Mentors are paired with startups as the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator goes forward

Iowa AgriTech Accelerator Megan Vollstedt, Executive Director of the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator, meets with the startups. Photo courtesy of Reid Chandler

Two weeks of mentor speed dating left the six startups in the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator with dates.

Now it’s time to work.

Following the traditional accelerator model the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator started its programming by finding each startup a team of mentors to serve as advisors for the rest of the 100 day program. Startups had nearly 60 individual meetings with mentors. After getting feedback from each side, Executive Director Megan Vollstedt paired anywhere from three to eight mentors with each company.

“The mentors are really specific to the team, so what do they need to achieve their goal?” Vollstedt said Thursday.

A breakfast held Thursday with the startups, investors and mentors of the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator served as a celebration that mentor speed dating came to an end but also as a kick off to the rest of the program.

“It’s a lot more focused for each team,” Vollstedt says. “We don’t have the interruptions of meetings, it’s time for teams to work.”

The role of the mentor

The Iowa AgriTech Accelerator has 90 mentors that work with startups.

“Some mentors may be focused on some area of agriculture or business development instead of broad topics like finding a marketing person or legal person,” Vollstedt says. “It’s very specific to each team and based off the mentor feed back.”

Along with the mentors, Vollstedt says the startups will work with three entrepreneurs-in-residence and participate in panel discussions in the office and work on their pitch practices.

Megan Brandt works with over 100 mentors as the program manager of the Global Insurance Accelerator and called the mentor program at the Global Insurance Accelerator, “her baby.”

She said each mentoring relationship varies from mentor to mentor.

“When they go into the speed date meeting the startup teams are prepared to expose the areas they need help with the most and what sort of mentoring they are looking for to round out their team,” Brandt says. “Typically during that meeting, the mentor gets an idea on how and if they can be helpful.”

Molly Monk, Iowa Startup Accelerator Program Manager, agreed with Brandt saying each relationship varies from mentor to mentor.

“Overall though a mentor that matches with a team generally takes on the role of a traditional advisor,” Monk said. “As the startup grows, these mentors may form the startup’s first advisory board.”

Brandt said the way mentors have been “helpful” in the past ranges from introducing a startup to someone in their own network to helping in various areas of the company.

“They are only formally mentoring their matched team for the rest of the 100 days, but they can continue to work with the teams after that time frame if the relationship is still mutually beneficial,” Brandt says. “We don’t put any restrictions or structure to the post-program mentoring, as it should grow organically.”