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Readymade mentors

An online sounding board that puts SMEs in touch with the right resource people.

Anjali Prayag

Whenever Rangaiah Karapukula, Managing Director, Onam Agarbathi Pvt Ltd, faces an uncomfortable situation in business, he has a ready-made panel of advisors at MentorSquare offering him guidance in all areas of business. Similarly, Ashok Srinivasan of Biostimulator, a company that manufactures water cleaning equipment, often turns to MentorSquare advisors who recently helped him reach a customer in Paraguay, which won him a contract to clean up a 70 sq km lake there.

Bangalore-based MentorSquare is a global business network of entrepreneurs and professionals from various areas of business, offering ‘actionable advice’ to SMEs across the world. With more than 100 mentors from across the globe available online to its members, MentorSquare is a sounding board for start-ups and entrepreneurs looking for solutions to problems that could be as specific as ‘where can I outsource high quality leather straps from,’ or ‘who could be a compatible joint venture partner for my business?’ or even ‘how much liquidity should one have in a service-based venture.’ There are different types of challenges that entrepreneurs face: operational, strategic, service, HR, marketing or even hunting for joint venture partners or scaling up.

MentorSquare is the brainchild of four seasoned professionals who have either or both the IIT and IIM tags to their names. Prabhakar Valivati, Managing Partner and one of the founders of MentorSquare, explains the network’s raison d’etre, “We help members contend with issues and help them in course correction. This is essentially a risk-mitigating exercise.” Most entrepreneurs tend to seek advice from family and friends that could actually be well-meaning but not free of emotional attachment. Lawyers and chartered accountants also double up as mentors but lack the bandwidth that such a network provides, he explains.

Generally, SMEs across the world are family-owned businesses that lack management bandwidth and the ability to draw up strategy and execute it. “Though the SME segment contributes about 40 per cent to the global GDP, it is highly underserved. We are looking to service that segment,” says Valivati. MentorSquare, which was founded last year and went commercial in March this year, is not a not-for-profit organisation, he clarifies, stressing that along with the four founding members, all the mentors (currently 100) are equity stakeholders in the company. “The idea is to grow the company with these stakeholders; we want to have at least 2,000 mentors on board in three years.”

However, mentors come on board by invitation only and this is based purely on their professional credentials. “They have all gone through the cycle of setting up businesses, selling them, managing change and have the capability to open up connections across the globe,” says Nagendra Satyan, Chief Operating Officer, MentorSquare, also a founder. Successful entrepreneurs, management experts, academicians, retired professionals and independent consultants form the mentor board at MentorSquare.

A member at MentorSquare either directly chooses his mentor(s) or seeks advice from the network to put him in touch with the ‘right executive mentor.’ The network also offers ‘think tank,’ a managed advisory service for established businesses. Though MentorSquare is an online service available 24x7 to members, access to mentors is at time convenient to both parties, followed up with face-to-face meetings. And mentoring does not mean meetings with MentorSquare mentors only. “These 100 mentors offer at least 100 connections each in various sectors that could be useful for members.” There are currently around 1,500 members from India, Malaysia and Singapore seeking advice from these mentors and the plan is to take this to other parts of the world in the next few years.

“All interactions between a member and a mentor are mature ‘conversations’ that aim at offering tangible advice and not prescriptive ones, according to Valivati. In fact, members are made to ‘fish for solutions on their own.’

MentorSquare also encourages interaction among members to help them solve issues that could be similar. “In areas such as taxation, HR or marketing, members often interact with other members,” says Satyan, pointing out that entrepreneurs are not always looking for ways of sourcing capital, but advice on other business issues as well.

Membership to MentorSquare is maintained through a renewable annual subscription fee (Rs 17,500).

As John George, Director, Marketing, Weld Craft, a member, says, “MentorSquare is like our virtual board of directors.”

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