Mentoring: the spirit of giving (and the benefits!)

Written by Volker Bauer (with support from Meagan Rees, YBI)
By day, Volker Bauer is a Senior Manager at Accenture Germany. After hours, he’s a volunteer business mentor who works with young entrepreneurs supported by YBI member, Youth Business Germany.

Volker is one of 14,000 volunteer mentors working within the YBI network – professionals who inspire and empower young entrepreneurs to reach their potential. A successful mentoring relationship can significantly enhance young entrepreneurs’ success. YBI’s global research shows that 84% of entrepreneurs supported felt more confident running their business because of the non-financial support they received, highlighting the value of mentoring in particular.

Mentoring also benefits mentors: it allows professionals to give back and can energise their careers; it contributes to an overall sense of well-being and happiness; mentors have an opportunity to share their knowledge, experience, successes and failures; and it can strengthen mentors’ interpersonal skills.
Here is Volker’s story.

Where it all started

In June 2016 an email arrived in my inbox with the subject line “CC (Corporate Citizenship) Month – looking for mentors for young entrepreneurs”.

“Great!” was my first reaction. For a while I’d been thinking about sharing my professional experience beyond my day job, and this email sounded like an opportunity to do just that.

For 30 years I’ve worked with big and small companies in the software industry, designing and implementing structures and processes. I’ve learned a lot and failed more than once. Becoming a mentor could be the perfect opportunity to share this experience and help others to avoid at least some of my mistakes.

I hit “reply” and applied to become a mentor. My journey with Youth Business Germany (YBG) had officially started.

Later that same month, interested staff like me attended an introductory meeting and mentor training undertaken by a welcoming and friendly Youth Business Germany (YBG) team at the Accenture Campus Kronberg offices. After hearing more about the YBG programme and the commitments required from mentors (both time and content), I said “Yes! I want to do that!”

I completed a questionnaire about personality traits and my areas of expertise. A mentor profile was created, and this was matched against YBG’s pool of young entrepreneurs.

Could there be a match?
The match

Just over a month later, an email pinged into my inbox from Dunja, YBG’s Mentoring Manager. “We have finished the matching process and propose that you mentor (the business) Blockyy”.

Attached was information about the founders and their business idea: Victor and Ilmi are students at Technische Universität Darmstadt. Victor is in Business Engineering and Ilmi focuses on Computer Science. The idea behind Blockyy was to re-invent blogging by making it extremely simple and, at the same time, to add an aspect of knowledge-sharing.

I was thrilled to accept: the idea was interesting; the mentees seemed like nice guys on paper; and there was a combination of technical- and personal challenges to tackle.

I accepted and was ready to go.

The meet

At the start if August we had our first face-to-face meeting. The chemistry was immediately “right” from the start.

Victor and Ilmi explained the business; reported its first successes; spoke through their failures; and discussed the move they made regarding the target group and sales concept. When they started, the idea was to feed the need via a private, free end-user concept and to make those private users recommend usage for their companies too.

After two hours in the YBG office in Offenbach, the founders of Blockyy and I both made a decision: Yes, we will walk this patch together. I believed we would be a great team!

The walk

Victor is the Salesman in the team. This makes sense: given his Business Engineering background, he drives all activities around selling the system. Ilmi is the technician. He had the idea for Blockyy and has programmed the first versions already. And I’m somewhere in the middle: while I was originally a “software guy”, I have gained enough business knowledge in my professional career over the years to be able to manage a software business.

In September we met for our next session in Darmstadt, and focused on some key questions:

  • • How do I get clients?
  • • Why should a company buy this solution?
  • • What is our “value proposition”?

We brainstormed simple solutions for the next steps in building Blockyy further. We discussed rating systems for postings, weighting, popularity of entries and how that can influence search results to benefit their business.

My advice was to see in the outside world what kinds of algorithms were available; what kind of search engine and indexing mechanisms existed; and what best fitted our system (oh, I see that I’m already talking about “our” system).

As homework for our next session, we agreed to assess the market potential of the solution and explain the technical infrastructure to cover all bases. It was so much fun working with Ilmi and Victor and I was looking forward to more!

 

Work in progress

On 14 October 2016 we hit another Blockyy milestone: our first meeting in their own office! Ilmi no longer had to use the university library to write code. And it’s now so much easier to draw a line between studies, work- and private life.
And another significant change happened: a change of market strategy led to a decision to look for a better product and/or company name.
Other topics on this day’s agenda included technical infrastructure, technical scalability, and potential market size for the product. Looking at the potential alone: it is HUGE.

Now we just have to make it happen – it’s work in progress and definitely to be continued!
About Youth Business Germany (YBG): YBG is the German member of the global Youth Business International (YBI) network. It is the youth-focused programme established by the non-profit organisation KIZ SINNOVA. KIZ supports mainly entrepreneurs who depend on welfare. This is done with support from municipalities, foundations, banks and private partners, ministries of state and federal levels, and the EU. Since 1997, approximately 25,000 entrepreneurs have been supported and 2,500 were supported in 2015. Together with Youth Business International (YBI), KIZ established YBG in order to support young entrepreneurs (18-35 years) in Germany.

Talent is equally distributed; chances not (YBG mission statement): Too many talented people don’t get a fair chance to realize their entrepreneurial ideas/start their own business. In the summer of 2015 YBI member, YBG, sought to combat this trend by implementing a sustainable initiative which offers YBG beneficiaries (otherwise known as “talents”) a fair chance to develop their business potential.

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