NC State’s Entrepreneurship Clinic is known for many success stories—Crank Arm Brewery, Feelgoodz shoes, and Pitch & Primer, to name a few. The program, embedded in HQ Raleigh’s co-working hub, offers students access to real world experience. And, recently, Director Lewis Sheats integrated another valuable opportunity, a mentorship program where students are paired with local entrepreneurs to learn the importance of building relationships.
“It was the perfect opportunity to expand my network and meet industry leaders that could guide me based on their personal experiences and careers,” says Gabriel Gonzalez, an international student at the school.
The program isn’t structured like a seminar or class, it’s more of a meet and greet between about 20 students and 30 mentors. The first two events are focused on introductions, and networking over beer and food without a formal structure. After about an hour of conversation, students address the whole group to start discussing obstacles they might be facing—the topics vary. Students across NC State colleges are encouraged to apply. This semester’s group includes a dental student who wants to start her own practice and a budding entrepreneur with a beauty business in mind.
“The meet and greet sessions are a terrific opportunity to get acquainted with a large number of students with very different backgrounds and ideas,” says retired financial professional Dave Tomick. “Oftentimes I speak to students with very different backgrounds than my own, being it in engineering, aerospace, textiles… and the ideas they come up with can be fascinating”
After these informal meetings, the students list the mentors they connected with best, and the mentors do the same. They aren’t paired based on similar disciplines, instead it’s all about professional chemistry. “We get to interact in a relaxed setting. That allows us to feel comfortable sharing our experiences, goals, and ways they can each help us,” adds Gonzalez.
Student Cortney Cox is working on launching a new beauty product, a stencil to help with the application of eyeliner. “Even though none of the mentors have a background in the cosmetics industry, they have been extremely helpful,” she says. “I have been able to find potential investors. I also met a mentor who has a contact with one of the board members of Ulta.”
The mentors, many of whom have been participating in the program since its inception a year and a half ago, offer a diverse background—different ages, races and industries—and they too get an opportunity to connect with one another. “We are, through Sheat’s program, building a community,” says Tomick. “Also, I usually get free beer.”
After the formal program ends, the expectation is that the pairs will continue to keep in touch. “It’s really cool to see the students become more comfortable in creating a true relationship,” says Sheats.
“Gabriel and I are just getting started in our mentoring relationship but my goal would be to help him see what is out there once he leaves academia and how he can go about building a successful career,” says Tomick. “I will tell him about some of my experiences and try to connect him with a network of people that can help him grow.”