Unique Mentorship Opportunity Launched
After years of working with U-M alumni entrepreneurs and external startup partners, Eric Bacyinski, the CFE’s Director of External Engagement and Mentorship, kept hearing a common request. These professionals wanted to get in front of students and help provide similar opportunities and mentorship that they were provided. While this is exciting for any staff member to hear, the idea is often easier said than done. U-M alumni can be found everywhere, and with business operations that transcend state and international boundaries, and schedules that reflect different time zones often in the same week, creating opportunities for alumni and students to interact can be challenging. However, virtual partnerships are not as limited by location and time, so Bacyinski set out to find a software that could bring U-M’s vast entrepreneurial community and students together.
After meeting with different vendors and doing audits of what guidance and mentorship CFE students were looking for, the Center entered a partnership with Protopia to create the U-M Entrepreneurs Mentoring Network. Bacyinski wasn’t looking to build-out another professional social media platform. What he found in Protopia was a platform where any question could be routed to professionals with the appropriate experience to provide meaningful responses, and engagements. The best part is that Protopia did not require any of the annoying parts of other platforms – no profile to login to and update, no password to remember, and no need to search through countless user profiles trying to find the one or two people who may be able to help. Instead, a user submits a question and back-end algorithms do all of the work, using key words in questions to put the question in the inbox of a waiting mentor with the experience and insight to help. From there responses are exchanged through email, and students and alumni are also given the opportunity to coordinate phone or video calls for more detailed responses.
Following a successful test trial this past summer, the CFE has worked to increase the number of alumni mentors on the platform, which now includes more than 2,000, and had a public launch this semester. While mentors are concentrated in the Center’s focus areas – mobility, medical devices, cyber security, and climate change, they represent a wide variety of fields and focuses and geographical regions. U-M students and alumni can submit questions on almost any topic – getting insight on business ideas, finding internship and job leads, or receiving recommendations on places to live and grow a business. The platform is meant to be a resource for all of the diverse questions that one can have. The only questions that are not allowed are those trying to sell products or services.
In launching Protopia, the CFE found a unique value proposition for all participants. Obviously students will have the opportunity to get advice and mentorship from some of the most successful professionals via the platform, and can learn about career opportunities. While alumni can also seek mentorship, they also have the benefit of having a direct line to U-M’s talent pipeline, and have the opportunity to find colleagues and potential partners to grow and enhance their work. In an attempt to continuously improve the network, participants have the chance to score and provide feedback on each interaction, providing users with immediate insight on how to enhance future questions and responses.
As is the case with any resource, the U-M Entrepreneurs Mentoring Network is only as valuable as participants are active. The CFE encourages all entrepreneurially-minded students and alumni to take advantage of the platform. There are quick user tutorial videos and sample questions on the site to help get them started. If you are interested in learning more about the U-M Entrepreneurs Mentoring Network, please contact Jason Davis, the Assistant Director of External Engagement at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to helping you leverage this tool in enhancing your professional growth and networking interactions.