Venture Mentors

NEW YORK – Last month, I participated in a meeting sponsored by the Clinton Global Initiative, the giant philanthropy, which focused on creating more jobs in the United States – presumably a goal shared by most countries. Our little group – made up of philanthropists, a few entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and “angel” investors – concentrated on start-up companies, the source of so much commercial energy and of so many jobs.

We spent a lot of time considering which short-term measures (specifically excluding government regulations and policy) could make a difference. We came to the conclusion that what start-ups need most is greater access to mentors. Yes, they need money, contacts, customers, and knowledge, but often the best way to get almost all of these is through help and advice from experienced mentors.

There were lots of good ideas: large companies could second redundant managers, technicians, and professionals to act as mentors for local start-ups. Professional associations could team up with incubators. Entrepreneurs could organize and join Meetup groups to share experiences, and they could invite potential mentors to speak to their groups. (I’m on the board of Meetup.)

But, in the end, even though the investors were there to help, it was clear that there is a fundamental mismatch in the real world. Venture capitalists try to pick winners and help them; philanthropists try to help more people become winners. Venture capitalists want to fund the next Facebook, while philanthropists want to use Facebook to support good causes.