3 ways to leverage alumni mentors in your entrepreneurship program
One of the largest and most untapped segments in your alumni network are your entrepreneurs. Students studying everything from business administration to biochemistry are excited by problem solving and creating new businesses. Even if your school has an entrepreneurship department, there are likely many alumni entrepreneurs who did not participate in the program; but that does not mean your students should miss out on their expertise. Here are three ways to better leverage alumni in your entrepreneurship program.
- Alumni want their expertise valued
Our research shows that the number one way alumni want to give back and engage with campus is to mentor a student. This far outranks common engagement activities such as webinars or day of service events. It’s also a great opportunity to tap alumni who want to give back, but are limited financially (check out this post for some more tips for connecting with alumni that don’t involve asking for money). However, “mentor” is a loaded term and not many alumni have the time and resources to become a great dedicated mentor. On the other hand, the percentage of alumni who can offer great advice, act as a connector, or participate in customer interviews is incredibly high. That’s why it is important to appeal to an alum’s expertise rather than a general call for mentors. It is far more appealing to answer an email with a subject line “Sam, we need your marketing expertise” rather than “Join the University Alumni Mentor Network.”
- Set expectations early and often with your alumni
Not everyone can take on being a long term, dedicated mentor. It’s also hard to expect that every mentor will be able to serve each specific point-in-time need. You need coaches and mentors. That’s why setting expectations with your alumni base is important. Encourage your alumni and students to set goals that benefit the student and are reasonable within the adviser’s schedule. Be specific about the role your alumni will play as they help students. Give actionable ways to help specific to their skills (and yes, there are more ways to help than just pitch practice).
- Give your students objectives and small goals to use when reaching out to alumni
The safety net of reaching out to an alumni network should greatly decrease the fear your students have of the dreaded “cold outreach.” Build opportunities to connect with alumni into the curriculum and make students aware of the expectations you have regarding alumni support. Encouraging students to reach out to new contacts and ask questions about a market, pitching their product or solution, or interviewing an alum on their personal pains/gains are a few examples. A helpful tactic can be leveraging an internal wiki to cultivate topics, suggested points of contact, so your program’s ‘knowledge base’ grows over time.
Successful entrepreneurship programs encourage discovery and creativity, not just “pitch prep.” By casting a wider net of needs you can better tap into the expertise and experience ripe within your alumni network.
About Wisr’s Entrepreneur Program Solution
Wisr supports entrepreneurial programs and ecosystems through mentorship and knowledge sharing. Wisr’s comprehensive technology and programming helps you organize the complex web of students, alumni, faculty, and external stakeholders, so you can focus on running your program.