Mentoring with the ISU Startup Factory

Mentors are a critical component of the startup founder’s support network. The ISU Startup Factory leverages the expertise and generosity of our dedicated mentors to provide a range of assistance to the founders in the program.  

Here’s what mentoring with the ISU Startup Factory could look like: 


[Highest commitment] Core Team Mentor: Match as a mentor with one of our founders, and collaborate with 3-4 other mentors to support your entrepreneur and their business. Matching is a double-opt-in process. (1-2 hours/week, minimum 8 weeks) 

[Moderate commitment] On-Call Advisor: Support an entrepreneur as-needed, based on your particular skills or expertise. Let us know you’re open to being contacted, and we may reach out if the needs of our cohort require it. (1-2 hours/month, year-round) 

[Minimal commitment] Subject Matter Expert: Provide expertise through office hours or facilitating a workshop or class in your area of expertise. (1-2 hours/quarter, year-round) 

[Lowest commitment] Community Supporter: Join us at events throughout the year, by networking with our founders, other mentors, and showing your support for the program by joining us at our Demo Day event. (1-2 events/quarter) 

The ISU Startup Factory Mentor Guidelines

he Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship and the Startup Factory believe the key to great  mentorship is be a good human. With special help from our friends at Techstars and colleagues in  CyStarters, we outlined our guidelines for effective mentorship below.   

 1) Expect Nothing in ReturnMentorship is not deal flow. We want mentors to continue giving without a defined transactional return.  

2) ListenThe next time you ask a question, empty your mind and listen to the answer. Look the person you are talking to directly in the eyes and concentrate on what they are saying.  

3) Let Them Make Their Own DecisionsYour job is not to solve a founder’s problem. It’s to help. It’s to listen. It’s to provide feedback and data from your experience.  

4) Be Direct. Tell the Truth. Know Your Limits: “I don’t know” is a good answer. Say what is on your mind and support it with either experience or examples. If you don’t know, say you don’t know. It’s easy, especially as a mentor, to gloss over the fact that you made a mistake. But it’s much more powerful to the mentee when you own your mistakes and correct them.  

5) Provide Specific, Actionable Advice. Don’t Be Vague. Stories are the way we remember and the best way to share our experiences. Yet, when the founder is directly asking a question, answer the question first. Be self-aware. And listen to what the founder may not be asking too. 6) Open Doors. Open the door of opportunity for a founder by introducing them to your network of contacts. Similarly, open the door to information by steering them to key resources. 7) Be Empathetic. Being a founder is hard. Starting a business with no business experience is hard! Be compassionate and empathetic, especially when a founder has a hard time grasping a concept, or seeing priorities.

Startup Factory Expectations:  

Disclose any potential conflicts of interest. Many of our founders are working in highly-technical  spaces in industries critical to Iowa’s agriculture, bio-science, and engineering fields. It’s critical to  disclose your potential conflicts of interest so we can match you with an appropriate company.  Respect Confidentiality. There’s a simple approach. Use your judgment. If you are uncertain, ask the  person from whom you got the information.   

Operate with a Founder First mentality. Let your guiding principles be about what is best for that  founder and their growth as a leader and business owner.   

Communicate effectively, promptly, and respectfully. Being responsive means to be present. By  agreeing to mentor a company, you are agreeing to journey with them on their path to  commercialization. Respect for the founder’s perspective as the innovator, and owner of this  technology is critical, as is respect for their personhood.