Why Mentors are Good for Founders

Jan 11, 2024

Always Be Curious

Kelly Roark loves to ask questions. 

“I’m eternally curious,” said Roark, the co-founder and CEO of StrateSpheric and an All-Star Techstars mentor. “In asking lots of questions as a mentor, we get to help founders unlock untapped opportunities for their business and ultimately help them come up with their own answers.” 

Roark has been a Techstars mentor for the past three years, working with founders from five accelerator programs including Techstars Farm to Fork, The Minnesota Twins Accelerator by Techstars, Techstars Workforce Development Accelerator, Build in Tulsa, and Techstars New York City, and she’s hoping to work with founders in the next Techstars Economic Mobility Powered by Samvid Ventures cohort.

“These different theses allow us to get exposure to some incredible emerging business models and technology,” said Roark. “As founders in program crystallize their business model and go to market and gain even more confidence in their vision, it’s really gratifying to see this process unfold.”

It’s not about teaching

For Techstars mentor Bharat Krish, he not only sees the process, he’s experienced it first hand.

Krish, now the chief product officer for Newsweek, participated in a 2017 Techstars program as a founder. And while he ultimately couldn’t find a product market fit, taking part in the accelerator still left him wanting to give back to the Techstars community.

“It’s been a spiritual journey for me,” said Krish, an All-Star mentor for Techstars New York City and several Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, powered by Techstars cohorts. “I’ve gone from losing a startup to helping others.” 

And to do that, Krish also spends a lot of time listening, posing questions, and brainstorming particularly for companies trying to pinpoint their ideal customer, market fit, or the best user experience. There are also occasional human resource issues that crop up, technical and funding obstacles, or a founder grappling with a lack of confidence. In these cases, both Roark and Krish say Techstars founders regularly put themselves on the line and exhibit vulnerability.

“Receiving tough feedback is a testament to their grit and their commitment,” said Roark. 

“In a startup journey, you have to do whatever it takes,” said Krish who praised the founders of The GIST, a women-founded and operated sports media brand for exactly that – unwavering commitment.

“They didn’t move to the next best thing or shiny object,” said Krish. “They stayed focused on their mission and kept at it.” 

Give First

When Roark was referred to Techstars, she was immediately impressed not only by the community of mentors helping founders, but also founders helping founders … as well as the #GiveFirst philosophy that exists across the network between founders, mentors, MDs and Techstars team members. 

"Inspired by Techstars, I've applied the #GiveFirst principle as a core value in every executive role I have held since 2017," said Krish.

Simply put, it’s the idea that helping others builds a powerful network where everyone benefits.

“We can all use a little more of that,” said Roark.