In recognition of National Mentoring Month, I would like to acknowledge the important work being done by our WKI Certified Coaches who dedicate themselves to mentoring and coaching innovators to navigate the path forward to turn their idea into a business with purpose.  Throughout our 17 years, we have watched the WKI network help innovators put their ideas on the payload of a spacecraft, launch new drug discoveries, bring new ag tech solutions to market, find treatments for kidney disease, and much more.  It is gratifying to witness an innovator progress from the first WKI ideation session where they sketch their idea on a napkin to the final session, where they are pitching a quality business proposition with clarity and confidence.

There are few things more exciting that helping people with new ideas see how they can make an impact in the world.  For science and tech innovators, it takes tremendous courage to cross the bridge from their domain expertise to the world of being an entrepreneur. There are many unknowns starting with learning a new vocabulary that most innovators — researchers, scientists, engineers, clinicians, etc. — don’t speak.

WKI has always lived at the “I have an idea” stage — where an innovator who is not a businessperson says, “I have an idea, but I’m not sure what to do next”.  I’ve always believed that there’s a specific approach required to mentor and coach innovators at this stage — a style that doesn’t overwhelm with business jargon and plans and one that wraps the uniqueness of the idea with just the right amount of business value so that supporters can see the potential.  At WKI, we guide our Certified Coaches to use nine principles when mentoring and supporting innovators through our design methodology — I’ve highlighted 3 below (I like triples!) – if you would like all nine, just reach out to me and I’ll send you a graphic showing them in action.

Principle #1 – Honor the Idea

At WKI, we believe nothing happens without a great idea so that’s where we like to start.  Respecting the effort, accomplishment, and dedication of those who have created the idea is the starting point for designing the business value and developing a trusting mentor-mentee relationship.

You gain important insight as a mentor/coach when listening to an innovator discuss what motivated him/her to create the idea.  We are all aware that this can quickly become a technical deep dive so, at WKI we designed an ideation framework using the concept of a cocktail napkin to structure these discussions with innovators.   This allows our coaches to shift the conversation to discuss the commercial picture for concepts without getting buried in the technical weeds.  It’s necessary to have structure to guide innovators at this early stage, while also leaving room to be flowing and unstructured.  This way you can help the innovator sort and prioritize what’s high value and unique to them as early in the process as possible.

I’m a huge fan of iterating and sketching multiple napkin drawings, looking at the core idea from different angles.  You’ll be amazed at how innovators grab hold of this concept and work to isolate their unique characteristics.  And as we all know, it’s the unique attributes that create sustainable value for a business.

Principle #2 – Innovators Make Great Mentors

This is a simple but powerful concept.  It’s akin to the credibility founders have as advisors and confidants to other founders.  At WKI, we’ve learned a lot about innovators as mentors by observing the ideation programs at work by the WKI Certified Coaches.  At the center of these ideation programs are the innovators.  They drive the ideation sessions, serving as sounding boards and advisors to one another.  The WKI design frameworks provide the roadmap for focused and productive conversations.  It’s exciting to watch an innovator with often no knowledge of the domain mentor another innovator.  They use the design framework as their platform for conversation, focusing on the business path for the innovation versus the technical and scientific debates.  Innovators quickly realize they are driving the process in the ideation room and collaborate to develop each other’s ideas.  Long term relationships are established here that continue well beyond the ideation sessions.

Principle #3 – Business by Design

We believe strongly that the foundation for every idea as a business begins with design.  In today’s accelerate, fail fast culture, there is a tendency to skim steps and push innovators and ideas to keep moving forward in an arena where they often have little knowledge.  This may work for some but not all.  Design is a positive, engaging experience for innovators – they draw, model, and map and through the process they develop the groundwork for pitching, planning and communicating the business value for their idea. What’s more, they also develop the clarity and confidence to move their ideas forward.  Mentors are at the center of this design stage, guiding innovators to ask the probing questions and engage with the market to listen and learn.

We celebrate the WKI Certified Coach community along with all mentors supporting innovators and entrepreneurs to reach for the stars.  You are making a difference to advance ideas with the potential to make our world a better place.