Mentoring: A Two Way Street

Mentoring is not a magic wand that automatically creates success. The truth is that effective mentoring takes effort, and creating successful mentoring relationships requires specific skills, sensibilities, and structure from both the mentor and the mentee.

A good example of a successful mentoring pair is Besim Ismaili (mentor) and Sylwia Harewska (mentee), participants in our Oslo European Green Capital Mentoring Program. They participated in the first round of our program this year and ended up merging their business concepts, culminating in being a part of Oslo Innovation Week’s 100 Pitches. They have since continued their collaboration, strengthening their bond as mentor and mentee. Below, find out what they were looking for and what they found during their Oslo European Green Capital mentoring  journey.

Mentor Besim Ismaili

Profession: Data Scientist, CTO, Senior Tech Consultant

Nationality: Norwegian

 

  1. What drew you towards becoming a mentor?

I see that the startup environment in Oslo is flourishing and there are fantastic concepts floating around. Many of them don’t have technical resources in the team or they lack the understanding of technology importance in early stage of the startups. I thought, “I can jump in and help these types of startups.”

  1. What questions did you have for your potential mentee?

I usually create the human connection first and then I proceed down to business. I take an approach of a potential investor; it’s not me putting money in the company, but time. and time is money! I try to understand the startup concept, value proposition, business model and financial model. Based on the information I get, I can try to advise them on technology, opportunities that cloud solution companies give to startups, thinking scale-up technology from day one and sometimes discuss the lowest details.

  1. What was your strategy to help your mentee achieve her fullest potential?

My strategy is based on setting the engagement bars of the mentee high, involving it in the entire startup lifecycle and make him/her think for the ways in and out to sole the challenges on each cycle.

  1. Have you ever been a mentee yourself? If so, how was that experience for you and how has it impacted your role as a mentor now? 

I consider myself a lifetime mentee. I have been a mentee and I am going to be a mentee as soon as I learn something new everyday. I was lucky to land my first job on the hands of maybe the best entrepreneur in Norway, Petter Stordalen. I learned a lot from him in terms of work culture and innovative spirit.

  1. What did you find most challenging in your role as a mentor?

The most challenging part is understanding the business concept from an entrepreneurial perspective. Usually, the concepts have never faced reality and never proven with any technical/simulation  model. Entrepreneurs are tight connected to their concepts and sometimes even emotionally, therefore, changing concepts can be painful.

  1. What has Sylwia given you back as your mentee?

Sylwia is an exceptional case, she knows the business well, knows well the industry she is in and has a clear plan on how to develop further its startup. Wth Sylwia, I was in doubt which one was the mentor and which one is the mentee!

  1. What do you feel are your best qualities you offer in this role?

It is up to mentees to judge that, but I think I can offer boosting to entrepreneurs, helping them get over challenging situation, helping them avoid the “Valley of Death,” spending to much cash and advising for the best technology practices according to the business they have. 

  1. What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned and how is it valuable?

The most important leadership lesson comes from Warren Buffet: “Never test the depth of the river with both feet.”  Entrepreneurs should have an exit plan, alternative B, plan B, etc. all the time and work like they don’t have one.

  1. How do you approach risk-taking?

Risk-taking does not always have to be part of your business. Mitigating risk should be. My take on risk is more like a corporate oriented. It’s probably the only thing that corporates do better than startups.

  1. What have you learned about yourself during this process?

I have learned a lot, including that major factor of success is the execution and willingness to implement the idea in the real world. 

  1. What has been the most rewarding aspect of being a part of this program?

The most rewarding aspect is that I have a shortcut to the startup environment in Oslo through an institution that works for the green startups, invitations to events that has a huge impact on Oslo business and the relevance of being in touch with other founders- people who share the same dreams with you.

  1. How do you feel the mentoring program ties into the Oslo European Green Capital Business Program of strengthening sustainable business? 

I think that most of today’s startups are tied to technology and sustainable business. Maybe that is not their core business value, but technology in itself is a green friendly approach to fix our problems. It cuts the usage of paper, it helps on finding optimized ways for transport, alternative ways to create energy, the list goes on…

 

Mentee

Name: Sylwia Harewska

Profession: IT Internal Control Specialist, FinTech founder

Nationality: Polish

 

  1. Why did you decide to join the mentoring program as a mentee?  I was looking for advice for my FinTech startup and I thought it was  a great opportunity to meet someone who will support me … someone I can discuss my ideas and concerns with. 
  2. What were the three most important qualities you were looking for in a mentor?

I was looking for someone who actually went through that tough entrepreneurship path and will understand me.

Has knowledge about FinTechs and tech

Will be able to give me good advice!

3. Did you have any reservations about sharing personal and professional aspirations with someone you weren’t well-acquainted with in the beginning? If so, how were you able to open up?

No, not at all. I had a great connection with Besim from the very beginning. We became friends.  

  1. What is your preferred communication style?

I like to act fast when there is any problem or a new idea. So, we were messaging a lot. I also really value face-to-face interactions so we met up in person as wellA. 

  1. What were your expectations of what you would be receiving from the program? Have they been met?

Yes, definitely my expectations have been met. I wanted to meet a mentor who will support me with the next steps for my startup and give good advice. Someone who knows how hard it is to run your startup and build a company. 

  1. Have you ever had a mentor before signing up with Oslo EGC Mentoring Program? 

Yes, I met some mentors during accelerator programs and startup events. I’m still in contact with some of them.

  1. Have you been in a situation that you have faced differently due to having the support of a mentor? How were your actions impacted?

Sometimes it’s hard to be motivated and have enough power to face so many challenges every day. So during that days it’s good to have someone who will support you and say something motivating. 

  1. What do you think you have given back to your mentor?

I think we are a great team with a different set of skills. So that I could share with Besim my different point of view on some aspects during our collaboration. 

  1. Do you feel as if you have grown professionally? How?

He inspired me to think a bit differently about the future of my startup and potential opportunities. 

  1. How did  you prepare for your meetings with your mentor? Is there a specific program the two of you follow when you meet?

I think it was very natural. I knew what I would like to talk about and where I need help. So we were going through topic by topic. Also in the meantime some new ideas popped up so it requested some research. 

  1. What has been the most rewarding aspect of being a part of this program?

The most rewarding was to meet new people, networking and be a part of this program.

 

 


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Posted on: November 8. 2019
European Green Capital 2019, News