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.
Since 2004, we’ve supported over 950 ventures with over $6mm worth of intellectual “mentor” capital, giving entrepreneurial teams customized feedback on their business plans and access to a network of over 1,000 of the world’s best industry and regional experts who have given their time to support these startup teams. We seek to create and accelerate opportunities for these teams to make a serious, innovative, and scalable difference in the world.
Our alumni have gone on to create hundreds of growing companies, employing tens of thousands of individuals and raising more than $300mm in follow-on capital. Hundreds of them are listed here, and you can read their stories here.
- 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.
- Support that doesn’t cost time
To provide support that doesn’t distract entrepreneurs from running their companies.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Prizes for the best companies
We offer cash and in-kind prizes for our top teams that are together worth more than $10,000. Cash prizes include the Richard Heinberg Sustainability Prizes sponsored by the Foundation for a Sustainable Future, and the Chuck Dell Prizes. Professional service prizes include legal, accounting, marketing, and strategic assistance services from a variety of vendors who support the social enterprise space.
Collaboration not Competition
Our program may look like a traditional business plan competition, but our support goes towards *all* of the companies that are accepted into our program. We offer a collaboration of entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors, all working to support each other.
- Entrepreneurs provide exciting new ideas and receive feedback and a chance to build deep mentoring relationships.
- Mentors provide “mentor capital” in the form of feedback and mentoring, and receive the knowledge of what their peers are thinking from different perspectives, as well as a chance to work with entrepreneurs who truly appreciate them.
- Investors provide the financial companies, and they get to learn which companies are a good fit for them both quickly and deeply through the perspectives of the mentor team supporting the entrepreneurs.
- The MCN team provides the coordination.
- August 15th: Applications are due to the MCN.
- August 24th: 2018 cohort is selected and announced.
- September 24th: Business Plans are due to the MCN.
- October 15th – November 12th, 2018: Each company is assigned a team of 8-12 readers, who review their business plans and provide 2-3 pages of detailed and constructive feedback directly to the entrepreneurs. Review teams are highly curated, to provide a diversity of perspective .
Reviewers are asked to look at two or more companies over a thirty-day span. This takes an average of six hours of their time. In addition to providing constructive commentary on the business plans, reviewers are given three options: (1) The reviewer can remain anonymous, (2) The reviewer signs their scorecard and is willing to have a one-time phone call/conversation with the entrepreneur, or (3) The reviewer signs their scorecard and is interested in becoming a mentor for the entrepreneur.
At the end of this part of the program, scorecards returned to entrepreneurs and reviewers, who get to see the feedback of other reviewers. Entrepreneurs then review the scorecards of reviewers who signed their scorecards and decide who they want to work with based on the quality of the feedback
- Mentoring relationships and support calls are arranged. The entrepreneur takes the lead, and the MCN team will assist as needed.
- Entrepreneurs are now part of a peer-to-peer community, where they can participate on group 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.
Frequently Given Answers
- You must represent a for-profit start-up or growing company that has a social, environmental, and/or cultural mission that strengthens your company’s financial margin.
- You must be open to receiving feedback on your business ideas from reviewers, including industry and regional experts, investors, lawyers, and accountants from around the globe. You must be open to changing your business model, otherwise we can not really help you.
- If you’re not sure what stage you are in, check out the Village Capital VIRAL Framework. We will work with companies in stages 1-7, but stages 2-6 are probably where we are the most useful. Caveat — this framework is designed for companies seeking external equity funding. You do not need to be seeking funding to work with the MCN.
- You must be interested in building an ongoing relationship with a mentor.
- You must be able to submit your documents in English, Spanish, or French. Our team’s primary language is English, so if you are working in Spanish or French, please have at least one person we can communicate with in English.
- There is no fee to apply.
- If accepted, there is a small processing fee, ranging from $10 to $100, based where you operate. Details on that are on this page.
- The application takes an average of 45 minutes to fill out.
- If you have already have an existing 2-5 page summary of your program, use that.
- To save you time, we also accept applications that have been submitted to Agora Partnerships, DC Startup Cup, Echoing Green, Fledge, Global Social Benefit Institute, Seed Spot, Uncharted, and Village Capital. Just send us the same paperwork you sent them.
- You may re-submit your application as many times as you want before the deadline.
- Your leadership team can be any age or educational status.
- Your company can be based anywhere on earth.
- You can be pre- or post- revenue.
- You may submit plans for hybrids, or for-profits that are owned by non-profits. But the entity itself must be for-profit.
- In addition to judging your application on business viability and potential social impact, we also look for companies that we have the specific mentors and resources to help.
- We do not distribute grants. Any for-profit or non-profit organizations that apply looking only to receive funds will not be considered.
- The full criteria by which we judge if you are a good fit for our program are listed here.
- An overly-detailed description of our program timeline and process is here.
Did we miss anything? Let us know at email@example.com.
Application Process and Selection Criteria
We accept applications in three formats:
- Via our application, either online or in an attached file that matches the format of our online form.
- In the interests of saving the entrepreneur’s time, we accept applications made to our peer organizations — Agora Partnerships, DC Startup Cup, Echoing Green, Fledge, Global Social Benefit Institute, Seed Spot, Uncharted, and Village Capital.
- Applicants are also welcome and encouraged to submit existing executive summary documents, provided they answer the questions presented by our online form.
After applications are received, they go through this process.
Step 1: Removing non-viable applications
This done by MCN staff. About 1/3rd of our applicants do not fit our criteria. Most of these folks have not read our website, and do not realize we are not a grant-making entity.
Step 2: Selecting Semi-Finalists
This done by MCN staff. Applications are reviewed with a focus on business viability and integrated social, environmental, or cultural value. Only the application itself is considered in this round.
Step 3: The Review Round
This work is done by staff and volunteers, who are serving in the capacity of “Judge.” The 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, but not required at this stage. Once an application has been reviewed 5 or more times, it is taken down from the shared folder.
Also, using LinkedIN and other sources, 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.)
Step 4: Semi-Finalist Interviews
Interviews are scheduled with semi-finalists. Interviews are in person (For those in Washington, DC) or via video chat or telephone, depending on the technology available to the entrepreneur. The interviews are led by MCN staff, although other members of the MCN community (reviewers, mentors, and past participants) are invited to join.
Ideally, multiple applicants (as long as they are non-competitive) are be included in the same interview. At the conclusion of regular interview portion of the call, applicants are given a chance to network with each other.
Step 5: Selection Criteria
No candidate is expected to get top marks in all of the listed criteria. You can read a more detailed version of our process and criteria here.
- Viability: Will they be in existence long enough for their idea to spread? While we welcome and hope for the success of our entrepreneurs, we are specifically concerned with the success of their idea. If the candidate wishes to be successful on their own terms, which includes staying small and focused on their immediate community, but they can prove that their innovation is both profitable and socially beneficial, and they are willing to share that idea, we are just as happy to work with them as with entrepreneurs who aim for the more traditional metrics of scale.
- Total Social Value: Does this company’s existence make the world better? Think past the first problem they solve for this. Are they creating new problems by solving the old ones? Are they aware of the impact of their work?
- Innovation: Do they have an idea that will spread to other companies? Do they have an understanding of their field as a whole? Does the entrepreneur actively want their idea to spread?
- Frontier Markets: Are they addressing a community that does not have easy access to what they are providing? How deeply are the founders connected to that community? For the 2018 program, we are favoring (but not exclusively) companies operating in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Indonesia, Kiribati, Laos, Maldives, Marshal Islands, Micronesia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nauru, Nepal, Niue, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and/or Vietnam.
- MCN Value-Add: Can the MCN community add specific and significant value to this entrepreneur and/or company?
- Fellowship: Does it seem like the entrepreneur will actively contribute towards supporting the MCN peer community? Are they excited to talk to other people who are trying to solve the same problems?
- Mentor Clusters: Can we put this company in a “cluster” so that our expert reviewers will be able to look at and compare 3-4 companies in the same cluster? We work with various kinds of clusters, including: Industry (e.g. Agriculture), Business Type (e.g. Retail), and Challenge (e.g. convincing people to accept individuals they might otherwise be uncomfortable around as part of regular business enterprise)
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