Developing Underserved Entrepreneurs: A Culturally Competent Approach to Coaching & Mentoring
In my official bio it says that I am “most passionate about bringing the best out of individuals and entities.” And it’s true, I’ve found that the most rewarding thing I can do is be a supporter of success, to be part of something bigger and grander than me. With that, I have spent a lot of time both professionally (especially in my current role as Head of Strategy for evolvedMD) and outside of work mentoring visionaries and coaching companies with a social impact. From my time on boards of large social impact organizations (including Adelante Healthcare and Goodwill of Central and Northern Arizona) to mentoring ventures in internationally recognized incubator SEED SPOT’s impact accelerator, I have witnessed the power of leveraging trusted advisors with deep and diverse experiences to drive bottom-line goals. And from facilitating and participating on panels on creating impact, to engaging with diverse and dynamic organizations that have challenged my beliefs and been enriched by me challenging theirs, I know that founders and business leaders are crucial to creating change. With a lot of time on stage and on virtual screens speaking with hundreds of thought leaders on this topic, I feel uniquely positioned to advise on the best path for burgeoning business owners and entrepreneurs to find the help they need to grow and scale in a thoughtful and authentic way.
As a black man who straddles the line of corporate America and social entrepreneurship, somewhere in my journey it became more and more important to work with ventures helmed by minoritized founders and/or committed to serving minoritized customers and communities. It’s no secret that people in power typically help people who look like them which wouldn’t be such an issue if more people in power looked like me. And at a time when minority-owned businesses are surging, it’s evident now more than ever that with an opportunity for the U.S. economy to flourish through small business growth, there is a very clear need to help these new and often under-resourced and overlooked entrepreneurs.
Starting a business isn’t easy for anyone and that’s especially true for minoritized owners. Navigating the startup space is taxing with never-ending cycles of drive needed to reach the next level. If you’re a business owner or entrepreneur looking to start, grow, or scale your business I would highly recommend that you find a coach or mentor to help guide you along the way. If you’re a person of color or female, I have also found it invaluable to find a mentor that can truly understand your unique struggles, can be empathetic but engaging, and has experience facilitating and fostering culturally relevant conversations that will nurture an authentic coaching relationship.
As you search and seek out individuals or programs perfect for you, make sure you do the following:
· Understand What You Need — As a coach and mentor, I’ve found that ventures almost always need the three C’s: clarity, connections, and capital. Strategy and execution are imperative to a businesses’ success, but the best path is not always clear. Clarity is setting a framework for big picture thinking but it’s mostly about being asked the right questions. With clarity, companies always find the next thing they need assistance with is capacity building within the organization from finances, to operations, to marketing, to sales, once the big picture strategy is set, the execution will require some expertise in each in those areas which is why you will want to find a coach/mentor/program that is willing to open up their contact list and connections to match you with experts and advisors committed to helping you success. And of course, to invest in this infrastructure requires capital. Your mentor or coach should be willing to at least walk you through the many options out there and a good mentor or coach should help you gain direct access to meaningful capital. Depending what stage your venture is in or where you are on your journey, your needs will differ from the next entrepreneur so spent the time to be intentional and thoughtful about what you need in each of those categories.
· Leverage Your Network — With your needs identified and outlined, it’s time to put all those LinkedIn connections to the test and leverage your network. Friends, family, former and current colleagues, customers, strategic partners — everyone in your network has someone who might be your next mentor or coach. Take this task as time to not only talk about your business with people who may or may not be familiar but as an opportunity to refine how you articulate your product offerings, your value proposition, and what could possibly help you succeed. Be vulnerable in conversations about your barriers to success and I promise people will open their networks to people and programs that will provide you clarity, connections, and capital.
· Identify a Coach/Program That Is Best for You — After you cull through the countless intros made, you will want to be very deliberate about selecting a coach or program for you. Key questions to ask are: Does this person/program understand challenges unique to me? Are they willing to listen and understand? Are they willing to advocate on my behalf? Are they right for the stage our business is currently in? Can they get me to the next stage? Have they worked with businesses like mine before? What is their professional experience? What is their lived experience? Will they push me to grow? Do I want them temporarily, episodically, or long term? A diverse but not exhaustive list of questions, when presented with a potential opportunity, these questions will ensure you are matched with someone who will be culturally aligned and provide support in the most authentic way possible.
· Set Clear Expectations & Outcomes — Now that you have a mentor/coach or have entered an incubator or accelerator, it’s imperative that you not only set but co-create clear expectations and desired outcomes. Frame it this way: “At the end of this engagement, I want to [insert goal: launch a new website, increase revenue by 10%, develop a new product line] and you can help me by [offering clarity on marketing strategy, connecting me to B2B growth expert, and making an intro to someone who funds market expansion]. It will also be crucial to have a conversation about how you want to engage, how you want to have discussions, how you want to handle conflict, and how you truly want to be supported. Having this in place on the front end is a best practice to ensure the best possible outcomes.
If there is a time of opportunity for launching trajectory-changing companies, it is now. For entrepreneurs reading this, whether you are idea stage, early stage, or somewhat mature and looking for a bit of guidance — as you plan your dreams or build your next round, know that this is the time to double down on mentors, leaders, and coaches that reflect your experience, background, and values. With a lot of options out there, I recommend finding an incubator or accelerator (like SEED SPOT) that provides a framework and curriculum that checks all the boxes above.
While now is a great time for entrepreneurs everywhere, there is boundless opportunity with renewed focus and interest in helping the traditionally underserved. If you are thinking of starting a business or already years into your venture, know that there are people invested in your success and willing to help.