Investing in the Future of Food: Well-paired mentors are just as essential as funders for startups

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Investing in the Future of Food startups Entrepreneurship FoodBytes!

For entrepreneurs at cash-strapped startups, finding mentors often takes a backseat to fundraising, but according to a leader with Rabobank’s Startup Innovation team, focusing on the former can help with the latter.

As the global co-head of Rabobank’s F&A Innovation team, Anne Greven works closely with entrepreneurs and startups through the food and ag bank’s FoodBytes! Program. Here, she said, entrepreneurs not only are given a chance to pitch their companies to investors, media and retailers, but they also are paired with mentors who help them refine their goals, highlight their strengths and evaluate and compensate for weaknesses so that they are more likely to meet their long-term business goals.

She added that participating entrepreneurs are often surprised that the mentorships they gain through FoodBytes! can be just as, or more influential than potential investors on their startups’ success.

“Startups really want to get funded, so I can understand why they are always leading with why you would want to fund me, but part of what makes you able to have that conversation is understanding your business and the whys and hows and whats. But when you work with mentors, what we have experienced is, they actually help you fine-tune your story,”​ and find the answers to those questions, Greven said.

She explains that the FoodBytes! platform, which brings together emerging brands with established players, funders and the media, initially added a mentorship component to the event as away to ensure companies “showed really well on stage and that they were prepared.”

But she added, the FoodBytes! team quickly realized the benefits of mentors far exceeded simply preparing for a pitch.

“What we recognized is that mentorship around tuning their messages and defining what their business model was or defining what the solution was or defining what the problem is that they actually are solving was really, really invaluable,”​ and the advice shared at the event laid the foundation for long-term relationships well beyond the FoodBytes! event, she said.

A two-way street

Mentees are not the only ones who benefit from mentorships – mentors also can learn a lot, which is why Greven encourages more established companies, investors and others to offer a helping hand to emerging brands.

For example, she says, the relationships can inject enthusiasm and a spirit of innovation into established brands as well as show them new ways of tackling ongoing challenges. They can also shine a light on how to better connect with consumers.

As beneficial as mentorships can be, Greven cautions they can also be extremely detrimental if both sides’ values are not aligned.

“More and more people want to get into the business of working with entrepreneurs because they want to make that small investment and then all of a sudden, you know, they are going to get 10, 15, 20 times their money back. And when I see people who are in it just solely for the big return … they probably don’t have the right interests of you as a company or you as a startup in mind,”​ she explained.

She advised entrepreneurs to team with advisors who share their values and goals. She also notes that just because an advisor has helped other companies succeed, doesn’t mean they are the right person for all companies.

Beyond mentorships, entrepreneurs often are bombarded with lot of advice from many directions – much of which may conflict with or not support the their goals. That is why Greven reminds startups that just because someone offers advice, they don’t need to take it.

“A lot of people have no business providing advice,”​ and when they give it, entrepreneurs should feel confident in simply saying thank you, but not following through on a suggestion, she said.

She added that entrepreneurs also should trust themselves and their experiences: “Most of these people haven’t started companies, you are probably more experienced in that than they are.”

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