My journey as a TechX mentor began in March 2018 when I met David Millar, TechX Director and champion, looking very outnumbered at Investing Women's Ambition & Growth conference. David told me about the brand-new TechX programme for which they were in the process of selecting their first winners. He explained the aims of the programme and that while there was a financial prize for the winning entrepreneurs, the real difference TechX offered was in the intensive accelerator programme, access to key decision makers and customers, and wider support from a group of mentors and partners.
I wasn't convinced that either my experience, none of which was in the oil and gas sector, or location in the central belt made me the best candidate for a TechX mentor but I was persuaded to apply. Having been accepted into the mentor pool and provided with a single-sentence summary of the companies, the next step was to meet the TechX "Pioneers" at an afternoon of what can only be compared to "speed dating"!
I went along somewhat nervously expecting to be in a socio-geographic minority, which I was, and to be grilled by the Pioneers. It was the first ever mentor-matching session and some of the entrepreneurs were so enthusiastic that they spent the whole of the allotted 10 minutes talking about their business! But everyone soon got into the swing of it and the session was run like clockwork.
Every Pioneer met every mentor over the course of a week - rather them than me!
It soon became clear how valuable those short meetings were though. My preconceptions of which companies my skills would match best, while not overturned, were superseded by personalities. Personalities and left-field opportunities.
You then have a nail biting wait to find out if the Pioneers you would like to support have also requested you!
You are then left to work with the companies you've been matched with as you and they see fit. There is no prescribed means or frequency of interaction. As a Mentor you're not a Non-Exec or a member of an Advisory Board. You're there to listen, advise if asked, but mostly to support the Pioneers to reach their own conclusions and decisions.
Don't be surprised if you don't hear from your Pioneers for a while. The accelerator course is very intensive and the entrepreneurs are all keeping their businesses running, many at a distance, at the same time. Make yourself available on the phone and by email of course, but I also travelled up to Aberdeen at regular intervals and in particular for a number of key events in the TechX programme. This meant that the Pioneers could speak with me without taking additional time out of their busy schedules. It also gave me the opportunity to speak to many of the other Pioneers and catch up with their progress too.
You very quickly find that you're part of the TechX family!
The accelerator course seemed to pass very quickly, for me anyway if not the Pioneers and it was soon the final Graduation event. I was delighted to see RAB-Microfluidics win the BP TechX Technology Award and was astonished, honoured and humbled to be awarded the first TechX Mentor of the Year Award. I blame "my" Pioneers for that...
My relationship with both Immaterial and RAB-Microfluidics has continued for two years now and I have been privileged to share in some of the highs and lows of their journeys so far; to see their technologies develop beyond recognition, to get to know their wider teams as they grow, and to see the individual entrepreneurs develop and grow too. Long may it continue!
So would I recommend becoming a TechX mentor? Absolutely and without hesitation. But remember, TechX is not the journey, it's just the start!