Tuesday, May 27, 2014

CED’s VMS: Such a tremendous asset for this community.

Written by Ann Revell-Pechar as part of CED's Venture Mentoring Service: Stories from the Front Lines Series.

Sherran Brewer has worked with a lot of small companies and startups over the course of her career. As an executive at GSK, Accentia Biopharmaceuticals and Quintiles, she has encountered many programs that help companies and, repeatedly, CED’s Venture Mentor Service arose. She headed colleagues’ prompts to connect with program director Jay Bigelow in the fall of 2013, and has been very excited by the experience so far.

“I so admire entrepreneurs,” she said when asked about why she got involved. “When you hear an entrepreneur talking about their idea, it’s easy to get excited and think ‘I love that idea – they’re going to do great.’ Yet, strapped for resources, they often just need a little guidance – a little help to move them forward.”

Once Brewer saw what was being done at CED, she knew it was a great program. “I was so impressed when I met Jay and saw what a tremendous asset this is for our community. I went to the first meeting, listened to the pitches, and said sign me up! But you have to be patient, and raise your hand to help a team where you know the industry, where know you can help the most.”

Executives who volunteer to mentor need to know they are adding value. The process that Bigelow undertakes in matching Venture and Mentor makes sure of this by matching a mentor’s expertise, in both industry and experience, with the specific needs of the venture.  Brewer was one of a team of four mentors working with a recent Venture. She chose to work with them based on the fact that she has deep experience in life science, and they felt they should target that industry with their technology. While she was tempted by other startups, she felt it was critical to be disciplined, to offer what you really know best.

"We met with the founders of this company at a point where they had developed an interesting technology targeted at the life science industry. But they were focusing on industry, not the technology. We got them to back up and reconsider what was so unique about their product. After several meetings, they began to focus on their goals, to express the value proposition and understand why someone would want this software.”

And that apparently worked, because the technology has now been licensed; and not in the life science industry. "We guided them and provided insight into their challenges. And I think that had a big impact on their success so far.”

Brewer thinks that a wide range of entrepreneurs could benefit from CED VMS, but they should come with clear expectations, be sure they’re open to new ideas and come ready to utilize the mentors.

“It’s a unique program, a tremendous resource with no risk to the entrepreneur. Even enthusiastic entrepreneurs filled with drive need coaching. But having to pay for advice could restrain them from seeking help. CED’s free VMS program offers a group of people who have been there and want to give back, to help companies start and grow in NC. The series of candid conversations that arise lead the companies where they need to go.”

Those who mentor get a lot out of the process, too. Brewer says you meet great people, and feel good because you’ll add a lot of value. “CED VMS is equally rewarding for mentors as it is for the entrepreneurs.”

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