By: Alesia Bani | Published on: Oct 18, 2022
- Mentor Connect is a mentorship program for entrepreneurs in Philadelphia powered by Ben Franklin Technology Partners and Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technologies.
- The program has over 200 mentees and 130 mentors in its network.
- Stimulus founder Tiffanie Stanard joined the program in 2020 and received support from mentors on leadership development, scaling her startup and approaching investors.
Behind a successful entrepreneur is often another seasoned entrepreneur that has served as a guide. In Philadelphia, industry leaders are putting this into practice through a mentorship program for the city’s founder ecosystem.
Ben Franklin Technology Partners and Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technologies (PACT) have joined forces to create Mentor Connect, a program that partners entrepreneurs with teams of three to five mentors who provide advice and guidance.
“We knew there are so many programs out there, but we wanted something more sustainable, scalable and really catered to the needs of our entrepreneurs,” Jennifer Cohen, the director of Mentor Connect, told The Plug.
The program, which started with a handful of mentees, is now entering its seventh year and serves over 200 entrepreneurs in the Philadelphia area. Mentees range from recent college graduates to seasoned executives starting their first startup.
Mentors are required to be experienced CEOs or founders with expertise in leadership, sales and marketing, business development, operations and investment. They volunteer and commit one or two days per month to meet with their mentee. There are about 130 mentors in the program with four new companies joining the network each month, Cohen explained.
Mentor Connect was developed using the MIT Venture Mentoring Service as a framework, an initiative for entrepreneurs in the MIT community. PACT was impressed by the curriculum and the number of organizations they trained, so they traveled to Massachusetts to receive the training and implement the program in Philadelphia.
Mentor Connect recently partnered with nonprofit organization Coded By Kids and the City of Philadelphia to receive a grant through the 1Philadelphia initiative to make the program free for underrepresented founders. Over 50 percent of mentees in Mentor Connect receive this funding, Cohen said.
Interested mentees must fill out a questionnaire and later participate in an informal interview to learn what the individual needs as far as mentorship and support for their company. Mentor Connect then pitches the mentees’ stories for the mentors to choose who they would like to work with.
“These mentors are sort of their board of advisors, but they’re not actually. They’re conflict-free, they don’t have any interest or any equity in the company,” Cohen said. “So they can be completely honest with the entrepreneurs and help them through anything because a lot of the entrepreneurs are doing this by themselves.”
For Tiffanie Stanard, founder of supply chain SaaS Stimulus, joining Mentor Connect came at a “perfect time” as the world around her began to shut down due to COVID-19.
“I knew we were all going through this at the same time, but at least they had been doing it a little bit longer and gave me advice on surviving this and keeping my energy up so I can give that energy to my team,” Stanard told The Plug.
Stanard joined Mentor Connect as a mentee in 2020 and was matched with multiple mentors from a technology company, a healthcare company and a former startup leader working in the investing space.
“You forget in your own city who’s building what and what everybody is doing, and I had seen these folks at different events here and there, but it was great to connect to them because they were all in different spaces within their company journey,” Stanard said.
Stanard’s mentors gave her advice on different aspects of her business — one mentor supported Stanard with growing her engineering team, another gave her insight on exiting a business and her third mentor made introductions to potential investors and customers.
Stanard said that her relationship with the mentors was able to grow beyond the bounds of the program.
“You know you really have a good relationship with a mentor when you can just send them a quick question about something,” she said. “You feel like you can be a little bit more vulnerable and ask a serious question.”
When she entered the program, Stanard was looking for advice on approaching investors. Through the mentorship, she also learned how to maintain consistent confidence as a CEO and now, two years later, Stimulus has closed an oversubscribed $2.5 million seed round.
The ultimate goal of Mentor Connect is for mentees to go through the program and eventually become mentors to continue giving back to the community, program director Cohen said.
“We always say being a CEO is a really lonely job. They don’t have someone to bounce ideas off of, to talk about things that are keeping them up at night,” Cohen said. “This is that group that they can talk about anything with because the mentors have been there. They’ve been in their shoes, they understand what it takes.”
Alesia Bani is a writer and journalist from Philadelphia and The Plug’s Innovation Reporter covering the Black tech ecosystem in Philadelphia. She previously worked for the Institutional Diversity office at her alma mater Temple University and has a background in reporting on identity, DEI and local government.