It can be any gender to any gender. We spend maybe 15 to 20 hours with a young person in getting them ready to come into our program. Before they get our loans, we “hand-match” them with a mentor. Seventy per cent of our mentors are entrepreneurs themselves. That's the primary thing: somebody who has walked in that path before. If they're not an entrepreneur, they're often someone with financial skills and the expertise to help someone who may not have those skills.
We hand-match them with a mentor. They are generally in the same city or community, because being able to have access to one another is huge. We're looking for people who match in terms of skill sets, interests, experience, and often industry as well. You can imagine that for a restaurant owner it's pretty important to have a mentor who's run a restaurant before, as that's a pretty specialized area.
Once they are matched, they have an orientation to make sure they know how to work together. It was designed with the help of Lavalife, so it's very much about “do I email you?”, “do I phone you?”, and “how are we going to communicate with one another?” They have that mentor for up to two years. The idea is that they spend four to five hours a month together by phone or in person. The mentor can have no financial interest at all in their business. They're completely about the entrepreneur and helping them through rough times, and keeping them true to their plans and ideas.
We find that it's particularly in the second year where they need help. Often something has gone wrong. They've back-end loaded a lease, or something has happened, and they need that person there to say, “How are you going to change your direction to get things back on track?” We know that our entrepreneurs are still in business at the rate of 50% to 60% after five years, which is much higher than the normal average, and we're pretty sure it's because of this mentoring.