Persistence and change are key to startups success: Advice from MITEF mentors

For the MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab, mentorship is a necessary extension to all programs and competitions. During the speed mentoring activity at the 11th Arab Startup Competition Final Event in Oman last April, we asked three of our mentors about the most common questions entrepreneurs ask them and their top piece of advice.

As part of the training organized by the MIT EF, our semi-finalists are assigned a mentor and are expected to go through at least 12 hours of mentorship over the course of 6 months.

According to one of our loyal mentors, Christos Mastoras of Iliad Fund, most entrepreneurs tend to pinpoint funding as the top challenge. But Rashad Sinokrot, CEO of GCC Services thinks that with a successful prototype and a working proof of concept money comes easily from angels, VCs, family and friends.

Most entrepreneurs also struggle with closing corporate deals and B2B contracts. They often find themselves wondering who is the right person to speak to. Rena Zuabi, Head of Innovation Program at BNP Paribas L’Atelier North America explains that entrepreneurs need to identify the right customer profile and then build relationships within the company.

“It is important to understand the internal corporate structure of a potential business partner and then go out after the right person and pitch. Moving throughout the entire organization and pitching to everyone does not work,” says Zuabi during a chat with the MITEF team. “Be targeted and strategic in who you are speaking to, and find people who are on your side,” Zuabi adds.

Mentorship session
Mentorship session during the pre-bootcamp in Morocco.

Some of the main advice given to the entrepreneurs were:
“It takes a lot of No’s before you get to Yes’s.”
“Great ideas cannot often be seen by others because it is hard for people to imagine what change looks like.”
“Being able to articulate and demonstrate your persistence in a clear way is a game changer” - Rena Zuabi.

“There is no substitute for a good team.”
“Surrounding yourself with the best possible team is shortcut to building a successful startup.”
“Entrepreneurs will eventually need to pivot their business models and product or service offerings, and this can happen with the least friction when there is a good team behind it”- Christos Mastoras.

“Entrepreneurs should always keep the endgame in sight while they remain open for feedback.”
“You’re in it for the long run.”
“Who believes that startups need to constantly question why things fail to fall into the right place and keep retrying”- Rashad Sinkorot.