The City of Airdrie is launching a new team-based business mentorship program aimed to support high-growth entrepreneurs as part of a mentoring model that stems from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston.
According to a City press release, MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service (VMS) program has been successfully operating for more than 20 years, and Airdrie is one of only four municipalities offering the program in Alberta.
The program will be partially funded through the Government of Alberta Community and Regional Economic Support (CARES) program and will receive operational support from Community Futures Centre West.
“We’re thrilled to be launching a new program that will help ensure we have the right support services businesses need to be successful,” said Mayor Peter Brown in the City’s press release.
“It’s vital that we support existing businesses, so they stay and thrive in Airdrie, acknowledging that 80 to 90 per cent of economic growth comes from within a community.”
The AdvanceSMART program follows the City’s entrepreneurial training program, SMARTstart, which is launching its 10th intake in 2023. SMARTstart provides participants with one-to-one mentorship geared towards new business owners to help further their entrepreneurial ambitions.
Adversely, the new program will instead match a business with a team of three to four mentors, who will provide guidance and assistance to entrepreneurs working to reach their growth goals and build successful companies, according to Jessica Wiliamson, an economic development officer with the City of Airdrie.
“We’ve seen the incredible impact of mentorship on new businesses through our SMARTstart program and we heard from our community that they wanted more,” Williamson said in the press release.
“We’re extremely excited to provide that same opportunity to support high growth businesses in our city with the help of a talented pool of volunteer mentors.”
Mentors will help business owners develop growth strategies, tackle complex challenges, and become better business leaders, according to the City.
“This team mentoring approach is a unique methodology with proven advantages – providing entrepreneurs with a temporary board of advisors to help reach ambitious growth goals and build successful companies,” read the press release.
In an interview, Williamson, who is also a board member of Airdrie Entrepreneur Common (a non-profit organization that seeks to support the city’s small businesses), said the target audience for the program is Airdrie’s high-growth businesses – defined as those experiencing rapid growth over the past number of years.
She added the City is specifically looking for businesses that have grown approximately 20 per cent year-over-year for at least two to three years, in terms of either employees or revenue.
“[We are looking to] support businesses who are already operating in Airdrie to help them grow – to show a level of support to those businesses who are experiencing growth challenges.”
AdvanceSMART was officially launched at airdrieFEST on Sept. 10, beginning with the recruitment of mentors.
Williamson added entrepreneur recruitment is set to take place in November and December, with teams being formed to participate in regular mentor meetings in the first quarter of 2023.
“We are seeking volunteer mentors and we are inviting interested mentors to attend an upcoming information session to learn more,” she said.
Information sessions are slated for Oct. 4 and 12. Interested mentors can register online at airdriecommon.ca, where they will also find a mentorship application form, along with information on eligibility and commitment.
Interested business owners and entrepreneurs are also encouraged to visit the same website for more information about eligibility, commitment, and the application process (which begins in November).
“We are also inviting interested entrepreneurs to join us at an information session to learn more on Dec. 6 and 13,” Williamson said, adding registration is live on the website right now.
“We are also encouraging interested entrepreneurs to subscribe to our newsletter to receive the latest news and updates from our team.”
The pilot program is part of the continued implementation of Airdrie’s 10-year economic strategy: 2018-28. It also supports the Right For Business objective, which aims to retain and grow Airdrie businesses and attract new investment, according to the City.
“I think it’s really important that both mentors and entrepreneurs understand this program has been licensed from the renowned (MIT),” Williamson added. “We were the 104th team trained around the world on this successful mentoring model.
“It really is going to help set us up for success to operate a successful team-based mentorship model here in Airdrie.”