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Mentoring gathers momentum at new-style UCL event

20 July 2011

SMILE

Taking its cue from the success of speed-dating and even speed-house hunting events that are frequently held across the capital, UCL Advances hosted its first-ever speed-mentoring and networking event on 14 July.

The evening was organised by SMILE (Selected Mentors and Interims for London Enterprises), an initiative that seeks to connect the wealth of corporate and entrepreneurial experience to be found in one of the world’s leading business cities, with up-and-coming small and medium-sized businesses.

Among the dozens of people who gathered in the UCL Engineering Front Building on Malet Street were successful professionals who have many years’ accumulated experience in their areas of expertise, from science and medicine through education and training to business and finance.

Also present were entrepreneurs looking for advice on how to solve specific business problems or take their companies to the next stage of development.

Representatives from both groups were ‘paired off’ briefly, to quickly ask questions to solve problems facing their businesses, before being moved on two minutes later, until all the experienced professionals and the entrepreneurs had had a chance to talk to each other.

Ruth Hou, SMILE Project Manager, says: “Speed-mentoring provides a quick hit of information in the form of an exchange of mentoring strengths and professional challenges. Companies get different views and pieces of advice from all the mentors, enriching their thoughts on how to take their businesses forward.

“It’s also an efficient way to build a network of contacts, and catch up with existing mentoring relationships. Many of the attendees are already mentoring or being mentored under the SMILE programme so the purpose of this evening was to encourage collaboration and to continue to build the SMILE ‘family’.”

Among those already working together are Ricky Kotecha, a UCL graduate and co-founder of FRAME Medical, a social enterprise offering diabetes education and management programmes, and Oliver Tang, an entrepreneur in healthcare technologies and an NHS A&E doctor.

Oliver says: “Ricky has asked me to go through the educational material that is being produced as well as to introduce him to some NHS doctors.”

At the end of the evening, participants were free to network at length over refreshments with mentors they made a connection with. They declared the evening a success.

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Bill Outram, an inventor and founder of Original Ideas, who designs eco-friendly systems for flexible living, came hoping to meet someone with a mechanical engineering background. He says: “The event has opened up different avenues for me, such as the importance of branding and marketing.”

Nassar Hayat is CEO of Academic Mob, a learning platform aimed at increasing collaboration among students and providing them with support. He says: “I met some interesting fellow entrepreneurs and plan to stay in touch with some of them; I think SMILE is doing a fantastic job in developing the entrepreneurial ‘ecosystem’.”

Since SMILE was set up just under a year ago, SMILE has matched 74 companies (spanning all industries and stages of growth) with mentors of varying backgrounds and experiences.

Ruth says: “What I look for in a mentor is general business experience, and sometimes specific skills such as law or accounting. The ability to understand SMEs and entrepreneurs and a genuine willingness to help are also essential.

She adds: “Mentoring is not just a one-way street either – while the mentee benefits from the wisdom of experience, mentors benefit from the fresh perspective gained from someone just entering the field.”

Speed-mentoring and networking events such as this will be held on a regular basis in the future. Further details about the events, as well as information on how to become a mentor or mentee, can be obtained from Ruth Hou at r.hou@ucl.ac.uk.