Frequently Asked Questions About Our Entrepreneurial Service Program
If you’re an entrepreneur attempting to scale a new business, you likely have many questions. CED’s Venture Mentoring Service is designed to help you answer those questions and make better-informed decisions about the future of your business. Read through our FAQs below and, if you have any additional queries, please don’t hesitate to call us at 919.549.7500.
CED-VMS stands for CED’s Venture Mentoring Service and is a program initially developed at MIT. Adopting practices from that program, CED has instituted VMS in the Triangle to benefit NC entrepreneurs.
CED-VMS is best suited for full-time entrepreneurs with concerns about how to successfully scale their business, and who are ready for an initial “advisory team.” If you are in an early planning stage, we can recommend alternative programs. As CED-VMS sessions are offered in the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina, the entrepreneur must be able to meet with mentors in that location.
CED-VMS services are offered free of charge. Thanks to our generous Strategic Partners and Annual Fund donations, there are no fees for the service, nor does CED ask for any equity.
CED-VMS entrepreneurs are expected to commit to a sustained relationship with CED-VMS and to be professional, open, respectful and responsive to the volunteer mentors who work with them. They are also expected to provide CED-VMS, to the best of their ability, with accurate information about their venture on a quarterly basis.
We request prospective entrepreneurs to complete and submit a questionnaire on the CED-VMS Forms page to provide basic information about themselves and the venture or idea they are pursuing. All identified proprietary information provided by applicants will be kept strictly confidential by CED-VMS. You will then be contacted by our intake specialist, who will conduct a phone or face-to-face interview. If you are accepted for mentoring, you will be asked to sign a form agreeing to abide by the CED-VMS rules and principles.
Once accepted into the program, you will be asked to do a “pitch” at one of the monthly mentor meetings. This feels a lot like what you would expect during a pitch for venture capital, but is designed to allow the mentors to get to know you, your team and the company you are trying to scale. At that meeting, mentors will raise their hands to help and the CED team will arrange the first mentoring session. We always pair mentors in teams, usually between two and four. It has been our experience (and MIT’s) that having mentors working together, but coming from different backgrounds and experiences, provides the entrepreneur with a more well-rounded view of critical success factors and helps them develop the most robust set of options to address those factors.
It is important for participating entrepreneurs to realize that CED-VMS mentoring services are strictly educational. All business decisions remain under the full control of the participating entrepreneur. In other words, we are here to help set and achieve critical milestones; we cannot do it for you.
The formation of a relationship between mentor and entrepreneur is purely voluntary. The mentors assign themselves to a venture according to their interests or areas of expertise. Though CED-VMS assists with connecting appropriate mentors and entrepreneurs, the decision to form a relationship remains with the prospective mentor and entrepreneur. On occasion, CED-VMS may not have the appropriate resources and may have to decline a request for assistance.
Some of the companies that have benefited from the expert advice, ongoing mentoring and connections made by participating in the CED-VMS program include:
- 10 for Humanity
- Akili Software
- AgRenaissance Software
- Altometrics, Inc.
- Archive Social (Exactbyte)
- Blue Gas Marine
- Chieko Alice LLC/Films
- FreeHand Endoscopic Devices
- Funding Launch Pad
- Gema Touch
- GO2 LLC
- Green Energy Management System
- Horizon Performance
- icimo LLC
- IT Works
- Infinitus Medical Technologies
- Keona Health
- Learn VC
- MLB Digital Academy
- Mirrored Motion Works
- New Mind
- Notable Creations
- Offline Media
- Organic Transit
- Planktos Instruments
- RISC Networks
- Racarie Software
- Railhouse Brewery
- Sarda Technologies
- Smashing Boxes
- Spotlight Solar
- Sqord, Inc.
- Sweetie Pie Organics
- Sisu Chemical
- Terraine Inc.
- The Produce Box
- Validic (Motivation Science)
- Waterplay USA
CED-VMS functions best with a pool of mentors who possess operating executive backgrounds. The experience set may be a mix of that for corporate executives and serial founding entrepreneurs, as well as specialists in law, technical matters, medicine, education and other fields. Mentors can be from a mix of industries, especially mentors who may advise for customer target markets or industry alliances.
The following characteristics are also desired of suitable mentors:
- Respected by colleagues; a role model
- Has significant operational and/or startup experience
- Positive attitude
- Good listener
- Enthusiasm for the program
- Time to participate; desire to “give back”
- No personal or sales agenda; high credibility
- Ability to advise and coach in an unbiased manner
- Comfortable with team mentoring
Mentors come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. 40 percent have led a startup, 50 percent have worked in Fortune 500 Companies, and 38 percent have worked in small-to-medium size businesses.
56 percent have worked for tech companies, 24 percent in life science, 13 percent in advanced materials/manufacturing and 10 percent in other industries, including: manufacturing, lighting tech, investment banking, corporate finance and legal, transportation/logistics, textiles, 3-D tech, gaming, chemicals, marketing/advertising, e-learning, energy, mobile, semi-conductors, Aerospace, Big Data, Healthcare IT, utilities, cable Media, ag-bio, medical Device, consumer products, and many more.
Mentors agree to minimum participation requirements. Additionally, to keep an environment of trust with entrepreneurs, mentors sign conflict of interest forms relating to investment and solicitation of services. Should such relationships form over the course of mentoring, the mentor would recuse him/herself from the mentoring relationship.
Once a mentor has been accepted and enrolled, CED will arrange for a short training session. We hold monthly meetings (during normal business hours) where mentors will be introduced to a list of ventures needing assistance. Mentors will select the companies to work with and notify CED. A lead mentor is assigned to be the primary point of contact and unbiased ear for each team.
After a team is assembled a first mentoring session is scheduled. Meeting frequency is up to the venture, but average frequency may be once per month initially, and further apart at later stages. Mentoring content is often practical, operationally-oriented and focused on helping the venture set and achieve critical short-term (6, 12 and 18 month) milestones.
Every venture is unique in its status, needs, trajectory and priorities. There is no repeatable process. CED-VMS is a flexible framework that can be adjusted to the participant. There is an ebb and flow to session activity. There may be times where multiple intensive sessions over a short time span are needed to help crystallize strategy and plans. And there will be times when meetings are less frequent as the venture executes those plans.
Since the relationship between entrepreneurs and mentors is voluntary, mentorship may last as long as it is beneficial to both parties. The nature of the mentoring and the composition of the mentoring teams may change over time as the needs of the venture change. There may also be breaks in time where a venture needs less assistance, and returns to service at a later date. There are some relationships that have been established and will last a lifetime, while others may be short-lived (especially if the mentoring focus is on how best to end the venture). But as a rule CED-VMS usually lasts 9-12 months.
What have mentors in the CED-VMS program reported as benefits of involvement?
- Ability to select ventures of interest
- Ability to set their own schedule
- Opportunities for additional activities within CED
- Collegiality and opportunities to network
- Opportunities for entrepreneurs and mentors to meet
- Experience is fun, exciting and rewarding