UAlberta Venture Mentoring Service

FAQ

What are the goals of the program? What makes a mentorship relationship “successful”?

Our mission is to create meaningful mentorship experiences for entrepreneurs, so our measure of success centers on the development and satisfaction of the entrepreneur. The success of the venture, while important, comes second to the development of an entrepreneurial way of thinking that is useful to entrepreneurs, not only in the venture they are currently involved in, but, also for future endeavors. Failure can be a learning opportunity and even a success in terms of entrepreneurial growth - as long as the entrepreneur learns something, leaving them eager to take on the next challenge.

In addition to the mentorship sessions, there are multiple opportunities for entrepreneurs and mentors alike to grow and learn with networking events, educational sessions, and other volunteer activities within VMS. Our program’s success is built on the feedback and engagement of everyone in our community.

What are the requirements for participation as an entrepreneur? What is the intake process?

At least one of the venture’s co-founders or principals must be a University of Alberta student, alumni, faculty, or staff member. Additionally, we look for the following minimum attributes:

  • Must be incorporated and have an operating business.
  • Founders with a coachable attitude – the understanding that you don’t know what you don’t know and that Mentors are there to guide you through the process of growing a company.
  • A venture that is scalable. While there are many great entrepreneurs with lifestyle businesses, we’re focused on growth and work with ventures that have the potential to make as broad an impact as possible.
  • Demonstration of commitment to the venture – with at least one co-founder working in the venture full time, and ideally some degree of financial investment in the company on the part of the founders.

If this sounds like you and you’re looking for some guidance with your venture, our intake process is outlined below.

Step 1: Fill out the application form. We hold 2-3 intakes a year depending on demand, and accept applications on a rolling basis. You will be contacted to determine the intake timing most suited to your application. Intakes typically happen in the spring and fall of each year.

Step 2: Meet with the VMS Manager for an initial assessment and to ensure you have a good understanding of what the program is about. The introductory meeting lasts approximately 30 minutes and if both the Manager and the entrepreneur determine there is a good fit, the Manager will put the entrepreneur(s) through to the next stage with the Admissions Panel.

The Admissions Panel consists of several Mentors in the program. They will conduct a 30 minute interview with the applicant(s) at which point the venture may be accepted – which means they will pitch to the Mentor pool at the following Mentor rally; or they will be given homework, which means they will be asked to complete some tasks (such as doing some research or talking to potential customers) before they are ready for the program. The goal is to get entrepreneurs ready for mentorship – coming in with concrete issues identified and ready to take them on.

Step 3: Those entrepreneurs who pitch to the Mentor pool must have enough Mentors (minimum three) to form their volunteer mentorship team. We recruit a diverse group of Mentors with varying experiences and interests to give entrepreneurs from all areas the best possible chance of forming a team. If this does not happen, the venture will be given some homework from the VMS Chair and Manager to improve their pitch and they can potentially re-pitch to the Mentors once these tasks have been completed.

Successful ventures with a team formed undergo an orientation session before beginning their first mentorship meeting. From there the sessions are ongoing with no term limitation. You can be in the program as long as your venture is growing and you need the guidance.

What are the requirements for participation as a Mentor? How does the selection process occur?

You must have significant experience that can contribute to the growth of an entrepreneur and help them build their ventures (this could be as an entrepreneur, or within an established organization, whether that be for-profit, non-profit, or social enterprise). Mentors must be prepared to offer objective, actionable feedback to entrepreneurs across a variety of venture types and stages of development. Our philosophy of using a higher ratio of coaching to advising and teaching requires patience. It is a disciplined practice and as such we provide a full day training workshop to all our Mentors on the coaching approach to leadership.

Mentor applicants will first meet with the Manager to discuss the program and the applicant’s background. If both parties deem there is a fit, the next stage is an interview with members of the Board of Advisors. If accepted into the program, Mentors will go to the intake rally and select the venture teams they would like to participate on – this decision can be based on your area of interest or expertise, or it could simply be because a venture or entrepreneur is of interest to you. Each Mentor will be expected to volunteer for one to three ventures at a time. Each team should require no more than two hours of commitment a month.

VMS Mentors should not approach mentorship with the goal of selling services or making an investment (i.e. the relationship must be founded on the pure goal of providing entrepreneurial mentorship feedback). VMS Mentors are expected to maintain a high standard of confidentiality regarding information shared with them by mentees. VMS takes conflict of interest seriously, and all Mentors must adhere to policies surrounding investment/sales and confidentiality (refer to the UA VMS Statement of Principles Guiding Principles sections “i” through “q”, and Principles of Governance sections “n” through “r”). Statement of Principles

To apply to become a VMS Mentor, please contact the VMS office through VMS@ualberta.ca 

How is VMS different from other mentorship programs on campus?

There are many excellent mentorship programs offered at the University of Alberta. Many of these programs are aimed at career mentorship, while VMS is strictly focused on entrepreneurial mentorship. All VMS entrepreneurs must come into the program with a venture, and all Mentors must have experience in venture development and growth. Mentors are provided with comprehensive training on coaching techniques, and both parties undergo an orientation session before beginning any team meetings.

The VMS program provides a formalized, team-centric approach to group mentorship that focuses as much or more on the entrepreneur’s growth as on the success of their venture. It is ongoing and there is no term limit for being in the program.

The group mentorship approach is beneficial for the entrepreneur as the team’s Mentors can change over time as the venture grows and requires different skill sets and experience, or as Mentors seek new challenges in their volunteer mentorship roles.

How is VMS different from other entrepreneurship programs?

Our sole focus is mentorship. We are not an incubator or accelerator and no funds are invested in the ventures. UAlberta VMS is a free service open to non-profit, cultural/artistic, social ventures, etc. from virtually any industry. VMS is a program built by the University of Alberta to serve alumni, faculty, staff, and student entrepreneurs.

Where funding, raising capital, incubation space, advisory services, etc. are concerned, there are other great resources available for entrepreneurs in the startup community and we’re happy to point them out to entrepreneurs seeking additional support.

We view UAlberta VMS as complementary to other incubators and mentorship programs. We encourage VMS entrepreneurs to take advantage of other entrepreneurship support programs in parallel with VMS at every stage of the venture’s growth.

Once I’m accepted, what’s next?

Once a mentorship team is in place, entrepreneurs undergo an orientation session before their first meeting is scheduled.  Mentors will also undergo a separate orientation to prepare them for what to expect in their meetings. Mentorship sessions are organized by the entrepreneur, usually every one to two months. Meetings occur during business hours and should last between 60-90 minutes. Each team will also have a Lead Mentor, who will liaise with the VMS Manager about how the venture is progressing and to suggest any changes to the mentorship team, something we expect to happen as the venture grows. Before each meeting, the entrepreneur will send out an agenda listing topics for discussion and areas where guidance is needed.

Each mentorship session should generate a few actionable items for the entrepreneur – tasks that the Mentors feel the entrepreneur should complete before the next meeting in order to move the venture forward. There is no requirement or expectation that entrepreneurs will act on the items discussed in a meeting. However, the mentorship team will expect to see progress, and new issues to work through at the next meeting. The Mentors are there to guide, not do. It’s ultimately up to the entrepreneur what they do with their venture.

Where and how often do mentorship meetings occur?

Meetings occur a maximum of once per month downtown at Enterprise Square although teams can meet off site (their own offices, restaurants, U of A South Campus, etc.) if they choose. Entrepreneurs submit a request to meet with their mentors to the UAlberta VMS office, with a minimum of two weeks’ notice. The office then schedules a mentorship meeting that accommodates the teams' calendars and books the meeting room as required.

Entrepreneurs are required to hold a meeting or send an update to their team at least once a quarter in order to maintain good standing within the program.

Is there a limit to how long a venture can participate?

No. As long as ventures are progressing, entrepreneurs are engaged and learning, and mentors are interested in working with them, the ventures and entrepreneurs are welcome to remain in the program. There are some additional responsibilities required to remain in the program such as providing feedback, completing meeting reports, and sending updates or calling meetings regularly.

What stages of ventures are eligible? Are any types of ventures ineligible?

We cater to both early stage ventures that are starting to gain traction, and mid- to later stage entrepreneurs with significant revenues who are looking to take their businesses to the next level of growth. The main requirement is that it is a scalable venture with the potential to grow and that the entrepreneurs are primarily seeking mentorship, i.e. versus investment, customer recruitment, or networking opportunities.

Although we typically accept ventures that already have traction and have a good idea of their target market, exceptions are made for entrepreneurs with highly innovative and impactful technologies that need help to bring that technology to the market.

VMS is not designed for lifestyle businesses (e.g. professional practice, consulting, sole proprietorships which are not scaling).

Is there a cost associated with VMS participation?

The VMS program is free to University of Alberta students, faculty, staff and alumni. Mentors participate on a purely voluntary basis.

If your question is not answered here please contact our VMS office through vms@ualberta.ca