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How Relationships Can Build Your Business, Plus Career Missteps to Avoid

Finding the right mentor can mean the difference between a good and a great project, startup or career. Here’s how to do it. Plus find out what top female founders say they’d do differently in their careers next go-round

Seasoned entrepreneurs know that the best way to fast-track success is to find a trusted advisor or mentor who can coach them through rocky patches and help them forecast tricky scenarios that may be lying in wait.

But finding time for regular sessions with a mentor while running a business isn’t easy. Find out how these Tennessee trailblazers maximize the mentor relationship to create value for both sides. And learn about what they’d do over, career-wise, if they got a second chance.

What’s the one thing in your career that you’d do again if you could? What would you avoid?

“We’ve got nothing. Everything to this point — positive, negative and in between — has gotten us this far in our entrepreneurial journey. We’ve learned things that, without having the misstep and growing from it early on, could be detrimental to our business today.”

 Ashlee Ammons & Kerry Schrader, Mixtroz 

“I would quit my cushy 9 to 5 job again to start Please Assist Me! Leaving the comfort of Corporate America to pursue my dreams was one of the most empowering things that I have ever done. In the past, I have regretted being silent in an unjust situation. I didn’t want to “ruffle” feathers or make anyone uncomfortable. If I were able to “re-do” some professional interactions, I would have stood up for myself and raised awareness that a sexist or degrading comment was inappropriate.”

 

— Stephanie Cummings, Please Assist Me 

“I would take the leap of entrepreneurship over and over again. Even though it’s so challenging at times, I am addicted to the adrenaline and the chase. The one thing I would do differently is surround myself with as many industry leaders as often as possible.”

— Jessica Harthcock, Utilize Health 

“I wish that I had started my entrepreneurial journey earlier. I spent years wanting to start something but being too scared to leave the comforts of the corporate world to do it.”

— Courtney Jones, MomSource Network 

“One of the best decisions in my career was deciding to go to graduate school for my Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering. If I could do something different, I would have embraced the entrepreneurial mindset much sooner!”

— Sinead Miller, PATH EX 

“I would definitely be a Teach for America corps member again. I was stationed in rural Louisiana for two years, and it opened my eyes to the disparities we have in this country and in our educational system — and it gave me hope that we can make a difference, classroom by classroom. If I had to go back, I might take more time in my early career to explore my passions and see where those would take me. I was so set on a path of service, grad school, a job that I neglected to explore other opportunities and give myself the freedom to fail or fly at other pursuits. But I’m happy where I’ve landed, regardless! Maybe I can re-explore those passions in my retirement.”

 

 

 Kristina Montague, The JumpFund 

“I would absolutely still jump into the world of healthcare IT straight out of college. Learning to code and design databases (from a Harp Performance and Global Health undergraduate degree) was one of the hardest and best ways I’ve ever stretched myself. Gaining hard and soft skills gave me the confidence early on to pursue a number of opportunities in years since. Looking back, I would probably push myself to change positions more frequently. I like being the expert in a field, which leads me to dive deep and stay longer in a particular role than I probably should. I’m thankful to have people in my life who help me see when it’s time to move on.”

 

 

 Tori Samples, Leaf Global Fintech 

“I would continue to look for opportunities that fix something that is broken or do something that no one has ever done before. Sometimes, they go hand in hand. I’m not sure I would have done anything differently. Hindsight is 20/20, and I learned a lot from my failures and mistakes.”

Van Tucker, Nashville Fashion Alliance

How did you find your best mentors? And, more importantly, how do you find time to make the most of the relationships?

“Most of the people that have helped our business grow (with the exception of our investors) are people we didn’t know at the beginning of this journey. The thesis of our business is face-to-face connectivity; with that we practice what we preach. We know that, statistically, the more collisions we have with people, the more likely our business is to succeed. As humans, we are all one degree away from our next big break. Being social, showing up and showing out is a non-negotiable for our business.”

 

 Ashlee Ammons & Kerry Schrader, Mixtroz 

“I found my mentors through the Nashville Entrepreneur Center and Co.Lab [in Chattanooga]. These two LaunchTN partners have been pivotal to my personal and business development. I have regular touch points with my mentors and reach out for guidance as needed.”

 Stephanie Cummings, Please Assist Me 

“I believe mentoring is invaluable. I set up formal relationships from the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey, and I would recommend that to everyone. It’s something that goes on my calendar every month.”

— Jessica Harthcock, Utilize Health 

“I’ve been blessed with great mentors and sponsors alike. It’s important to ask for what you need whether it’s introductions, strategic advice or just general support. I’m always mindful of my asks, appreciative of their time and committed to following up on our conversations.”

— Courtney Jones, MomSource Network 

“I found all of my mentors through networking. To make the most of these relationships, I always do my homework. It is very important to understand the background, expertise and value of the mentor. I analyze what I am trying to accomplish with each mentor and then we lay out a plan to achieve my goals.”

— Sinead Miller, PATH EX 

“I don’t have specific mentors but have surrounded myself with smart, wise colleagues and friends that I lean on from time to time for advice and “coaching.” I do love mentoring others when I have the time, as it gives me great hope for the future. It does take time to nurture these relationships, and I am conscious when I have not done so in awhile and need to refuel by spending time with friends and former colleagues.”

 

 Kristina Montague, The JumpFund 

“I’m thankful to have identified mentors in different spheres of my life fairly organically. I try to choose people I admire in every circle I run in. Sometimes these are people similar to me, whom I want to emulate down the road, and sometimes they’re people who have very different skills and instincts that I can learn from. Everyone is busy, but I’m a strong believer in taking time to show people you care. Remembering small details about people’s lives and work goes a long way. I’ve noticed that if I’m willing to invest time in the relationship, the other person usually is too. As an entrepreneur, you’ll never find time—you must make it.”

 

 

 Tori Samples, Leaf Global Fintech 

“The best mentor relationships developed organically for me. We were in circumstances together that made the relationship more relatable to each of us. We weren’t forced to “meet once a month” or given a script or process to follow. I tried to always be open, curious, present and show appreciation for their wisdom and time through great follow-up. As a mentor now, those are qualities that I find in people I want to mentor.”

 

Van Tucker, Nashville Fashion Alliance

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