Thanks To Social Tech, Everyone Can Have A Mentor, Just Ask Harlem Chocolate Factory Founder

NY Post reports that then Marco Perry and Kathy Larchian started their Brooklyn-based product design firm, Pensa, finding a mentor was hard. It was 2005 and the maker industry was in its nascent stages, meetups were a new phenomenon, and LinkedIn, which now has 500 million members, had just reached 1 million.

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“Identifying someone to turn to [in order to] ask a question, get an opinion or even to commiserate with was tough,” says Perry, whose company has created products such as Street Charge, the solar-powered phone-charging stations now in the city’s parks.

A lot has changed since then. There are meetups all over the city and successful entrepreneurs have set up programs designed specifically to provide support and lend expertise.

“New social technologies have emerged to help like-minded people find each other, at the same time as a generation of successful professionals have appeared in the workplace who are eager to share their hard-earned experience and give back,” says Holger Mueller, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

Take Perry and Larchian, for example. Every six weeks they host Pancakes With Pensa, a free breakfast meeting where early-stage product designers can meet, eat and share lessons learned.

“A lot of people helped us along the way. It feels right,” says Perry.

LinkedIn has just rolled out a broader-based micromentoring service that helps pair workers who want guidance with professionals who are qualified and willing to provide it. Hari Srinivasan, head of identity products at LinkedIn, says that it was built for the 80 percent of its user base that indicated an interest in mentorship.

“We have made that part easy,” says Srinivasan. All users need to do is click on the “Career Advice” tab on their personal home page and answer a few questions, and a list of mentoring suggestions appears. LinkedIn not only uses its treasure trove of member profile data to determine who is qualified to be a mentor, it then matches them to people in need of help. As a result, the likelihood of engagement is high.

The philanthropic arm of Boston Beer Co., makers of Samuel Adams, has set up an entirely different kind of program. Called Brewing the American Dream, it’s geared toward helping food and beverage craftspeople start a business.

The nationwide initiative, which includes access to microloans, begins by helping participants prep for local “Shark Tank”-like competitions, called pitch rooms, where participants present and get real-world, real-time feedback from some of the country’s most respected retailers, wholesalers, restaurant owners and such. “It is meant to help aspiring entrepreneurs connect with mentors and polish their pitches,” says Jennifer Glanville, brewery manager at Boston Beer Co., who is one of the mentors.

Participants also get access to Samuel Adams’ ad hoc mentoring program, where corporate executives are on speed dial 24/7.

Harlem Chocolate Factory founder Jessica Spaulding, who participated in the program, came away with a number of tangible wins. Not only were the 30-year-old’s artisan chocolates included in Samuel Adams’ holiday gift boxes last year, she also opened her first storefront in December. “It’s the first chocolate shop in Harlem’s history,” she says.

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