MicroMentor is the OK Cupid of business mentorship sites--and it, too, is looking for new revenue streams.
I recently sat down with Loren Guerriero, whose job is making MicroMentor more user-friendly, to find out how business mentoring can be like online dating for entrepreneurs. Guerriero explains that the ability to freely choose your partner is what sets MicroMentor apart from other mentoring services.
The difference is that people are matching themselves … so the quality of the match is determined by both the good judgment of the entrepreneur and the mentor, which allows for a lot of flexibility.
Signing up to be a mentor or a mentee is as simple as a few mouse clicks and a couple fill-in-the-blank questions. Once you are registered on the site, you can either actively look for someone who fits your criteria or wait for a match to find you. The service tailors your search results and prioritizes members who are active and have profiles similar to yours--not exactly arranging the possible marriage but certainly guiding it.
Meeting a mentor through an online system makes it easy to work around time constraints, and business mentorship presents numerous opportunities for both the mentor and mentee. Besides giving back to the business community, statistics suggest that mentors tend to have higher compensation and may have a better shot at promotions.
For an entrepreneur, mentorship can provide necessary perspective to move a business forward. MicroMentor mentees most commonly ask for help with their business plan, a key element behind Forbes’ number one reason to find a mentor: to develop an industry vision. However, mentoring programs are usually expensive and out of reach for smaller businesses. MicroMentor provides an affordable solution, especially for microentrepreneurs from low-income backgrounds.
A business networking site might seem like an odd duck in the portfolio of its owner, Mercy Corps, an international NGO whose mission is to “alleviate suffering, poverty and oppression by helping people build secure, productive and just communities.” How does MicroMentor fit in?
"I don’t think what we do strays too far from the idea of social justice because having a strong market is such an integral part of having a resilient community that can weather future shocks," says Guerriero.
Users aren’t your typical large corporate CEO. Over half of its users make less than the U.S. median family income. Most of them are women, and 40 percent are minorities, especially African-Americans. Given that nationally, Caucasians lead African-Americans in business survival rates and there are 25 percent more men than women starting businesses, MicroMentor's stats are pretty good.
And it works. The data suggests that 86 percent of businesses receiving mentoring on MicroMentor survive, compared with 69 percent of businesses nationally.
Like most social enterprises, MicroMentor is always looking to diversify its revenue streams. Currently, the site's business model is two-fold: it receives support from a variety of foundations, as well as fee-based services for businesses and nonprofits. 60 nonprofits are already on board.
"If corporations want to become a sponsor, they receive dedicated support, training and match assistance from the MicroMentor team," continued Guerriero.
MicroMentor’s ability to serve large numbers of entrepreneurs (over 10,000 at last count) comes in part because they haven’t shied from helping businesses develop tools that are relevant to them. A key aspect of this strategy is flexibility: using the same technology to both aid NGOs in constructing mentoring networks and create a search tool that makes a good match for anyone using the site.
Like next-generation match sites, Guerriero hopes MicroMentor’s universal accessibility will eventually transform it into a national network that local NGOs can use to connect members of their community with outside expertise. This vision offers hope for social entrepreneurs struggling to turn their startup into a profitable business.
Starting a social enterprise can be lonely business, but it’s easier if only you can find a match.