Mentoring: the key ingredient to startup success

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Mentoring: the key ingredient to startup success

Paid for by NatWest

The Prince’s Trust Enterprise programme assigns all its entrepreneurs a mentor. Here, Ridhi Kalaria, director of Birmingham’s Ort Art Gallery, reveals how her mentor, NatWest’s Jennie Koo, helped make her business a success.

What have Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg and Michelle Obama all got in common? They all say that having a mentor has been crucial to their success. Mentoring is one of the key components of the Prince’s Trust Enterprise programme, which is supported by NatWest and has worked with more than 80,000 budding young entrepreneurs since it began in 1983. "One of the challenges young people face when starting a business is that they don’t have the life experience or social networks," explains Emma Howard, national programme manager, Enterprise, at the Prince’s Trust. "Our mentors help bridge that gap by introducing the young people to their own network, keeping them focused with regular catch-ups and being on the end of the phone to offer support and advice."

Ridhi Kalaria went through the Prince’s Trust Enterprise programme in 2011. She and her business partner, artist Josephine Reichert, met while studying at Birmingham University and came up with their business idea soon after graduating. “Josephine wanted to find a space to display her work, but every gallery she tried charged. Our peers were opening spaces in London and we wanted to do the same in Birmingham, but knew that, as it was the beginning of the recession, getting full-time funding for an art gallery was going to be difficult.”

The pair came up with the idea of creating a cafe which could bring in some income and also have the space to display artwork. They found their perfect spot in an old printing factory, asked for donations of furniture, crockery and cutlery and, with the help of 30 volunteers renovating, painting and decorating, turned the space into the Ort Cafe. One of the volunteers recommended the Prince’s Trust Enterprise programme as it had helped him start his mobile bike mechanic business. “We’d used whatever free advice was available, but going on the Enterprise programme four-day course cemented all the bits of information we’d gathered,” says Ridhi. “The best part, however, was being assigned our mentor, Jennie.”

Jennie Koo, risk performance oversight manager at NatWest in Birmingham, had learnt mentoring skills while studying for her degree in sociology and psychology. She applied for a mentor’s role at the Prince’s Trust and went through a rigorous three-day interview process. “It really tested our abilities. We looked at a selection of young people’s stories, as many come from difficult backgrounds and have been abandoned and abused. We had to be able to cope with that emotional baggage and also understand that their entrepreneurial skills would be pretty basic. And we learnt how to mentor – to understand that it’s not your business, you’re just there to guide, and to help them get the most out of their ambition and make some money.”

Jennie met with Ridhi and Josephine regularly and the three clicked from the start. “I remember feeling incredibly comfortable with Jennie at our first meeting,” says Ridhi. “We knew immediately that she was on our side, a critical friend to help us solve any problems we faced.” Issues they covered at their monthly catch-ups ranged from staff issues and legal matters to cashflow and cost analysis.

“Jennie had this huge network of contacts in the business world she could draw on for support and specialist expertise, so suddenly we had access to all these brains,” says Ridhi. “We had a temporary tenancy contract while we were getting the cafe off the ground and when the renewal came up Jennie consulted a property law colleague and worked through the clauses with us. She also helped us with business strategy, health and safety and, often, our confidence. When you’re starting up you just see the things that are going wrong. Jennie would say: ‘Remember that event last week where you brought in 100 people? Celebrate that instead of worrying that the dishwasher flooded!’”

The mentoring relationship came to a natural end after 18 months, but the three are still in touch; the Ort Cafe was sold and Josephine and Ridhi opened the Ort Gallery in October 2016. As Jennie says, though, the success of the mentoring relationship was as much down to Ridhi and Josephine’s engagement as her support. “Ridhi and Josephine took on board everything I recommended – they went along to courses and workshops I suggested and took me up on my offer to phone whenever they needed me. Seeing them develop the cafe from nothing to a phenomenal business – and now the gallery – is wonderful and phenomenally rewarding.”

NatWest has been in partnership with the Prince’s Trust since it was established in 1976. The Prince’s Trust helps disadvantaged and/or unemployed young people in the UK to change their lives and get into work, volunteering, education or training through practical and financial support. NatWest’s support goes directly to help the Prince’s Trust Enterprise programme in every UK region, as well as via its newly launched online portal that opens up the scheme to more young people than ever before. It also helps raise the profile of young entrepreneurs by supporting events such as the Prince’s Trust Awards.