Yes, You Need a Mentor to Grow Your Business - Black Enterprise

Yes, You Need a Mentor to Grow Your Business

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Mentor—protégé relationships are critical for growing your business,” said Black Enterprise’s SVP, chief content officer, Derek T. Dingle at a discussion on mentors and protégés.

The discussion was part of a panel of the third day of the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit: “Grow Your Business: Building Mentor—Protégé Relationships.”

Michelle-Thompson Dolberry of American Express OPEN, Advisor on Small Business Growth, also offered sound advice.

“Learn from others around you,” she said.

The panel was composed of a protégé and her mentor, both two very successful entrepreneurs.

The protégé, Nailah Ellis-Brown, founder of Ellis Infinity L.L.C., has found wild success with her Ellis Iced Tea products.

She was going to go to college and during her first semester she realized how much debt she would incur getting her degree.

Instead, she set out to fulfill her dreams of entrepreneurship. She was interested in the beverage industry and asked her Dad for his tea recipe.

Ellis-Brown started selling out of a cooler and made a couple $100 a day. Then she aimed for Whole Foods. She had to tailor her recipe for Whole Foods. Her business started to grow and then she opened a production facility.

However, with growth came growing pains. She was frustrated, needed further funding, didn’t have a business plan, and felt stymied.

That’s when she got a fantastic mentor.

At an event honoring successful black business people, she bluntly asked for help while on stage. At the event happened to be businessman and BE 100s veteran, Leon Richardson, president and CEO of ChemicoMays.

ChemicoMays is a chemical manufacturing company supplying the automotive industry. The company made $106 BILLION last year.

Richardson was moved to mentor Ellis-Brown based on his experience with his mentor and partner, the legendary Bill Mays, a pioneer in the chemical industry.

Both offered advice based off their mentor—protégé relationship. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Before you expand your business, perfect your process.


  • Protégés and mentors should exchange ideas and both should grow.


  • You can get mentoring anywhere, through a lot of different relationships; get it wherever you can.


  • Gather those with different perspectives when selecting a board of advisers.


  • Mentor—protégé relationships can fail and do end. People can discover they perhaps don’t get along, and sometimes the protégé outgrows the need for the mentorship.