There are several different ways to approach mentorship, whether you're an entrepreneur seeking advice, an experienced person looking to share, or an employee looking to deepen your relationship to your work and your professional community. Whatever way you approach it, however, there's no denying its importance. Among entrepreneurs and professionals, mentorship is consistently touted as a crucial piece to the success story.
Zeina Muna is the director of business development at iFundWomen, an organization that works to facilitate funding and investment for women-owned startups. In her role, she mentors women on how to obtain the dollars that primarily — and consistently — tend to favor white male-owned businesses. For Zeina, the relationship between obtaining funding to get a business off the ground and mentorship is inextricably linked.
Zeina says that a whopping 48 percent — almost half — of the women she works with say that a lack of available mentors and advisors hold them back. Companies like iFundWomen are one approach to the solution. Others are more individually-based.
"Co-working spaces, communities, and organizations specifically for women, like Quilt, all help to break down those barriers that leave female entrepreneurs feeling isolated and disconnected from their resources," she says.
Finding a Mentor
Zeina believes that most women are naturally social creatures — and it's likely that that percentage increases when considering success-driven or professional women specifically.
Seeking out a mentor isn't just about the benefits; she says—"it's absolutely critical that you don't attempt any growth journey alone."
A mentor doesn't have to be a completely formal arrangement. Zeina likens a mentor to a professional "bestie," who hones in on the professional aspects of your life. This ranges from conversations about your career or business path to advice on what to invest in.
"Really," says Zeina, "you are looking for peers, people who have done what you are about to do, as well as people who have not yet started the journey." That's right — Zeina recommends having both mentors who are more experienced AND less experienced than you. "You can absolutely learn from both," she says.
In no way is this limited to fellow women. "Rather than considering the gender of the mentor," says Zeina, "it's more important to have a mentor that's in your industry or knows very well the particular challenges you are currently facing."
Still, there's something to say about seeking out advice and professional community from and with other women. Most women, Zeina says, are good connectors. "There are lots of opportunities now to get advice from other women through a community — whether it's IRL or virtual," she says.
A Personal Mentorship Journey
Zeina has several people in her life that she considers to be mentors. "I have a couple of go-to people that I talk to about my trajectory on a periodical basis, and I have people that I look up to and follow without them even knowing it," she says. It's important to remember — especially when considering online interactions — that you can absolutely learn from others without them knowing your story.
Group conversations — like Quilt chats and gatherings — are a great way to find mentors, and to flex the muscle of being a mentor to someone else, says Zeina. She considers this to be a major secret in the mentorship process. "Sometimes listening is the best way to learn," she says. "If someone is asking for help, absolutely give it — but sometimes we can help each other in ways that are more subtle and invisible."
Mentorship Bonus: Tips for Women Seeking Funding from Zeina Muna
- Don't go looking for VC or angel investment until you have solid proof of concept, proof of demand, and a successful working MVP (minimum viable product).
- Crowdfunding can be a low-risk, highly-efficient path to getting your startup, small business, nonprofit, or side hustle off the ground without going into debt, and without giving up equity.
- Practice a confident and results-based pitch before having a conversation with an investor.
- Get advice from other women who have been through the process — utilize all the coaching and mentorship you can get from others!
Quilt is a mobile app that offers a deeper sense of connection in the modern world by making it easier for women to come together for real conversations online and offline. Download the app and join us for a chat, gathering, or house party!