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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
I have learned a lot, including that major factor of success is the execution and willingness to implement the idea in the real world.
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.
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…
Name: Sylwia Harewska
Profession: IT Internal Control Specialist, FinTech founder
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.
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.
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.
Yes, I met some mentors during accelerator programs and startup events. I’m still in contact with some of them.
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.
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.
He inspired me to think a bit differently about the future of my startup and potential opportunities.
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.
The most rewarding was to meet new people, networking and be a part of this program.