The Review

Spotlighting BIP mentors: The impact mentorship has on your business growth trajectory

Growth

Hear from four DMZ BIP mentors on what it’s like to work with early-stage social impact businesses, and the top advice they offer founders


Mentors can be some of the most important people that accompany you on your business journey, and can play an influential role in the success of your business. 

Generally, the most effective business mentors possess similar characteristics: they provide constructive feedback, they’re approachable, and they’re willing to listen. 

But perhaps most importantly, good mentors have had real-life business experiences full of trials and errors, allowing them to provide new entrepreneurs with unique perspectives when growing a business.


More about the BIP Social Impact Stream

Last year, Unilever Canada and the DMZ launched the inaugural cohort for the Black Innovation Program’s (BIP) Social Impact Stream: a 6-month business incubator program designed to support Black entrepreneurs with a social mission. 

The program allows entrepreneurs to tap into lucrative industry connections and growth resources, which includes getting access to mentors from a diverse range of backgrounds and industries.

Whether it’s offering business advice to new founders or providing personal development guidance to entrepreneurs, our mentors have equipped socially-driven organizations with the counsel needed to generate company growth while accelerating their ability to create meaningful change and contribute to their core mission.

Today, the spotlight is on our program mentors. Hear how these leaders play a vital role in the success of founders in the BIP Social Impact Stream.


Shared learnings from mentors support progress

Mentor - Steve EhounouSteve Ehounou, Partner at MNP’s Assurance Services, specializes in advising other entrepreneurs on accounting, finances, tax and delivering business advisory services. His main goal is to help them optimize their financial activities to execute their business plans.

“I have met some very talented entrepreneurs through this program. I’m impressed to see the level of sophistication and proactiveness in the way they address existential needs and issues within our community,” he says.  

Steve says that mentorship is key in entrepreneurial undertakings. “The business environment is complex. The share of knowledge, failures and success experienced by mentors is an important ingredient in preparing the success of new entrepreneurs.” 

Steve says advice he gives founders is to “build a trusted team around you that meets your strengths and makes up for your weaknesses.” He also emphasizes the importance of acknowledging personal failures and using them as an opportunity to bounce back and grow stronger.

“The business environment is complex. The share of knowledge, failures and success experienced by mentors is an important ingredient in preparing the success of new entrepreneurs.” 

Mentors provide a completely unique perspective 

Mentor - Natoya AbiolaNatoya Abiola, Founder of Zenwork Wellness Solutions, advises founders on customer discovery, storytelling and go-to-market strategy. She has found in her personal experience that founders often overlook the importance of these areas, but firmly believes they are crucial to any startup.

“My experience as a mentor has been eye-opening and rewarding. I am inspired by the works of the founders who consider themselves ‘regular people’, yet are bravely tackling challenges like hunger, poverty, inequality, and responsible consumption within their communities.”

Natoya encourages early-stage entrepreneurs to pick up the phone and call potential customers to understand the challenges they face. “This is the best way to tailor your solution to deliver value,” she explains. 

Although startups may face rejections, Natoya adds it’s a great way to develop leads. “Founders must become intimate with the problem they are solving to render the best solution. The best way of understanding these pain points is to speak directly to the people affected.

“My experience as a mentor has been eye-opening and rewarding. I am inspired by the works of the founders who consider themselves ‘regular people’, yet are bravely tackling challenges like hunger, poverty, inequality, and responsible consumption within their communities.”

Leverage the experience and connections of your mentors

Mentor Eric InEric In, Director of Investments at Dragonfly Ventures, specializes in technology, renewable energy, tourism and hospitality, and food e-commerce. He advises founders from early-stage to late-stage on strategy, fundraising, risks and challenges related to growth.

“It’s a pleasure to connect with my mentee. We have exciting and passionate discussions about connections to potential partners and investors, comparable initiatives, and how we can impact food waste and food insecurity” Eric says.

Eric highlights the importance for Black founders to have access to a community of mentors to thrive. “I truly believe that the success of founders is amplified when building strong relationships with experienced people who can help test ideas, and provide advice and connections when needed.”

“This is even more true for Black founders who may not have been given the same connections and level of access to advisors and experienced mentors.”

Eric says that the best piece of advice a founder can equip themselves with is, “surround yourself with people who are knowledgeable in fields you cannot leverage, people who are well-connected, and people who align with your mission and values!”

 

“I truly believe that the success of founders is amplified when building strong relationships with experienced people who can help test ideas, and provide advice and connections when needed.”

Mentors can be your best asset

Mentor Baba AjayiBaba Ajayi, Founder of Andie, specializes in product launch, business plan development, and sales strategy.

“My experience as a mentor with the BIP Social Impact Stream has been fantastic,” Baba says. 

“Jesina Studios, the company I was advising, is working on something near and dear to my heart in terms of providing support to new immigrants and refugee women. Sam and Lexi, the founders of Jesina Studios, have a remarkable story and vision for the business.”

Baba explains the best piece of business advice he’s received is as follows: “The only thing that matters is making things happen at the beginning. You don’t want to get yourself bogged down in tasks that don’t deliver an actionable result. If it’s a product, launch it. If it’s an app, launch it. See what happens.”

When asked about the importance of providing Black founders with access to a mentorship community, Baba emphasizes that such an asset is absolutely crucial to any startup or new business. 

“It is especially crucial for Black founders. They are often short on resources, and the room for mistakes is very small. That’s the role mentors play.”

“The only thing that matters is making things happen at the beginning. You don’t want to get yourself bogged down in tasks that don’t deliver an actionable result. If it’s a product, launch it. If it’s an app, launch it. See what happens.”

Interested in learning more about BIP Mentors and the Social Impact Stream fuelled by Unilever Canada? Read more here.