Becoming a business mentor

Farm491 is a UK based leading technology incubator and innovation space focused on the future of farming and food systems. Based and owned by the Royal Agricultural University the Farm491 team support the scale up of businesses primarily through strategic advice, support raising investment, finding the right talent to build the team, access to new customers and being part of a network of other entrepreneurs.

Sarah Carr, Farm491’s Innovation Specialist, was recently asked to be a mentor on EIT Food’s Seedbed programme. We’ve had a catch up with Sarah to learn more about the programme and what the mentor process involves.

What is the EIT Food Seedbed programme?

Seedbed is a multi-location launch programme that trains and supports teams over a six-month period to help them better understand the needs of their customers and validate their business ideas. Seedbed is designed for early stage products or services that utilise innovative agrifood technologies set to make a big impact on any part of the food sector, including the way we produce, deliver, consume, recycle and value our food. Held in Northern Ireland, Denmark, Germany, Spain and Poland (although now via Zoom), the Seedbed programme supports innovators, entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs from across Europe to go out and meet potential customers.

What were your initial thoughts when asked to become a mentor?

Although I provide business support to Farm491 members through one-to-one meetings, I have never been a mentor before. Initially I expected to be matched up with a company prior to the programme starting, for me to then continue mentoring for a few months. I was excited by the prospect but also slightly nervous that my experience would not align with their business needs.

So how was the programme different to what you expected?

The Seedbed team did a fantastic job of matching up the mentors with the mentees. We each provided a bio and explained where our strengths lie. The start-ups had a week long bootcamp and the mentors joined in for the last two days.

What did the two days entail for the mentors?

After meeting the other mentors, the first session was speed networking. We were placed into breakout rooms and given 8 minutes to find out more about each other. As the mentors we took on the role of a potential customer or partner, and tailored questions depending on this. This was also the opportunity for the mentees to find out the strengths of the mentor and if they thought they would be a good fit for their company.

After providing our preferred choices, and the start-ups doing the same, we were all matched up and the mentor process began.

How did it work jumping in on the final days after the companies had already been through the training?

Before the mentors joined the programme, each team had been developing their business model canvas and customer value propositions. By the time the mentors joined the teams had a better understanding of their roadmap and could therefore use the mentor as a sounding board for their ideas. We had a catch up on the final morning to practice the final bootcamp pitch, which gave me the opportunity to give my team some feedback before presenting in front of the judges.

What’s next in the process?

Next up is waiting to find out which teams were successful in joining the rest of the programme. If my team is successful, I will be mentoring them until November for a few hours a month. It will be a great opportunity to help a start-up get their idea off the ground and get a solution out there that really works for their target end users.

Would you recommend becoming a mentor?

Absolutely. I think anything you know that the company doesn’t know will always be useful. It’s a unique opportunity to make a difference to a start-up to help them succeed and also boost their entrepreneurial spirit. Not only this but you also get to network with other mentors and mentees so there is certainly a personal benefit of increasing your own network.

And finally, what advice would you give to someone considering becoming a mentor?

My main piece of advice would be to take the time to understand what exactly your mentee hopes to accomplish in the mentoring relationship. Rather than “telling”, it is key to aid the decision making process through asking thought-provoking questions and challenging assumptions. If a mentor can provide different perspectives than the mentee then that is already a helpful addition to the team.

To learn more about how Sarah and the Farm491 team can support your business please visit their membership page.

Find out more about the EIT Food Seedbed programme

Read Sarah’s bio and meet the team here.