Discovering the Future
Startup Gurus
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General Information
Concepts in general context

During the journey to achieve a goal, one can encounter numerous challenges. Support and guidance from an experienced person can be invaluable to navigate through these personal and professional endeavors. This experienced person has a solid understanding of how to identify and strengthen any weaknesses holding you back from achieving a goal. As Isaac Newton noted, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”

Understanding what to expect when interacting with experienced people helps ensure desired results. Generally, these interactions fall into three categories: mentor, coach, and advisor. Researchers have developed common definitions to know how and when to engage each. The following provides an overview of each type of interactive relationship.


Mentorship is the most encompassing relationship. Mentors serve as a role model for the mentee, who personally admires and wants to emulate the mentor. A mentor does not have to be experienced in a specific area, yet helps in the overall professional and personal development of a mentee. Mentors generally serve as a source of inspiration and feel fulfilled by providing insights and lessons learned. Common definitions of mentors are:

  • “Someone who inspires curiosity, challenges assumptions and expectations, guides through asking probing questions, and directs about what he doesn’t know and is eager to learn along with the mentee.”

  • “A protected relationship in which learning and experimentation can occur, potential skills can be developed, and in which results can be measured in terms of competencies gained.”


The term “coach” is most commonly used in sports, but the concept includes management, public speaking, career development, and more. Coaches offer guidance, skill-building, and perspectives grounded in decades of experience. Unlike mentors, coaches do not usually serve as role models. Their relationship with an individual or business is highly formalized and coaches are typically viewed in a similar light as fee-for-service consultants. Coaches train the person/team in a certain area because the goal is to facilitate learning and results. A couple of definitions are:

  • “The support that helps the person to develop and acquire necessary skills.”
  • “Aimed at bringing out the potential of individuals through deliberate intervention activities to develop and achieve specified goals for the individual.”


The role of an advisor can be similar to a mentor, but this relationship is more formal and shorter term. One does not need to admire or try to emulate the advisor. Advisors provide value to the person or team by giving feedback on specific questions. The scope of advising is limited to resolving specific issues. Definitions are:

  • “A person who provides time, expertise, and connections to the individual. Usually, there is a form of payment in terms of equity or cash.”
  • “Someone who can help an individual shape their business in the short to medium term.”

These definitions apply to entrepreneurs and startups that need various types of support at different stages of development. The entrepreneurial journey can get challenging and outside assistance can help along the way. The subsequent sections discuss the use of mentors, coaches, and advisors in this context, providing clear distinctions between each.

Concepts in the entrepreneurial context

Entrepreneurial programs generally offer their network to attract entrepreneurs and to ensure more successful outcomes. Mentors, coaches, and advisors assist program participants at different stages of development cycles. “Mentoring is at the core of the value that incubators and accelerators provide" but it is also the weakest link and mentoring is definitely one of the biggest challenges.

Currently, the definitions of these professionals involved in entrepreneurial programs can be misinterpreted. Entrepreneurs and startups do not fully differentiate between the roles of mentor, coach, and advisor, which leads to mismatched expectations and outcomes. This leads to less targeted interaction, decreasing interest, and commitment on both sides.

The goal of the subsequent sections is to provide clarity regarding the definitions of mentor, coach, and advisor to ensure the successful engagement of professionals in the scope of FAST entrepreneurial programs and the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem in general. International and Armenian experience was also reviewed to identify possible effects as well as misleading usage of the terms and ensure a comprehensive understanding of introduced categories.

Practical case example

This practical case differentiates how the definitions can apply.

A biotech startup is working on tissue engineering for medical applications. The team has a mentor, who the team members want to emulate. The team meets with the mentor every two weeks to discuss the co-created agenda. When the team faces challenges, the mentor asks key questions for further consideration. If needed, a mentor shares contacts from personal networks to help the team continue to develop itself.

The team can have coaches who receive compensation for helping in specific areas. In this case, a certified coach may help translate engineering techniques based on considerable professional experiences. The meetings with a coach take place when needed and often in the process of building MVPs or final products.

An advisor has extensive knowledge in a particular area; in this case, the healthcare industry. When the team has a specific concern, it asks for a one-time meeting with the expert. This meeting is formal and the agenda is set by the team because its members know what they need to get as a result of the advising session.

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  • provides insight and, as startups encounter challenges, assists in business as well as personal development of the team.
  • is someone that, in most cases, people want to emulate and become. The objective of interaction is to receive broad guidance.
  • has a long-term commitment and works with the startup for 1-2 years or longer.
  • may not have expertise in the startup field, but has good knowledge of business in general.
  • regularly interacts with the team and, when issues arise, acts in a reactive capacity.
  • has a more informal and open-ended relationship with a startup.
  • shares broad advice and their connections/network with the team.
  • is the question-asker to provoke thoughts and generate ideas.
  • co-creates meeting agenda with the startup.
  • assists starting from the early stages of the startup formation process.


  • is hired to provide guidance and advice in specific areas of a business or individual capacity to increase the performance of a startup.
  • transfers knowledge or skills. It is not necessary to have a personal admiration or a desire to emulate the person.
  • has a short-term commitment. It can be one or a series of meetings, depending on the startup’s challenges.
  • has expertise in a specific area in which provides guidance to startups. Many coaches are trained and certified.
  • is prescriptive, actively participating in strategizing, and co-creating successful outcomes.
  • is in a more formal relationship that is aimed at addressing specific short-term issues.
  • is hired/contacted for their expertise. Meetings are more structured and regularly scheduled.
  • expects more questions by the team members.
  • sets the meeting agenda based on team needs.
  • can be more useful as the startup matures and more issues arise rather than in early development stages.


  • uses expertise to direct a person to the best methods to achieve their business goals.
  • is at the intersection of mentor and coach and can be personally admirable, but not necessarily someone to emulate. The objective is to get narrow, specific know-how and recommendations.
  • has short to medium term commitment. Meetings with advisors can be organized as needed.
  • generally has granular expertise in certain areas. The goal is to provide specific feedback about specific questions.
  • has a relationship based on needs and meetings that are scheduled when a problem arises.
  • is in a formal relationship for a specific duration.
  • generally shares expert knowledge. The startup can offer equity to an advisor.
  • meets with team members on the specific concerns and is expected to provide a solution by the end of the meeting.
  • allows the team to set the agenda.
  • can be useful at all stages of the startup formation process.