A mentorship program in New York City is changing the way entrepreneurs grow and develop their business. Every year, NYC Venture Fellows selects high-potential entrepreneurs to participate in a program that grants them access to an executive-level advisory board and personalized programing as they grow their companies.
By 2011, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) developed a diverse portfolio of programs to support entrepreneurs with the creation of their ventures. But there was still something missing, and a full suite demanded support for later-stage entrepreneurs at the tipping point of scale.
“We wanted to assist leaders in becoming the next large employers in the city,” said Sri Swaminathan, who worked as the Assistant Director of the NYCEDC’s International Desk. Subsequent conversations with stakeholders pointed to two key ingredients to scaling: mentorship and community. What entrepreneurs demanded most was a robust network of both peers and veterans who can share their insights on the challenging transition from running a startup to leading a large company.
From here, the program management shifts focus to a year-long series of community events that take two main forms: CEO-level panels by mentors or past alumni about the challenges of leading a fast growing company, and guest speeches curated to fit the fellows’ expressed needs.
In 2011, its first year, the program was able to enlist executives from NBC, MTV, and the Huffington Post. Many of the original mentors have stayed on board, and the roster has since expanded to include the heads of established brands like IBM, as well as the successful entrepreneurs behind companies like Warby Parker, ZocDoc and Next Jump. These mentors provide invaluable advice because many have been through the scaling process themselves.
“At the start,” says Sri Swaminathan, “we were unsure about mentors volunteering without return. We found a strong response because these executives appreciated the very structured opportunity we presented to them.”
The program has already graduated some successful alumni, including the leaders of Gilt Groupe, Foursquare, and Second Market. Many of these fellows continue to be involved in NYC Venture by nominating entrepreneurs and speaking on panels. One former fellow has even taken on a more hands-on role by organizing an upcoming “sounding board” event, in which current fellows can present a real life business challenge to discuss with their cohorts.
NYC Venture Fellows program is able to support entrepreneurial ventures by engaging experienced policy makers, business leaders, and investors to support a limited number of high-potential local businesses. The community it creates allows alumni fellows to stay involved and assist other founders, creating a virtuous cycle of mentorship in the city’s entrepreneurial community.
For more information, visit NYC Venture Fellows’ website, www.nycventurefellows.com
Contributed by Rexy Josh Dorado and Haley Goodman.