EXCLUSIVE: ‘If you’re not social, you’re antisocial’ – Why LSE’s and OakNorth’s ‘Mentorpreneurship’ Programme Is The Future
Whether it was a school teacher we had growing up, a family member who was always there when you needed, or even an idol somewhere distant across the globe who we looked up to, everybody in life comes across somebody they value as a mentor.
With the launch of the ‘Mentorpreneurship’ programme by LSE, one of the world’s most prestigious universities, and OakNorth Bank, the next-generation credit platform, past, current and future student entrepreneurs all have the chance to inspire entrepreneurial thinking and benefit from being and/or having a mentor. In speaking with Laura-Jane Silverman, Head of LSE Generate, and Rishi Khosla, co-founder of OakNorth, we were able to find out some of the extremely exciting aspects of the project, as well as how truly impactful it can become on a cultural, social and economic level.
How the programme works – Online meetings, as convenient and efficient as they are, are just not the same as that in-person connection you can create with somebody for the first time. However, as we enter a world where the digital has risen and the traditional workplace has changed as a result of the pandemic, the ‘Mentorpreneurship’ programme intricately combines the technological world with real human interactions to develop entrepreneurial thinking for its mentees.
The ‘Mentorpreneurship’ programme has an app that allows its users to connect with people all over the world. For instance, if a student wants to explore work/study opportunities in Lisbon, they are able to connect immediately with alumni on the ground and are provided a relevant digipak for their journey. This creates a strong online network that is universally accessible and inclusive. The app will also have various built-in features, activities and communication channels that cater for further networking. The programme also holds various physical events to holistically cover all forms of development for its mentees. This involves holding weekly sessions with senior executives for graduates to learn from, as well as off-site retreats, especially with female founders, where peer to peer mentoring and alumni advice are offered. This commitment to developing the skills and experiences of female founders who are largely underrepresented in the entrepreneurial world shows how diverse and forward thinking the programme aims to be. The strong focus on founder development involves using life coaches and wellbeing circles too, which allow students to talk about their challenges but, more crucially, talk about the solutions of those challenges. The room for personal growth is definitely provided.
Supporting everybody and anybody – ‘One thing we do is make sure every student is represented by alumni in the ecosystem.’ One of the key takeaways from talking with Silverman and Khosla was that what it means to be a mentor in today’s world is very different from previous archetypes of mentors that are promulgated in the professional world. Silverman was extremely aware of this, commenting that the traditional example and expectation of a mentor is a white, seasoned male with 20 years of experience in their chosen field who then explains his own personal journey. Whilst there is still a place for this type of mentoring, the ‘Mentorpreneurship’ programme takes a ‘radical departure’ from this stereotype, working with students and alumni about where transformational interactions in their careers occurred in terms of network building, technical know-how confidence expansion, and ultimately pinpointing specific points of momentum and importance along the entire life cycle of an entrepreneur.
Silverman notes that in order to achieve this more diverse and universally relevant support system, ‘we worked out where students most needed the help and who were the right people to offer that support’ instead of offering the generic archetype. This involves implementing a trickle down approach into the programme, where seasoned entrepreneurs mentor recent graduates with 3 to 5 years of experience under their belt, who go on to mentor current university students enrolled onto the programme, who go on to work with 120 students as part of the Girls Day School Trust to offer an entrepreneurship certificate course for students across 11 all-girls schools in the UK. Even after this stage, further work for the programme is done in primary schools, with the objective being that ‘by the time students get to university, they don’t have that hang up on failure and are better set up to deal with the entrepreneurial journey.’ It becomes emphatically clear that the ‘Mentorpreneurship’ programme is committed to changing what it means to be a mentor and how that role is conveyed in the world of entrepreneurs. This seems only fitting then that OakNorth are involved in the project, as the company pride themselves on empowering companies that struggle to acquire loans from banks, dubbed ‘the Missing Middle’.
Every business should be socially minded – Khosla offered extremely wise insights into socially conscious businesses, commenting that the term should not exist since ‘every business should be socially minded.’ This is a powerful statement, but it also shows how much importance and belief Khosla has in the longevity of the ‘Mentorpreneurship’ programme. He states that ‘the last 18 odd months has accentuated that clearly, with the human cost of the pandemic and how the number of extreme weather type events related to climate, all of us have a responsibility as individuals and as companies’. OakNorth themselves have pledged to give into communities, giving 1% of their group profits into projects that have impact.
This is one of many motivations behind the programme. Being able to provide entrepreneurs of all stages with access to information along their immediate path has incredible value. Khosla highlighted that ‘we want to create this [the programme] as a movement, not isolated to the LSE, but overtime to expand and become the go-to place for individuals who want to get that support and take that next step, hopefully driven by people who have taken that step already.’ It is clear then that integral to the programme’s core is this notion of giving back in order to regenerate and revitalise the cycle of entrepreneurship.
Often, the perception of the financial, entrepreneurial world is one that is cold, selfish and merciless, so to hear of such notions of community, collaboration and cohesion from Khosla typifies the social premise of the project. Silverman developed on this further, focusing on how the programme allows individuals to make global connections, so much so that if they wanted to go to Lagos and work on Agrotech to help facilitate sustainable solutions with local, social innovators then they could find the mentorship to do so within the network. Not only then is the programme itself inclusive and socially minded in how it brings in different types of people an opportunity, but it can also bring out these new and exciting projects that can better the lives of others thereafter.
The power of reverse mentoring – It doesn’t matter what era you’re in, the youth will always be the future. Whilst we have discussed the trickle down effects of the ‘Mentorpreneurship’ programme, Silverman highlighted the importance of reverse mentoring that the programme facilitates too. Having university students come into boardrooms with senior executives and offer fresh insights with no hidden agendas really did trigger innovative, entrepreneurial thought. In fact, Khosla was noted to have done this with his own son, really solidifying how true he and OakNorth are to the programme! Not only does this benefit the executives who gain new, contemporary and relevant ideas from students, but it also provides students with this huge feeling of pride and responsibility. This responsibility is often rewarded with placement opportunities; the cycle benefits all clearly.
Final thoughts – ‘Mentorship is not something you sprinkle into an entrepreneurship programme, it’s something that is baked in.’ It is clear that the ‘Mentorpreneurship’ programme is something that has been carefully constructed along every point of its plan. Aligning perfectly with OakNorth’s mission, the partnership that LSE have formed truly has the potential to create real, impactful individuals with a mindset to lead the future. Let us see if the next entrepreneur to change the world comes from this exciting venture!