The Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce’s business mentorship program has been a boon to the valley, with program participants giving glowing reports of how it has turned out for them.
The Chamber launched the business mentorship program this past winter, and matched up 10 mentors with 10 local business owners who wanted to be mentored in a kind of speed dating-like event. Once the mentors and the mentorees were paired up, each pair began to meet semi-regularly, with the mentor offering advice to help the mentorees operate their businesses.
“It has been amazing,” said Ranch UpAround owner Lisa Lehr. “There are so many experienced professionals here in the valley and it’s wonderful to be able to benefit from their advice.”
Lehr started her summer camp-based business this summer, and was mentored by Circle Cafe owner Peter Bourke through the mentorship program as she did so.
“I was really looking for guidance on the bigger picture with my business, and how to go about starting it, and Pete was just an incredible help with that,” said Lehr.
“Most of it was prioritizing, alignment and focus type stuff, helping Lisa figure out where she wants to dedicate most of her time, and strategizing which ideas to pull out first and which to leave for later,” said Bourke. “It went pretty well and the whole program was a neat idea. It’s a great initiative and a great way to connect people and resources that you otherwise might not even know exist in the valley.”
Tiffany’s Thredz owner Tiffany Gulbe was paired with local retiree Rick Thompson through the program, and said she found Thompson’s extensive business experience (he spent about four decades working as a buyer, senior manager, asset manager and a developer of retail shopping centres) helpful as she went about setting up a second Tiffany’s in Calgary.
“I absolutely love my mentor,” said Gulbe. “Sometimes we meet once a week, sometime once a month. He’s helped with so much — with lawyer stuff, with business stuff, really with anything to do with anything. I don’t know how else I would have learned so much of what he’s taught me.”
Advice from a mentor has the benefit of not only of drawing on experience, but also of being more objective than advice coming from friends or partners, said Gulbe.
“I’ve taken on some things I wouldn’t have, if I hadn’t had (Thompson’s) support. It’s probably the best program I’ve ever done,” she said. “I really wanted somebody objective to look at my books, teach me about leasing agreements, and with my mentor I certainly got that. I find in business a lot of your peers usually don’t talk about the financial angle of things, and in a small town such as Invermere that doesn’t leave many other people to turn to for advice.”
For his part, Thompson said he got as much out of being a mentor as Gulbe received being mentored.
“I really enjoy it,” he said. “There are a lot of us in the valley, retired or semi-retired here, who have spent
many years in business, have a lot of experiences and we are keen to pass it on, which is just as beneficial to the person giving the advice as the person receiving it. We’ve learned from mistakes and it’s great to be able to help others avoid the same pitfalls.”
When the Chamber first announced the business mentorship program last winter, Chamber executive director Susan Clovechok said there would potentially be a second round of the program if enough people express interest in being mentors and being mentored. To inquire about participating in a second round of the mentoring program, contact Clovechok at the Chamber by calling 250-342-2844 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.