Mentorship relations in startup performance: goal and attitude congruence and their implications for divergent thinking

    Project: Research project

    Project Details


    Success stories of Dropbox or Airbnb give testament to the growing importance of acceleration programs in grooming high performance startups. At the core of such programs is the mentorship process, equipping founding teams with skills to recognize opportunities faster, pivot business models more efficiently, and generate a wider variety of original and relevant ideas. Emerging research on investment relations shows that exchange with more experienced individuals is essential in generating value-added for new ventures (Huang & Knight, 2015). Knowledge and strategic guidance are arguably as important as provision of financial means. Yet, the influence of relations between the founding team and startup mentors on new venture’s performance is under-researched. Extant literature on mentorship relationships between two individuals does not provide overarching logic to understanding the multi-level relations between startup teams and mentors. Drawing on literatures on formal mentoring and divergent thinking, this study aims to provide a new perspective on how mentorship relations between startup founding teams and more experienced advisors unfold and impact the new firm performance.

    We introduce attitude and goal congruence between team and mentor to explain why some relations are more likely to capitalize on entrepreneurial opportunities, and why similarity between founding team and mentors is not always a good thing. We reach to similarity-attraction theory to argue that the traditionally honed congruence in formal mentorship relationship may have negative consequences in the startup setting (Dowejko, Chan, & Au, 2016; Tajfel, 1978). Startup mentors are meant to push the founding teams out of their comfort zone and help them to increase their competitiveness through being different. We propose a mediating concept of divergent thinking in the startup mentoring process that helps to achieve this objective. We argue for moderate levels of similarity between founding teams and mentors. Too much similarity breeds contempt; too much diversity introduces chaos and conflict, thus limiting the potential of divergent thinking stimulated through mentorship. Overall, if the composition of mentoring pairs can be linked to mentorship relationship performance, acceleration programs and startup teams can strategically develop matching criteria and procedures that will allow for highly efficient startup development. Using cross-level polynomial regressions and as methodological approach, we plan to test the above propositions in the course of two empirical studies.
    Effective start/end date1/01/1831/12/21


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