Introducing the Mentor Neighborhood at Sage Summit

Danielle Cote is an extremely busy person this time of year. The vice president of the Sage Events Team is working diligently on her team’s biggest event of the year: Sage Summit.

So it didn’t surprise me that she didn’t get my e-mail the other day when I shot her an e-mail asking about the Mentor Neighborhood, a new feature I found on the redesigned Sage Summit website. Believe me, there’s been more than one time when I’m in my busy season where I’ll get a bunch of new e-mails and realize a few days later I didn’t look at them all.

However, I got pretty lucky. Soon after I sent the e-mail, I was involved in a conversation about the new Sage Summit website on Twitter. I mentioned I was going to write a blog post about it as soon as Danielle got back with me. Thankfully, she saw the Twitter notification on her phone and found the missing e-mail.

Within a few hours, I was computer-to-computer with Danielle learning about the beta details for the Mentor Neighborhood. She was so excited that the little blurb on the Sage Summit website was noticed and was happy to share some of the work-in-progress details.

(Have I given enough caveats to let you guys know the plans for the Mentor Neighborhood haven’t been finalized and some of the details may change before Sage Summit? OK, good. Don’t say I didn’t give you a heads-up.)

Mentor Neighborhood brings more networking to Sage Summit

From what Danielle told me, the best way to describe the new Mentor Neighborhood is a mash-up between Sage City Live and the Social Lounge at Sage Summit. It’s an effort on Sage’s part to provide networking and mentoring opportunities that focus on general business practices instead of something specific to business management software.

Mentor Neighborhood.

The Mentor Neighborhood concept looks to connect Sage Summit attendees with business mentors outside of Sage’s area of expertise.

The Mentor Neighborhood will provide an arena where small- and medium-size business entrepreneurs — or even someone just at the start-up stage — can talk to mentors representing every point along the business cycle. Participants can learn about how to help a business thrive, how to grow a business, how to expand a business, and so on.

“Some attendees may want to find out more about commercial lending, intellectual property, digital marketing, business funding, or building a startup,” Danielle said. “Sage has no expertise to tell people how to go get funding. That’s where this area is a compete departure from Sage City because we’re providing experts who extend beyond Sage’s own world and that’s what makes this so different.”

This is exactly what I was talking about a few weeks ago when I wrote about Sage customers coming from different industries who may find they have some things in common if they have the courage to start a conversation with a complete stranger.

Take the list of topics Danielle listed as an example: The CEO of a commercial builder and the CFO of a flat-bed trailer manufacturer attending Sage Summit both may be searching for a way to secure investment funding to expand their businesses. The two businesses may have little else in common, but they could both learn from the same mentor about business funding, and perhaps take that common bond and continue the conversation away from the Mentor Neighborhood.

Who are the Mentors in your Neighborhood?

As Danielle said, the mentors will not be Sage employees. Nor will they be motivational speakers or fly-by-night marketers. Some of the mentors will be representatives from “tech powerhouses.” Others will be business leaders, whether they’re the thought leaders who are speaking at Sage Summit or other invitees.

Sage reached out to 32 Chicago-area business associations with a total membership of 1.4 million members in an effort to track down the best business people who could act as a mentor. The plan worked: For their first informational session about the Mentor Neighborhood, they had double the attendance they were expecting.

This effort translated to nearly 50 business leaders offering to mentor Sage Summit attendees, including winners of MOXIE and James Tyree awards, two of Chicago’s most respected business awards. Equally important is that none of these business leaders are being paid for their services, nor did Sage try only to recruit business people who used their software.

“This is a way from business leaders to give back and to provide insight, and hopefully the people who they meet with will pay it forward and give insight back in return,” Danielle said.

Finding ‘that one answer’ in the Mentor Neighborhood

Danielle said all business people, whether they’re entrepreneurs in a small or medium-size business, are risk-takers who sacrifice in pursuit of their passion. And when it comes to taking those risks with the business, more oftentimes than not, those business people have one burning question that’s holding them back. In that sense, the Mentor Neighborhood’s goal is to help participants find that one answer.

Currently, the mentors will be sorted into the following topics:

  • Start-ups (learning about how to patent a device from a lawyer, for example)
  • Funding (how to access funding, banking, angel investors, etc.)
  • Finding the right technology from tech powerhouse giants
  • Finding and retaining customers (using marketing, branding, social media to get and retain customers)
  • Finding and retaining talent (How to find talent and retain talent that fits your business’ culture)

The idea is to make the Mentor Neighborhood approachable. There will be a variety of one-on-one or one-on-few seating arrangements. There will also be U-shaped tables around a podium where a group of 12 people can learn from and share thoughts with a mentor.

The "Genius Bar" concept is already in practice at Sage Summit for other topics. For example, the folks from Jolly Farmer Products (our customers! woo!) were spotted looking for more information about Sage X3 last year at Sage Summit.

The “Genius Bar” concept is in practice at Sage Summit. For example, the folks from Jolly Farmer Products (our customers! woo!) were spotted looking for information about their Sage products at Sage Summit 2015.

Also, the only way to sign up for the Mentor Neighborhood is on-site. This is another idea based off feedback and trial-and-error from previous Sage Summits. Many appointment-only meetings at Summit with preregistration (such as tech support) end up being one expert sitting alone for a half hour waiting for the no-show to arrive. Passers-by would be confused why they can’t sit down with the expert when they’re just sitting there “doing nothing.” Danielle said by having the sign-ups on site, they’re hoping to have less absentees and a more flexible schedule to allow walk-ups.

The Mentor Neighborhood will also have a resource “genius bar” in the common area where participants who can’t get a private conversation to fit in their schedule will be able to talk to some of the mentors who aren’t scheduled to have a private session at that time.

As of right now, the Mentor Neighborhood is scheduled to be open during the same hours as the trade show floor, but Danielle said they’re toying with the idea of opening later in the morning as not to conflict with the keynote speeches.

Danielle said there still will be networking opportunities for like-minded Sage customers, whether they use Sage X3 or Sage 100 Contractor or any other product, to connect at Sage Summit. But the Mentor Neighborhood is a place where everyone with burning questions about the business world can connect as well.

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