such as their networks). Since you state you are all just out of an MBA program and you are seeking advisors through this website it appears you lack some significant parts of what a good incubator should provide. I asked the questions so that you could respond with real substance, not with "you're an idiot, shows how much you know, so there." I am all for new incubators and fresh faces, lord knows we need them - but you have to provide more information. – Tim J 12 years ago
  • I commented to get you to elaborate. Not to piss you off. If this is how you handle valid questions then perhaps you should reconsider... What's your hook/offering/value for the entrepreneur(s)? What is your offering for the mentors? What mentors do you have now? What are your programs like? What do you hope them to be in a few years? Who would you LIKE to be a mentor for your program? What don't you think is good in existing incubator programs? What makes yours different or better? etc. – Tim J 12 years ago
  • Aside from Tim's sweet talking response, could I just make a constructive (hopefully) comment that your pitch, in so far your post is all we know of you, could be tuned. When you say "recent MBA grads" I had the same image in my head as Tim did clearly in his response. Your description of what you've done commercially is far more inviting, I'd move the MBA down (not to belittle your achievements, but notice how the tone changes when you add what you've done rather than what you studied). – David Benson 12 years ago
  • The fact you are using your own money is really critical too. You're clearly an intelligent bunch, so to put your money where your mouth is says volumes about your intent and your belief in what you're doing. – David Benson 12 years ago
  • Why not just publish which incubator you run, what are your criteria and what kind of mentors exactly you are looking for? I assume you have some kind of focus and type of people you have in mind? Otherwise your question is pretty vague. Be specific. Be open. – Jkaljundi 12 years ago
  • Where are you located? – Henry The Hengineer 12 years ago
  • @kpin - did you launch / find mentors? – Jim Galley 11 years ago

4 Answers


Welcome to the site. You've met Tim, who'll generally answer you in what many people view to be an insensitive manner.

Unfortunately, he's invariably right, so I'll dance around in a slightly more subtle and verbose way, or you could just re-read his comment to save yourself some time, on the other hand.

I've 8 years experience founding and running my own company and completed an MBA before that. I can safely say in retrospect the MBA is worth SFA compared to the experience. So I'm hoping that you can add a good number of years of combined startup experience to your qualifications?

Ultimately, there are two things adding value in your model, the startups and the mentors. Your role, as I understand it, is getting these two together. The problem is that a number of companies and organizations already attempt this. I personally think that a goodly amount of research by both parties would perform this task and doubt the value of a dating site for startups.

The place that a lot of mentors fit in is at initial funding, the mentors are linked to the funds. Obviously, your problem is lack of track record (which is why you're asking).

I don't see any USP over anyone else in this market. I'd suggest picking a specific niche of startup type and specialising in that. Then later expand into other vertical domains, but keeping the same focus within each one, to give both parties the feeling you're expert in this role for that field.

answered Dec 11 '11 at 06:15
David Benson
2,166 points
  • Thanks. We were inspired by a highly succesful new healthcare tech incubator launched by a group of Harvard MBA students. We are team of 4, with a combined 12+ years of experience in the consumer and business services sectors, as consultants and also working for start ups ourselves . We are planning on investing in the first few start ups ourselves. We have developed a highly selective criteria. Just looking for mentors to advice us as we continue to gain experience and make progress with the program. – Kpin 12 years ago
  • @kpin - I am confused - you are looking for advisors for yourselves as the operators of the incubator or are you looking for advisors for the companies in your program? – Tim J 12 years ago
  • Both. Although we have experience as operators, we would benefit from having a larger team of advisers/mentors from the specific sectors we are focusing on. We are currently networking with industry professionals to bring on board advisers/mentors. – Kpin 12 years ago
  • @kpin - OK, well if you're bringing the money that's clearly a very important thing to bring to the table. To clarify the original post, are you seeking advice on how to find such people or are you posting to get such mentors to reply? Either way, if you have a web site, that would probably help a great deal, I wouldn't class linking it in this context as spam. – David Benson 12 years ago
  • Both. Yes, we are working on the website now and should be live shortly. We have been busy meeting start ups to gauge the interest in the program. I posed the question to this community to collect other ideas for how to expand our adviser team. – Kpin 12 years ago
  • @kpin - Maybe hire a "sales" person to get in contact with companies that have just exited in the domains you're looking at. They'll be on a high, so might talk to you, plus they will have their next project at the back of their minds. As well as the core team, try to find out who their mentors were and approach them, since they'll be freed up for more work before the core team are. – David Benson 12 years ago
  • To pitnick, 12 years of combined experience for a team of 4... I can do the math: it's not much experience at all. I'm also not a big fan of consultants in startups, they are usually incompatible. – Alain Raynaud 12 years ago


'Incubator' has about as many definitions as there are functioning operations. Sometimes it's just a description of shared or/and subsidized workspace. Sometimes it's value-added angel funding. Sometimes it's... well, it could be anything.

You have found a supply-side niche - startups in a space you understand who are looking for incubation. So you need to think seriously about what value you want to create, and where you are going to find demand to match (some of) that supply.

So in my view, take a step back from the question you're asking now. What you need to decide is:

  • What value do you want to create for incubator client companies?
  • What role does mentorship play in that?
  • What value do you want to create for mentors?
With answers to those questions, you'll move beyond the general ("where do I find mentors?") to the specific ("where do I find mentors who have these specific skills / networks / profiles, and how do I incentivize them to participate?").

For all its bad press, incubation still has room for new players. Many startups who need support will see the value in trading meaningful added value for equity. There's no reason at all why you can't succeed.

Good luck.

(And when you've done this, get in touch ;) )

answered Apr 9 '12 at 18:51
Jeremy Parsons
5,197 points


back to getting those mentors/advisors... ;)
I would recommend you:


  • Use linkedIn premium tools to seek out people.
  • Go to local user groups. is great for that.
  • Looks for 'matchups' in your area like "venture cafe evening", etc. Google it for local stuff.
  • Keep networking with your existing fellow grads. You just never know what/when/who connection is going to help. Of course don't be pushy. And see what you can do for them.
  • Have open houses to gauge interest / response / entice customers.

Who you know can be as important as what you know and in today's market connections can get you that vital 'foot in the door'

answered May 10 '12 at 01:02
Michael Durrant
227 points


To clarify some of my comments:

I don't think it is a bad thing for people with so little experience to run an incubator. I think you need to clearly express your goals and WHY you are doing this.

Perhaps the best way to proceed is not to just go looking for mentors and the like, but make a name for yourselves by doing some things really well and executing some subset of what your end-vision is. There is no shortage of startups/entrepreneurs.

If your first programs only provide advice from 4 MBA grads, so be it. if it includes a small stipend or 200 sq feet of office space and internet activity, great. Start small and grow. Control the quality. Eventually people will seek YOU out. I understand that this is not the ideal situation - you want people who can help NOW, but until you put in your time and show your level of commitment to providing great stuff, you are not going to get commitment from others.

Focus on the things you CAN do and execute. Just by going through the process a few times you will learn and grow and create more value. And, like I said, you will be sought out.

Good luck

answered Dec 11 '11 at 07:24
Tim J
8,346 points

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