Has the balance shifted from investors to mentors?

What do mentors do in an accelerator? Is an investor all you need? Can mentorship be transferred? A panels of experts answers these questions

panel

L-R: Chak Kong Soon, Hugh Mason, Shobhit Shukla, Antonny Liem

It was an impossible task — getting the audience to pay attention after lunch, but a panel conducted at this year’s Crowdsourcing Week Singapore 2014 managed to pull it off smoothly. Moderated by Chak Kong Soon, Managing Partner, Stream Global, ‘Innovation Acceleration’ saw panel participants Hugh Mason, Co-founder and CEO, JFDI.Asia; Shobhit Shukla, Vice President (Asia Pacific), AdNear; and Antonny Liem, CEO, Merah Putih Incubator chat about how incubators and accelerators help startups in the region.

As the terms possibly suggest, an accelerator speeds things up, while incubators house young startups. Traditionally, an incubator, an apparatus for eggs to receive the warmth it needs to hatch, protects and makes sure the startups are well taken care of. There might be a pantry area, a meeting room, and a cosy lounge. Not to slight incubators, but an accelerator is very much different.

For one, an accelerator, in the traditional sense of the word, gets the startup to a velocity it didn’t even know it was possible of reaching. Mason, whose accelerator is based in startup hub Block 71, said, “We could be working anywhere. At the risk of sounding pretentious, entrepreneurship is a bit of a faith.” He then explained that most religions have a meeting place, like a church, mosque or temple. It is important to have a common space, where people of different cultures and backgrounds can come together and feel a sense of belonging. He added, “The actual physical space is unimportant.”

The 4Cs of mentorship
Later on during the panel, Mason also brought up that mentors come in different roles. There are usually four Cs these mentors could come in the form of.

Firstly, they can be a coach to the founder, where they teach about entrepreneurship; secondly, it could be a case of consulting, where these mentors have more experience in a particular field and can give professional advice; thirdly, these mentors could act as counsellors, who will allow new founders to find a form of solace in an extremely difficult environment; and lastly, as a character roleplay, for those who might not know what to expect at a meeting with investors or potential partners.

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Shukla said, “If you look at the balance and how it has shifted… probably the value from the investors has been reduced, as compared to mentorship.” Liem too agreed, saying, “The product is second; people usually iterate a lot (after they join the incubator). People have to be coachable.”

“Can mentorship be transferred across countries?” asked Chak. Liem answered that this depends on whether it is technical or personal mentorship the startup is in need of. For example, if a startup is entering the cloud space and requires certain technical mentorship, such mentors can come from any part of the world, as long as they have domain expertise and experience. However, entering the Indonesian market, for example, can bring its own set of unique challenges, which only an Indonesian might have awareness of.

Crowdsourced feedback
In terms of crowdsourcing, Mason also added that in being part of the lean movement, startups in JFDI would often need to prove that they are solving a problem that a crowd would want to see resolved. In addition, there are increasingly more cases where angel investors are using the internet to facilitate crowdfunding. “This shows how broken the venture capital market is,” said Mason.

One such equity funding site would be AngelList, which was launched last April. Equity-based crowdfunding in Singapore seems to still be a route many would rather not take, given the ambiguous position the government is taking.

Disclaimer: Merah Putih Incubator is an investor in Optimatic Pte. Ltd, the parent company of e27

Elaine Huang

Elaine is a fervent believer that if there ever is a zombie apocalypse, we will all be snapping away at them with our phones and posting them onto Instagram. A Mass Communication graduate of Ngee Ann Polytechnic's School of Film and Media Studies, she enjoys writing about technology and entrepreneurs. When not hashtagging her way through all sorts of trouble, Elaine is probably contemplating how to write in the third person.

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