ISU Startup Factory Mentor Guidelines

The Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship and the Startup Factory believe the key to great mentorship is to be a good human. With special help from our friends at Techstars and colleagues in  CYstarters, we outlined our guidelines for effective mentorship below.   


  1. Expect Nothing in Return. Mentorship is not a deal flow. We want mentors to continue giving without a defined transactional return.  
  2. Listen. The next time you ask a question, empty your mind and listen to the answer. Look the person you are talking to directly in the eyes and concentrate on what they are saying.  
  3. Let Them Make Their Own Decisions. Your job is not to solve a founder’s problem. It’s to help. It’s to listen. It’s to provide feedback and data from your experience.  
  4. Be Direct. Tell the Truth. Know Your Limits: “I don’t know” is a good answer. Say what is on your mind and support it with either experience or examples. If you don’t know, say you don’t know. It’s easy, especially as a mentor, to gloss over the fact that you made a mistake. But it’s much more powerful to the mentee when you own your mistakes and correct them.  
  5. Provide Specific, Actionable Advice. Don’t Be Vague. Stories are the way we remember and the best way to share our experiences. Yet, when the founder is directly asking a question, answer the question first. Be self-aware. And listen to what the founder may not be asking too.
  6. Open Doors. Open the door of opportunity for a founder by introducing them to your network of contacts. Similarly, open the door to information by steering them to key resources.
  7. Be Empathetic. Being a founder is hard. Starting a business with no business experience is hard! Be compassionate and empathetic, especially when a founder has a hard time grasping a concept or seeing priorities.  


Startup Factory Expectations:  

Disclose any potential conflicts of interest. Many of our founders work in highly technical spaces in industries critical to Iowa’s agriculture, bio-science, and engineering fields. It’s critical to disclose your potential conflicts of interest so we can match you with an appropriate company.  Respect Confidentiality. There’s a simple approach. Use your judgment. If you are uncertain, ask the person from whom you got the information.   

Operate with a Founder First mentality. Let your guiding principles be about what is best for that founder and their growth as a leader and business owner.   

Communicate effectively, promptly, and respectfully. Being responsive means to be present. By agreeing to mentor a company, you are agreeing to journey with them on their path to commercialization. Respect for the founder’s perspective as the innovator and owner of this technology is critical, as is respect for their personhood.