This year as a part of Mentoring Month 2021, MicroMentor begins a new tradition of recognizing mentors who have gone above and beyond in their commitment to mentoring.
Our first award recipient, and its namesake, has been an active member of our community for 10 years. In the history of MicroMentor, no other mentor has spent as many hours helping hundreds of entrepreneurs from at least 65 countries. It is safe to say that no other mentor has had such a wide impact on entrepreneurs across the globe as this single mentor—Kenneth Larson.
Ken’s impact on our community has been tremendous. Not only does he have a great depth of business experience, but Ken is especially gifted in the process of mentoring itself. These facts, combined with the tremendous amount of time he’s dedicated to mentoring, are why we were compelled to honor and thank him for his dedication to entrepreneurs on our platform in this way. We are sincerely grateful to Ken's commitment to helping entrepreneurs from around the world.
You can read more about Ken's impact and hear from Ken himself below.
Supporting Social Impact
Kampala-based entrepreneur Dan Busobozi founded Empower Nations Initiative, an impact enterprise development platform that incubates, inspires, motivates, and trains aspiring and existing entrepreneurs, organizations and institutions to transform and improve their ideas and actions into profitable businesses and sustainable organizations.
With almost 20 years of experience working in the aid and development sector, Dan was well-prepared to launch his own business but wanted to refine his strategies and materials and build a network of mentors. He connected with Ken on MicroMentor and found a trusted and knowledgeable resource: “Ken was a perfect guide and mentor who helped me refine my business idea, and enabled me to consolidate my strategy and then get ready to lift it off the ground for effective implementation.”
With COVID impacting Dan’s ability to conduct training sessions, Ken helped him think through a pandemic-friendly strategy for marketing and delivering his services: “Ken’s character, knowledge, skill and attitude had a great effect on me. He [has] helped me to have a clearer understanding of my business idea...This increased my confidence to build, strengthen and market my services more appropriately.”
Dan plans on continuing to utilize Ken’s experience and knowledge and to keep him updated with their journey as Empower Nations Initiative grows: “I advise any prospective entrepreneurs to seek mentorship, as great knowledge is shared by experienced mentors like Kenneth Larson.”
When I began working at MicroMentor in 2018, Ken Larson was the first mentor I came into contact with. He had such an enormous number of conversations and Q&A responses that when he logged in to his account, the load it put on our servers would bring the entire website to a grinding halt! Thankfully we launched a new, more robust site in 2020, which is now able to handle Ken (as well as more than twice as many visitors as we had in 2018).
Ken began mentoring on MicroMentor in early 2011. He continues to mentor to this day, and during his decade on the site he has provided more quality mentoring at scale than any other mentor we have had to date.
For Mentoring Month this year, we felt it was time to recognize Ken’s tremendous impact on the MicroMentor community through the years, and share more about this uniquely skilled and dedicated mentor. Below, we ask Ken a few key questions about mentoring and his particular approach.
—Darin Sennett, MicroMentor Community Manager
What is mentoring?
Webster's English Dictionary of Synonyms gives the history of the noun "Mentor", explaining the word was acquired from a character named "Mentor" in the Greek epic, The Odyssey, by Homer. "Mentor" was an old and trusted friend to a principal character in the book who left his son with "Mentor" for guidance while he went away to war.
Webster's goes on to explain that today, we use the term, "Mentor", for anyone who is a positive, guiding influence in another person's life.
In my view, the words Webster's uses, "Positive" and "Guiding", are key to understanding mentoring. I would also add a third key word, "Openness". Most of us who have mentored in small business for years appreciate the fact that an entrepreneur will form their enterprise reflecting their own values, skills and outlook. We are there as guides, desiring to channel those attributes successfully.
Thus, small business mentoring is positive guidance, utilizing a mentor's life experience and professional knowledge by applying them to the entrepreneur’s business concept and challenges. For mentoring to succeed there must also be openness by the mentor to the cultural and value-based background of the entrepreneur in order to convey the guidance effectively and achieve trust.
How did your background prepare you for being a mentor?
I had an odyssey throughout the U.S. and many foreign countries during a 36 year career in the military industrial complex. From combat as a soldier in Vietnam, to aerospace and defense work in the U.S. and allied countries, I picked up a special appreciation for small business. I operated my own consulting firm for over a decade at the end of my professional career, specifically growing small enterprises. I have continued that work today as a volunteer with MicroMentor.
I had two mentors at key points in my business career. They were a combination of technical, management and communications talent, rarely found in the aerospace and defense industry. Neither placed salary, position or ego ahead of developing their subordinates and each reached the pinnacle of their respective careers for exactly that trait. Their skills at developing and utilizing people were their most highly valued qualities. I owe my survival in a very hectic environment to those two and much of my ability to guide and counsel individuals as well as communicate effectively springs from their legacy of guidance.
My mentoring approach strives to achieve a good match of my skills, values and background with those of the entrepreneur client. I seek to supplement the relationship by cultivating a curious posture and a questioning attitude on the part of both parties. Micro Mentor is a fruitful environment for that type of exchange. It is also an excellent catalytic platform to develop trust.
Why do you enjoy mentoring?
MicroMentor small business volunteering has kept me active in retirement, in touch with my profession and engaged in a continuous learning mode. The site has been my "Window On The World" in pursuing those objectives.
I believe we are growing entrepreneurs more than growing monumentally successful enterprises. They, in turn, will grow their unique forms of business using their efforts, not ours. We do not do it for them. They do it for themselves. Hopefully our suggestions help. I have been pleased again and again when a small business owner took my basic suggestions, put their own unique twists on them and developed a thriving business. That is the ultimate reward.
I help with background and knowledge for the entrepreneur to consider as he or she makes decisions. I experience satisfaction every day from the work and I value being useful to highly motivated entrepreneurs who wish to succeed.
2021 will be your 10th year on MicroMentor. What keeps you coming back to the MicroMentor community?
I joined Micro Mentor to serve international clients. Through mentoring I have revisited many of the countries in which I had dealings in my professional career, such as Vietnam, Pakistan, Australia, India, Taiwan, South Korea and others.
I have also learned a great deal by supporting small business entrepreneurs in locales like France, Italy, Central and South America, Pakistan, India and African clients in countries like Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, and Uganda.
The forms of government and the religious beliefs and languages among my clients have been a real mix, but the needs of the small enterprise have very common threads...The most common thread I see that passes through them all is their desire to succeed.
The MicroMentor site has grown extensively with translation and outreach designs and expanded Q&A feature and other assets that cultivate the type of communication with entrepreneurs I value. I view MicroMentor much like a garden—a place to plant seeds, a place to grow fruitful enterprises and a place to harvest personal satisfaction and the gratitude of others.
What is the fundamental advice you would give entrepreneurs to prepare for a mentoring relationship? And what advice would you give them as they work with a mentor?
- Be willing to communicate values, goals, objectives and the nature of the business concept. We wish to do considerable listening up front before making recommendations.
- Think through the challenges for specific areas in which assistance is needed and convey them in the most specific way possible.
- Relate to the mentor by not only asking questions, but also commenting on the outcomes and the quality of the mentor’s suggestions. If the entrepreneur has an idea for performing the job in a different way than the mentor identifies he or she should show some initiative by developing the approach and asking the mentor to comment.
The ideal entrepreneur as a client makes the journey interesting for us as well by practicing the above objectives.
What are the top three things you feel that mentors (or potential mentors) on MicroMentor should understand about mentoring?
Having both received and provided mentoring extensively, I know there are a myriad of approaches. From my perspective, the following are the three most important approaches I personally utilize:
The client is the pilot—the mentor is a navigator. Some entrepreneurs contact me once and I never hear from them again. I accept that as their choice. I have had others who have been with me for 5 years or more. Some contact me only when they have major decisions to make or wish to thank me for assistance.
Seek a good match. When an entrepreneur requests a relationship on MicroMentor or when I consider making an offer there, I carefully read the individual "Micro Mentor Profile And Self-Assessment".
Structure the process I use a very structured approach, asking the client to work with me along the following lines:
- Do you have a product or service niche in mind?
- Do you believe you have a market for 1 above and the means to reach it?
- Are you willing to develop a marketing plan using the tool kit I provide to validate 1 and 2 above before you launch?
If the answer to the above questions is "Yes" we begin the journey.
When we have completed the definition and planning process, many entrepreneurs at that point are able to network their business, acquire financing and industry partners, as well generate revenue in the form of customers by marketing and social networking based on the thorough definition and content of their plan.
I caution entrepreneurs to avoid digital technology tool risk that can raid their treasury if they allow the tools to drive the business launch and not the plan. I assist the entrepreneur in defining the business vehicle and its journey first. In doing so, it is my hope they will then be able to pick the right digital technology tools to make a successful trip.