North Bridge VC Michael Skok on Boston's startup mentor gap (and how to close it)

Skok also plans to bring in experienced entrepreneurs to offer case studies about their companies, as he's done in previous sessions.

Mar 7, 2013, 9:51am EST
Kyle Alspach
VC Editor- Boston Business Journal

Boston has hundreds of tech startups at all stages of growth, and plenty of programs to help support those companies. But the demand for mentorship is clearly greater than the supply, says Michael Skok, partner at North Bridge Venture Partners.

"VCs and angels have placed lots of bets, because money is much easier to give than time," said Skok, a board member at Boston area tech firms including Demandware (Nasdaq: DWRE), Acquia, Akiban and Apperian, and formerly CEO of software companies including AlphaBox (acquired by IBM).

The large number of seed-funded startups has led to a much-discussed "Series A crunch," but also contributed to a major mentor gap, he said.

"There are never going to be enough mentors for every company at every stage," Skok said.

Tonight, Skok begins the third edition of his popular "Startup Secrets" series of classes, at the Harvard Innovation Lab in Allston.

An over-arching goal, Skok says, is to equip entrepreneurs with a framework which will let them be more self-sufficient in growing their businesses.

To do that, Skok won't be offering answers, per se. Instead, he says he wants to help entrepreneurs ask themselves the right questions before they launch startups — such as how to establish a value proposition, how to make money with the right business model and how to go to market.

"That thinking should go into every startup, long before you even consider starting a team or raising money," he said. "I'm not shining a light on things people haven't asked before, but I'm putting it in a simple and logical way."

Skok also plans to bring in experienced entrepreneurs to offer case studies about their companies, as he's done in previous sessions.

The hope is that entrepreneurs who attend the classes will not only need fewer mentors, but will also be able to ask more thoughtful questions of their mentors, Skok said.

"Instead of needing a mentor for everything, you can go to the mentor and say, 'Hey I've made this progress, I've got these examples of things people have done, I've got this set of questions. How can you engage me on this?'" Skok said.

Tonight's event, which is sold out, will serve as an overview of the current series of classes and won't feature case studies, he said. Two other classes are scheduled — for March 26 and April 16 — and Skok said the series may be expanded to a total of seven classes this time around (the series has featured four classes in the past).

Skok also said a session in May is expected to include a prominent guest, who isn't being named for now, from a billion-dollar tech firm (not a company based in the Boston area).

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