On Being a Mentor

by francine Hardaway on April 23, 2013

I mentor at least once a month at Gangplank, and often elsewhere.  There’s never a day when I don’t feel gratified to be able to help, but today was an extraordinary day.

My first appointment was a man from Flagstaff. He is a flight nurse, and had developed an API for transferring patients from hospital to hospital–which is now done by fax and phone call. Without experience as an entrepreneur and without investment, he had found a technical co-founder, developed a solution that integrates with major EHRs, sold it to several rural hospitals, and was now on the verge of deploying his first large urban hospital system. He told me I was the first person he had been able to talk to who understood the industry and could help him go further. In a long conversation, we discussed the drawbacks and merits of bootstrapping vs. taking investors.  I admire him.

My next appointment was a woman who was studying nutrition and was quitting her job to become a personal coach. She came to ask me several questions about how to start a business, but she already knew the answers to all of them, because her background was in finance. We had another long conversation — this one about how to eat, how to treat the body naturally, and how to engage in “permission marketing” — a term I never used with her, but which seemed intuitive to her. She will market in a way that aligns with her values.

Next up? A 23-year-old serial entrepreneur who had already tried investment banking, received a grant from Apple, had one of his technologies acquired by another company, and was developing a retrofit for manual wheelchairs. He came to ask me how I got where I am, but he has already gone so far, just out of college, that I know he’ll eclipse me. We ended up talking about the special traits of entrepreneurs, about getting married too early, and about disappointing your parents. It turned out that his father, too, is an entrepreneur; he emigrated to the US and opened a Chinese restaurant. It’s the one I eat in all the time, and whose take-out food I always have delivered. What are the odds…? We ended up laughing about our commonalities.

And last, a young man who is part of a robotics startup, which will make it easy to program industrial robots, and lower their cost. He taught me a term for robotic hands: end effectors. The robots who have end effectors and can change their environments  are the expensive ones. Here’s the definition in case you want to learn something today: robotics, an end effector is a device or tool that’s connected to the end of a robot arm where the hand would be. The end effector is the part of the robot that interacts with the environment. The structure of an end effector and the nature of the programming and hardware that drives it depend on the task the robot will be performing.

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s cool to learn new things, and today I learned so much from the people I mentored that I forgot I was the person who was supposed to know something.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

J April 24, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Great read, esp. the piece on EHR automation and entrenpreneurial drive. Thanks for sharing.

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