Virgin StartUp ‘Business’ Mentor…What is it? and Why do it?

Virgin StartUp Mentor

I have decided to volunteer some time to work with small businesses, not necessarily entrepreneurial ones, but one where my experience might add another dimension to them achieving their objectives; my personal point of view was ‘It would be good to aid businesses overcome problems which, in theory, I had already experienced in the last 20 years of running companies, both small and large’.

To this end I was recommended by a colleague to register to become a ‘Virgin StartUp Business Mentor’, sounds grand eh! But what does it mean?

Virgin StartUp Mentor Overview

Firstly, you do it for love and the desire to help, it is totally voluntary.

Secondly, Virgin StartUp will pair you will a business who has recently secured a government unsecured loan via the Virgin StartUp scheme; part of this process stipulates that you will be allocated a mentor to work with the business for a period of 12 months.

Thirdly, the mentor will work ‘on average’ 15 hours over the 12 month period to aid the business in achieving their objectives.

Let’s be quite clear, the mentor does not ‘Do’, it ‘Aids’ the mentee’s business in finding its own path. The premise behind the mentoring is that the significant majority of start-ups fail (more of this below) in the first twelve months, but by giving a support network you drastically reduce this chance.

Virgin Startup has a stated mission to “Change the prospects of start-ups for good!”

Become a Virgin StartUp Mentor (The How)

So, how do you become a mentor? Well simple really! You register on the Virgin Start-up website, and then have a telephone call with a Virgin StartUp to assess your ability and to ensure a good match, and you attend a 4-5 hour workshop at the Virgin offices in Paddington.

oh, and you get to read lots of paperwork including T&Cs required for signing before you can work with the business.

So, after completing the telephone interview and online paperwork, I was enrolled on a workshop.

Arriving 1PM on a Friday afternoon at their offices, I was welcomed into a meeting style room, along with 17 other volunteer mentors. Mentors came from very different backgrounds including government bodies, retail, executive recruitment, IT & Telecoms, Software and corporate banking. Even the trainer delivering the course mentor material is a volunteer mentor. In all cases these people are passionate about this initiative and willing to provide support wherever they can.

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The Virgin StartUp Proposition

After the introductions the loan process was outlined. Businesses can apply for a loan of between £500 and £25,000 unsecured; the decision in attaining the loan is not credit score based, as it is understood that many business people might not have one! But on the business idea! Superb…this is what entrepreneurship is all about!

Further information on the criteria can be found on the link at the bottom of the page…

Some Stats (Up to June 2016)

Since 2013 – some stats from the training…

  • 1224 loans have been approved, 1143 have been funded and £12.1 million lent.
  • 60/40 split male to female
  • Age 18 – 30 account for 45%, 31-49 – 46% and 50+ 9%
  • Demographic – 17% have been loaned to unemployed, 31% to self-employed, 11% part-timers and 41% to those in fulltime employment.
  • Largest geographical area is London at 33%.
  • The top three sectors where loans have been provided are
    • 21% Food and Beverage
    • 20% Services
    • 9% Clothing

Real people gaining access to life changing loans…

Structure of the Mentor programme

To facilitate the relationship with the Mentee, 3 stages were outlined (below); these were discussed in detail highlighting the need for structure in the relationship.

  • Establish the relationship: Get to know each other and agree the ground rules;
  • Maintain the relationship: Explore goals and identify challenges and find solutions;
  • End the relationship: Establish independence and develop self-reliance.

As I am sure you can imagine, this workshop was very much about the ‘role of mentor’ with roleplay. It was situational, in that you take the role of the mentor or mentee to address and discuss elements or situations you might come across.

Structure in supporting the Mentee

We discussed several tools and approaches appropriate to mentoring the Virgin Startup way. The process was very interesting and rewarding.

As with all things in life, we tend to hold our opinion or life view as the best way of doing things, but conversation with others opens up new perspectives that can improve our own performance.

Working through the mentor process with such a varied group of people was both interesting and rewarding. One of the tools focused upon and instrumental in getting to the crux of the matter was a simple ‘5Cs cyclical tool’. The aim of the 5Cs is to aid the Mentor in getting to the root cause of the problem and aiding the mentee in coming up with a plan to address it.

Outline of the 5Cs are:

Challenge, Choices, Consequences, Creative solutions and Conclusions (cyclical)

Each stage links to the next requiring a decision before moving to the next. We worked through this process a few times and it worked admirably. Nice and simple, just how business should be.

Getting paired with a Virgin StartUp business (Admin)

The process is simple enough, your profile and skill set is analysed and linked to a Virgin StartUp business which has been granted a loan. Once paired, you then arrange a call by way of introduction, and then arrange a one to one meeting to talk through next steps including ground rules i.e. no midnight phone calls etc.

You are then free to support the business as you see fit; however, the workshop was at pains to ensure that you are there to aid them in building their business for 12 months, so all efforts should be focused on the mentee driving business performance, not you!

I am yet to be confirmed as ‘paired’ with a business and when I am all communication will be confidential, so unfortunately there will be no updates on the relationships progress; however, I will share any learning I might encounter along the way.

What does the Mentor get out of this?

Well, apart from being part of a network of like-minded people, you get the satisfaction that you are ‘sharing your learnings’ to the benefit of others, and that you are making a difference to other people’s lives. We all too often put our knowledge and experience down to common practise, when in truth, this simply isn’t the case; imparting some well, and probably hard, learned business experience will help others avoid the same mistakes we have made.

If you are also interested in becoming a mentor then take a look at the link below:

Useful Links:


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