Innovation and enterprise blog

The British Library Business & IP Centre can help you start, run and grow your business

06 February 2019

Why have a mentor? Discover more about our Innovating for Growth: Mentoring programme

Mark Zuckerberg had Steve Jobs, Jamie Oliver has Gennaro Contaldo and Lady Gaga has Elton John. We’re talking about mentor and mentees. Are you looking for your own Elton? Do you want guidance like Mark? The Business & IP Centre runs a mentoring programme as part of Innovating for Growth, pairing up entrepreneurs who have completed our Scale-ups programme, with those who have started their own new business. To see the eligibility criteria, visit our website.

We found many enquirers had misconceptions about being a mentor/mentee, didn’t really know what it was or just wanted more information, so we picked the brains of those currently in the mentoring programme for some insider knowledge.

Deborah Wood, founder of Ascendit, a networked team of business experts, highlights the importance of having a mentor, “Open your mind to be able to learn from and be supported by others. Business lessons are universal so there will always be something to draw from someone else's experience that can help you develop your business. If you have a skilled mentor then they will quickly identify a point that will make a difference to your development.

“[I wanted a mentor as] I’m a great believer in mentorship. I was very fortunate to have my very first one at the tender age of 15, when taking art in school. I had absolutely no experience but clearly was talented. My art teacher thought I would benefit from studying at art college. My first choice was to apply to Central Saint Martin’s in London. I got in and the rest is history.” Tina Bernstein, founder of Mapology Guides, who produce illustrated self-help maps for life's journeys.


What are the programme’s eligibility requirements?

  • Your business has to have been registered as a Sole Trader or on Companies House for at least six months by the application deadline (see below)
  • Your business should already have a ‘live’ website
  • Your business should have already generated some revenue from sales (e.g. from trading at local markets, trade-shows)
  • You will be able to attend the Introductory Mentee Workshop
  • You or your business must be based in London

Tina confirms how mentoring at this stage of her business helped more than if she’d had someone at the start, “I suppose having a mentor right from the start would potentially have helped with avoiding making so many mistakes. However, being good at business is all about learning the lessons and mistakes are part of the journey. Personally, I wouldn’t have wanted someone to guide me right from the start. I’m grateful for all my mistakes and what they’ve taught me. I’m sure I benefited more at this stage of my business.

Can I still apply if:

… I haven’t been registered with Companies House for six months, but I was previously trading in another country before then?

Yes, as long as you also meet our other requirements.

… My company has not yet generated any revenue, but we are expecting some invoices to be processed by our clients soon?

Sadly, no. You must have generated some revenue from sales at the time of your application. We encourage you to apply for future cohorts when this happens.

… I am rebranding my company and/or taking it in a new direction?

Yes, as long as this is a development of your existing company and not the creation of a separate business entity. The mentoring programme is a chance for you to grow your current business endeavour with a Mentor.

 Deborah confirms “The matching process was perfect as my mentor and I are from the same broad industry category. This meant that he immediately understood my business and was able to draw lessons from his own business development to guide help me. [Having being registered for over a year and generated revenue helped] as we had some operational experience to work with and shape.

A mentor and event attendee in discussion during a Speed Mentoring event hosted by the BIPC

The Programme

Who are the Mentors?

The Mentors are alumni from our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme who have volunteered to take part in the programme.

Sarah Orecchia, founder of Unbeelievable Health, an Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups alumni who is a mentor says, “The Innovating for Growth program is something I shall always be grateful for. Having access to invaluable advice from so many professionals in the fields of IP, marketing, sales, supply chain, finance and more helped us to strengthen the foundations of our business and also taught me what being a good mentor is all about. I'm a real Business & IP Centre nerd and recommend it to anyone I come across who's starting a business! When I started my business I was really fortunate to have a couple of great mentors and it truly made a world of difference. Their straightforward advice and support helped me to avoid numerous pitfalls and guided me in the right direction. As Maya Angelou said – ‘If you get, give. If you learn, teach.’”

Amelia Rope, founder of Amelia Rope Chocolates wanted to become a mentor "Because it was important for me to give back'; not only to the Business & IP Centre, but also to individuals who were at the stage when a mentor may be of some help. We all have so much experience gained from getting things hopelessly wrong or delightfully right. If you can share an ounce of these with a budding start-up in the hope its saves them making the same mistakes it has to be worth it. The thorough training from the Business & IP Centre before we kicked off was invaluable. One fellow mentor I met on the course will be a friend for life."

I understand that the Mentee Introductory workshop is mandatory. If I am unable to attend in person, can this be done remotely?

It is essential that you are able to attend this workshop so as to have a greater understanding of the programme, your expectations as a mentee and also the expectations of your prospective mentor. If you are unable to attend the workshop, you must let the Innovating for Growth team know by emailing [email protected].

Should you unexpectedly not be able to attend after receiving a place on the Introductory Mentee Workshop, we do allow you to defer your place once to start with the next cohort.

I’ve been successful in getting a place on the Mentee Introductory Workshop. Am I now guaranteed a Mentor?

The Innovating for Growth team work hard to make sure that we can match you with an appropriate mentor so as to try to ensure the most positive experience as possible for you. This careful decision process is based on the information you provide on your application form, your interactions during the Introductory Workshop, and the experience/skillsets that our existing pool of Mentors have to offer.

Therefore, if we feel like we are unable to match you with a suitable Mentor this cohort, we will automatically enrol you onto the next cohort. In this instance, you will not need to reapply or attend a second Mentee Introductory Workshop.

The mentor appointed to me understood retail and my various challenges, that’s because they’ve themselves been through them at an earlier stage. I felt we spoke the same language. I think the matched approach is imperative to a successful mentor/mentee relationship. I was very grateful for the hand-picked approach.” Tina Bernstein, founder of Mapology Guides

How often does the programme take place?

The programme takes place on a bi-annual basis (approximately).

How much time will I need to commit to the programme?

If successfully matched with a Mentor, your mentoring sessions will consist of one one hour introductory meetings of one hour at the Business & IP Centre, followed by five meetings of 1-2 hours over the course of four months. The time, dates and locations for the remaining five meetings will be decided between you and your Mentor.

What type of Mentoring will I receive?

This is something that will be discussed in greater detail at the Introductory Mentee Workshop. However, it is good to know that the purpose of the programme is to provide a holistic mentoring experience, and we cannot guarantee that you will receive mentoring on a specific topic i.e. marketing, finance, international trade, etc.

Does the programme provide any financial support?

No, the programme’s purpose is to build your entrepreneurial confidence and it seeks to offer the following non-monetary benefits:

  • Practical advice, encouragement and support from experienced entrepreneurs
  • Identification of goals and establish a sense of direction
  • Exposure to new ideas and ways of thinking
  • Strengthen your interpersonal and communication skills and learn to listen actively and accept feedback
  • Increase your confidence and motivation
  • Expansion your professional network

Will I need to pay to participate in the programme?

No. The Innovating for Growth project is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the British Library, making this programme completely free to you. All we ask is that you pay for your Mentor’s coffee or tea during your mentoring meetings as they are volunteering their own time to help you.

Sarah explains the importance of having a mentor, “As humans, we tend to wage an internal battle between lacking confidence and feeling like we can do it all. Starting a business takes a LOT of time and many mistakes can be made along the way. A mentor helps to guide you and provides often, invaluable advice and insight. I had several mentors for different areas of my business. Sometimes just a few meetings or conversations are needed, and sometimes the relationship may last longer. To those who are unsure about having a mentor - I ask - what is the downside? Go for it! And once you've built your enterprise, get out there and give back by mentoring others! It's very rewarding!”


I would like to become a Mentor for the Innovating for Growth: Mentoring programme. Is this possible?

We only recruit our Mentors from our Innovating for Growth: Scale-up programme. If you meet the Scale-up programme eligibility requirements, we encourage you to apply so that you might Mentor with us in the future.

If I don’t get onto the programme, are there any other Business & IP Centre opportunities available to me?

Yes, certainly. The Innovating for Growth programme in general offers a Start-up and Scale-up programme, both with the goal to help your business prosper. Additionally, we invite you to take a look at the Business & IP Centre website for all the fantastic programmes and events we have on offer all year round.

If you have any further questions for the programme, or would like to clarify anything you have read here, please reach out to [email protected].

BIPC banner promoting the Innovating for Growth: Scale-up programme