This page is written for our internal team and for other programs who are also supporting social entrepreneurs, as part of our ongoing efforts to build and strengthen that community.  If you have questions, comments, or wish to share your approach, please contact our Executive Director, Ian Fisk, via ian.fisk@mentorcapitalnet.org.

(On a related note, if you are part of that community, but not already familiar with Accelerating the Accelerators, you should be.)

Also, while our entrepreneurs and mentors are welcome to read this, this may be more detail that you are looking for. All of the essential information that you need is here. This page does not include specific dates for our next cohort. You will find those here.

Vision of the Mentor Capital Network

The Mentor Capital Network engages a world-wide network of entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, incubators, and accelerators to identify and support the most promising and diverse early-stage social entrepreneurs who are solving the world’s toughest problems.

If you have a social, environmental, or cultural mission that is part of how your company does business that makes you stronger financially, we want to help you succeed.

Goals of the Mentor Capital Network

  1. Ongoing mentorship relationships where entrepreneurs and mentors choose each other
    To connect entrepreneurs and mentors so that they can build ongoing mentoring relationships that are meaningful and beneficial to both of them.
  2. Support that doesn’t cost time
    To provide our support in a way that doesn’t take those entrepreneurs away from running their companies.
  3. Detailed and constructive feedback
    To provide entrepreneurs with detailed and constructive feedback on their business plans. And to provide reviewers with an opportunity to see what other smart and experienced people had to say about the same business plans that they read.
  4. Building a network of founders and peers solving similar problems
    To engage mentors and entrepreneurs in a peer-to-peer support network addressing similar challenges in non-competitive markets. We are dedicated to connecting people who are solving the same problems from different perspective, so they can learn from and strengthen each other’s efforts.
  5. Using our data to strengthen the field
    To collect and use data on how to build the most diverse and effective team of reviewers, mentors, and advisers for various kinds of social enterprises. And to share our analysis with our field.
  6. Prizes for the best companies
    We offer cash and in-kind prizes for our top teams that are worth more than $30,000.

 

Sustainable Business Plan Collaboration Program — A Detailed Overview
(All items subject to change)

Ongoing / Already Started

  • Information sessions for potential applicants
  • Media outreach about our program
  • Outreach to partner programs identify quality applicants
  • Outreach to our mentor and entrepreneur alumni to identify quality applicants
  • For early applicants, review of their applications to see if they are missing any essential information. (This service is only provided on a capacity basis.)
  • Recruit / Engage
    • Judges (who determine who is accepted into our program)
    • Reviewers (which provide detailed and constructive feedback to entrepreneurs, and ideally convert into mentors).
    • Prize sponsors – cash and in-kind

Application Deadline: November 5th, 5:00 PM USA Eastern Time

  • We receive applications in three formats — via our online Wufoo form, via attached files in our format, or via attached files in the format of of these organizations — Agora Partnerships, Echoing Green, Fledge, Global Snocial Benefit Institute, Seed Spot, Uncharted, & Village Capital.

Removing Non-Viable Applicants 

  • This work is done by staff.
  • About 1/3rd of our applicants do not fit our criteria. Most of them come from websites such as “grantsforyourbusiness.com” or similar. I’ve tried getting those sites to remove our listing, but we keep getting back on to their lists.
  • We remove these applicants from our database before starting the internal review.

Categorizing Viable Applicants

  • This work is done by staff.
  • Review remaining application pool to get a sense of what categories we will use this year (e.g. Clean Water, Off-Grid Solar, etc.). This is used both for the service of the judges (who often want to review companies in their area of expertise) and because the MCN accepts clusters of companies around a certain topic (e.g. we might target 3-5 companies that focus on sustainable rural agriculture) in service towards our long term goal of peer-to-peer support communities.
  • Applications via online form are converted to PDF and posted for judge review.
  • Applications via attached file (usually the standard Gust two-pager) are given a consistent naming format, and posted for judge review.
  • Applications via other programs (Echoing Green, GSBI, Agora, etc.) are given a consistent naming format and appropriate header text as to not confuse the judges, and posted for judge review. Some of these applications may need editing or condensing.
  • Applications are posted online (in category folders) for judge review on a rolling basis, so judges can begin without waiting for MCN staff to get everything online.

 

Internal Judge Review

  • This work is done by staff and volunteers, who are serving in the capacity of “Judge.”
  • The criteria for the judges will be posted online.
  • Judges review two page applications (available online via private shared folder), and provide 1-5 rankings in the area of business value and social/environmental impact via private online form. The opportunity to provide brief feedback directly to the company is available.
  • Once an application has been reviewed 5 or more times, it is taken down from the shared folder.
  • MCN Staff and senior volunteers add a third score about “how much can the MCN add value to that specific company.”

Semi-Finalist Interviews

  • Semi-Finalists identified.
  • Using LinkedIN, MCN staff contacts mutual connections of the entrepreneurs under consideration, and asks if they have strong pro/con opinions. (Moderate opinions, which are the norm, do not affect the process.)
  • Interviews are scheduled with semi-finalists. Interviews are in person where possible, but most will be via video chat or telephone, depending on the technology available to the entrepreneur. Interviewers include MCN staff, senior volunteers, members of our mentor and investor communities, and MCN alumni. Ideally, at least one MCN staffer and one member of our investor community is on each call.
  • Where possible, more than one applicant (as long as they are non-competitive) will be included on the same call. Applicants are encourage to ask constructive questions of each other.
  • During the course of these interviews, some judges will offer to become mentors for the entrepreneurs. This is encouraged, although it means that that judge cannot score that particular plan during the review phase of the program.

Announcement to invited companies

  • Invitees are provided with business plan guidelines, but a heavy emphasis is given to whatever document they are currently using to design and manage their company, provided there is enough “there there” for us to provide constructive feedback.
  • If the entrepreneur got feedback during the application process from judges it is passed on to them at this time.
  • All applicants receive notification and lists of resources available to them.

Business Plans submitted to the MCN

  • Invitees are given one month to submit a business plan. They may re-submit as many times as they like, up until that date. Basic reviewer-plan matching begins, although nothing is locked down until all of the plans are in.
  • MCN connects to all invitees on social media, and starts to promote them.

Reviewer – Plan Matching takes two to three weeks.

Invitees become cohort members when the MCN receives both their business plan and their processing fee. All cohort members are interviewed by MCN staff to (a) answer any questions they might have, (b) help to determine the best set of reviewers, and (c) provide any connections and resources that we might be able to offer.

  • Recruiting of reviewers now includes a list of the companies they will have the opportunity to work with.
  • Between 10 and 15 people are assigned to each company, based on reviewer interests and expertise. Each team is carefully balanced to provide diversity of perspective so that various members of the team might notice things that others will not, and so that the review team (who will do their reviews separately) will learn something from reading the feedback of other reviewers.

The Business plan review period is approximately one month.

  • Reviewers are sent the business plans, along with the scorecards and scorecard guidance, and examples of comments that past entrepreneurs found particularly helpful.
  • A draft of our scorecard will be linked here.
  • Reviewers are asked to write their comments directly to the entrepreneur, in a constructive way. The idea here is that their comments should take the form of a letter of advice, rather than simply score markings.
  • Each reviewer provides some of their professional background to the entrepreneur, making their experience and perspective visible.
  • Professional investors average 60 minutes to review and score a business plan. Practitioners average 90 minutes. Academics average 4 hours. Most reviewers look at 2 or 3 plans over the month-long period.
  • At the end of their scorecard, reviewers are given three choices: (1) stay anonymous, (2) offer to engage in a 1-time conversation with the entrepreneur, or (3) offer to become involved as mentor or adviser to the entrepreneur. When the entrepreneur receives the scorecards, they thank all of their volunteer reviewers, and reach out to the ones (who chose option #2 or #3) who they found to be particularly helpful.
  • Clarification Calls are scheduled. These calls, led by MCN staff and/or senior volunteers, give the reviewers the chance to ask entrepreneurs questions they might have about the business plans. These calls are recorded, and provided to reviewers who could not be on the initial call. Ideally, these calls happen by video chat, but that is dependent on the technology and internet bandwidth available to the entrepreneurs.
  • Scoring (to determine finalists) is locked either on the announced date (usually one month after the reviewers receive their plans), or when 75% of the scorecards are returned to the MCN.

 

A week after the review period, the scorecards are returned to the mentors and the reviewers

  • Scorecards are returned by the MCN to entrepreneurs and reviewers. (If a reviewer asks to be anonymous to the entrepreneur they are also anonymous to the other reviewers.)
  • The scorecards are presented both as one master document (usually 25-35 pages of writing from 8-12 difference people) and by category (product, marketing, financials, etc.) allowing the entrepreneur to easily compare feedback provided to them from different perspectives.

 

Next Steps

  • Based on scores received, finalists are chosen and invited to our annual gathering.
  • If an entrepreneur and mentor have “chosen each other” they begin a mentoring relationship.
  • Most of our mentors do not need significant support to be mentors, but individuals who are new to that role receive support and best practice guidance.
  • Entrepreneurs are now part of a peer-to-peer community, where they can participate on “Challenge Calls” with other founders who are solving similar programs in non-competitive markets. Reviewers and mentors are part of the same community, offering their support for the companies working in their area of expertise.
  • Companies seeking investment are matched with investors as appropriate.