What Does Mentoring at an Accelerator Look Like?

In the GAN Community, there are 11,924 active mentors.

That number is truly astounding. Just think about it—over the course of the last year, 11,924 people have chosen to give their time and energy to support companies they’ve never met before. Often, the companies that mentors support are from outside of their local accelerator’s city, region, or even country. That means mentors are contributing to companies that ultimately might not create jobs or drive revenue where mentors live, but they’re so dedicated to contributing to their communities that they simply think it’s the right thing to do, despite who founders are or where they ultimately decide to run their companies.

But mentoring, especially if you don’t work at an accelerator, can be a bit of a confusing role. What do they do exactly? How do they help, and how extensively? How much time do they really give? What are they specifically doing to support startups? How do accelerators go about finding these individuals, and what kind of experience do they bring to the table?

We conduct a data survey of the more than 100 accelerators in the GAN Community around the world every year, and I went back to look at last year’s results to find some answers to these questions. You can see the publicly available data from 2018 on our site, but here’s some of what I found when I dug into the full report.

A Peek into Mentorship in the GAN Community

There Are a Lot of Mentors at Each Accelerator
To be exact, the median amount of mentors is 70 per each accelerator location. With an average of only seven companies per cohort across all accelerators in the GAN Community, that means startups are getting a lot of support. Still, that seems like an awful lot of mentors so it might be easy to assume that many of them are willing to be utilized, but very few of them actually are. However, the data tell us something different.

Many Mentors Provide Support Though an Accelerator’s Entire Program
The majority of mentors (63% of them) are mentoring at an accelerator for at least one week each year. Even more of them (43%) are involved with an accelerator for at least one month each year. What’s even more impressive? About a third of all mentors are participating for more than a month. Of course, they’re not in the accelerator’s office every day, but they’ve decided that they want to be in and around the accelerator for most of the program, coming in when it’s needed and setting up regular meetings with startups. The remaining mentors—those not dedicating a full week, a month, or more—are mentoring for just a day at each accelerator (making up 37% of all mentors). These individuals are just coming in for a day to give a presentation or sit down with startups for a short while and then leave. As an example, that’s what we typically do at GAN Ventures. We’ll meet with each startup over the course of a day, get to know them a bit, and provide some high-level expertise about their next fundraise. It’s a great way for us to get to know startups and for startups to get to know a bit about us.

Many Mentors Are Working with Just One Startup
Nearly half of the time (47%), mentors are paired with just one company. Another 33% of mentors work with one company at a time but interact with several startups at an accelerator. And, 20% of the time, a mentor is coming in to do a presentation to all of the startups at an accelerator in a large group setting. What’s interesting about this statistic is that it means that most mentors join and work at an accelerator because they want to have individual interactions with companies. They want to dig into a company’s problems and provide advice and game-changing connections. They want to be in the trenches with the startups in a way that helps them move the needle.

Mentors Have a Specific Area of Focus
The data tell us that a full 60% of mentors contribute specialized knowledge (leaving 40% that come in and help more generally, across a broader range of topics). To me, this seems like the correct breakdown of support for accelerators and their companies. If you think about what startup CEOs need, many of them are looking for someone that they can run all of their problems by—someone who can go “a mile wide and an inch deep,” listening to all of the demands a CEO is facing and helping them triage. But then, startups can call on various mentors who have more specialized experience, like growth hacking or business development, to dig into bigger problem areas.

This sort of reminds me of how visiting a doctor might work. I visit my family practice when I need to meet with a doctor that has a general understanding of what’s going on with my body, but if something goes beyond their training, they’ll connect me with someone else who has a deeper knowledge of that specific area. And we need both types of doctors in our world, just as we need both types of mentors for our startups.

Mentors Are Overwhelmingly Local
Specifically, 70% of mentors are located within 100 miles or 160 km of the programs where they contribute their time. As for the remaining 30%, they’re typically flying into an accelerator and spending up to a week at each program. Or, as is the case for GAN Ventures, we often simply call into an accelerator and mentor each startup in the cohort over the phone. While it might seem less personal, we’re actually seeing an uptick in the number of mentors using this method of calling in because 1) It’s easy on the accelerator since it doesn’t require extra costs or increased difficulty in coordinating schedules; and, 2) It’s a great way to get great talent involved with a program that may not have the time to drive or fly all the way to an accelerator’s office.

Mentors Are Doing This to Give Back
“Payment” for mentors takes on many different forms, and it’s rarely financial compensation. For instance, last year, only 2% of mentors received a financial contribution for their work beyond accelerators covering travel expenses. Even then, only 9% of mentors were granted some sort of reimbursement for their travel. All in all, mentors tell us that they’re primarily contributing all of these hours to startups because someone else helped them along the way and they want to give back. But there are a few things that accelerators and founders can do to help mentors feel appreciated for their time and energy. Our data show that mentors love to be part of a dinner that celebrates their contributions specifically, they enjoy being on the selection committee for the next accelerator cohort, they often want to take part in strategy sessions for accelerators, and they’re really grateful when called out as a contributing mentor at demo days.

How You Can Get Involved

If you’re interested in being a mentor, I’d love to connect you with any GAN Accelerator—they’re some of the most high-quality programs in the world and they’re constantly looking for individuals willing to support founders that bring a range of skill sets to the table. The GAN team also has a running list of mentors that accelerators can call on, and I’m happy to add your name to it. Just shoot me a note.

On behalf of all GAN Accelerators and their startups, I want to thank all of the 11,924 mentors who have given their time and energy to support startups in the last year, and the countless others who have contributed to all GAN Accelerators over time. There is a reason that 83% of startups who have ever gone through a GAN Accelerator are still operating today—and I would argue that a very, very large part of that success can be directly attributed to the support that GAN Startups receive from mentors in this community.

So truly‚ thank you.