Innovation Blog

No human is an island—and neither is any startup.

No human is an island

While startups face a multitude of challenges, ranging from market uncertainties to resource constraints to ego clashes, they no longer have to go it alone. At MassChallenge Switzerland, an accelerator known for its comprehensive support and development programs, mentorship is not just a supplement; it is the key to transforming bright ideas into market-leading innovations.

MassChallenge Switzerland’s Mentors offer insights and experience that can give startups the knowledge, direction, and motivation they need to succeed.  

The Vital Role of Mentorship

The solutions to a startup’s problems can be found in collaboration—specifically mentorship. Unlike conventional advisory roles that are compensated with fees or equity, mentorship at MassChallenge Switzerland requires a relationship of mutual trust and respect. The best mentors blend the roles of friend, advisor, counsellor, sounding board, confidante, and foe to help give startups the knowledge, insights, and experiences that they lack.

Emmi Kavander

Emmi Kavander, MassChallenge Switzerland Mentor of the Year 2022, takes a personalized approach to her mentoring. With a diverse background in sales, strategy, and cognitive psychology, Emmi—CEO and Founder of MatchInverse® and Kavanders & Co.—tailors her mentorship to address the root causes of issues that startups face rather than just the issues themselves.

“Mentoring is about guiding the founders to see beyond the immediate challenges and to strategically position themselves in a competitive marketplace,” the coach explains. “Often, the real issue isn’t what the founders think it is—it’s deeper, tangled in their strategic and operational approach.”

For early-stage startups, Emmi notes the common hurdles of limited resources—time, money, skills, and knowledge. She emphasizes the psychological resilience needed to navigate these challenges, pointing out, “It’s easy to build a million-dollar business, but hard to become the person who can manage it.”

Through her experience at MassChallenge, she has helped companies refine their pitching skills and business narratives, enhancing their ability to attract funding and market interest.

“Transforming an idea into a compelling story is critical for capturing attention and resources,” Emmi adds.

Experienced Guides to the Startup Ecosystem

MassChallenge Mentor of the Year 2020 and Entrepreneur-in-Residence 2021-2024 Patrick Pestalozzi believes strongly in the need to consider each startup’s unique industry, stage of development, and company dynamics. With over three decades of experience, Patrick is a former management consultant and Silicon Valley executive who is actively involved in the creation, financing, and development of multiple deep-tech start-ups. His mentorship is invaluable in helping startups with the “four Ps: product, price, promotion, and place”.

“Startups need to ensure they meet market needs effectively while navigating the complexities of their individual industry,” notes Patrick, who recently took up a new position as CEO of Abionic.

Patrick Pestalozzi

Patrick’s insights help firms avoid common missteps and leverage opportunities that may not be readily apparent. By co-creating a clear roadmap forward, mentors like Marco help compress the timeline for knowledge acquisition and skills development, steering startups away from common pitfalls:

“The path to success is paved with resilience and an unyielding drive to overcome challenges,” he states.

Patrick also stresses the significance of a supportive ecosystem, which he wishes had been available during his early entrepreneurial ventures. The ecosystem at MassChallenge not only includes connections to capital providers, but also strategic advice and networking.

“Having access to a nurturing ecosystem can accelerate a startup’s journey from concept to market,” notes Patrick.

Operational Efficiency and Scaling Innovations

MassChallenge Mentor of the Year 2023 Emil Virag says careful planning of operational strategies is needed to scale production in the right way. Emil’s expertise in supply chain and manufacturing in the food industry is at the core of his mentorship philosophy—with the idea that “one size does not fit all.” He works closely with startups to identify their pain points, particularly in scaling production from pilot to industrial scales, using innovative approaches to meet the difficult demands of investors.

Emil Virag, Mentor of the year 2023

“Every startup’s journey is unique, requiring strategies that align with their specific operational realities,” says Emil, CEO of Foodanza. “In the food industry, startups need to rely on strong lab and pilot scale manufacturing capabilities which are at best case Food Grade certified facilities. This is the essence of a good platform for taking the product to market.”

Emil has the ability to connect startups with major customers and venture capital, facilitating proof-of-concept development and funding cycles that are vital for growth and sustainability in the highly competitive food industry.

“Trust and close collaboration between startup and mentor are very important,” Emil adds. “Collaboration can range from occasional contact to a punctual need for steady and lasting collaboration. Both options are valuable—it depends on the needs of the startup and their willingness to collaborate with a mentor.”

A Comprehensive Business Toolkit

With a background spanning a broad spectrum from technical development to business management, Entrepreneur-in-Residence Marco Iotti offers MassChallenge Switzerland’s startups a comprehensive toolkit for growth. Marco focuses on the importance of critical thinking and adaptability, which he believes are essential for entrepreneurs to survive the early stages of business development.

“I like to think about my academic, corporate, VC, and entrepreneurial skills as a series of tools that comes into play depending on each startup’s needs,”

advises the founder of health, wellness, and performance management ventures like Altrove Innovation, AIM Feedback, Mixfit, Bioloopers, and Pio World.

Marco’s mentorship helps startups achieve strategic objectives by tackling the many details that can determine their success. Developing practical skills and a mindset geared toward continuous improvement has been a blessing for many entrepreneurs that have worked with Marco.

“I have seen companies struggling with fundraising get oversubscribed rounds, people having difficulties managing a work-life balance finally improve their family relationships while succeeding in their professional tasks, and mere ideas become successful companies,” says Marco, who has witnessed many MassChallenge startups achieve milestones that were critical to their growth.

Emotional Intelligence and Innovative Breakthroughs

An entrepreneur’s journey is often marked by adversity, high stress, self-doubt, and a constant threat of burnout. Here, mentors act not only as advisors but also as confidants—people with whom founders are able to vent frustrations and process setbacks without judgment. Mentorship is about more than just imparting strategic and operational knowledge; it also has a role in boosting the emotional intelligence of startup founders.

“Founders need a reliable sounding board to manage the emotional highs and lows of startup life,” Emmi adds, highlighting the importance of mental resilience.

Innovation is at the heart of every successful startup, and mentors like Marco and Emil encourage creative thinking and experimentation so innovative ideas can flourish. This is only possible when founders and startups feel secure enough to actively listen to mentors and think outside the box.

“Many people don’t realize the amount of mental strength, negotiation capabilities, creativity and finesse that a startup requires” says Marco. “I didn’t when I started.”

Building a Legacy of Success

Mentorship plays an important role in the startup world, shaping not only their individual successes but also creating long-term impact on industries.

The strategic mentorship at MassChallenge Switzerland illustrates precisely how guidance—rather than handholding or giving orders—helps startups help themselves. The wisdom, experience, and perspective of experienced mentors like Emmi, Emil, Patrick, and Marco, have guided many startups in the MassChallenge programs through their formative stages and beyond.

This mentorship is the gift that keeps on giving, providing founders with lessons that will last a lifetime—and help them grow their startups sustainably from the ground up.

To become a MassChallenge Expert, including Judges and Mentors, please register here and make sure you select the hub you would like to be affiliated with. For Switzerland for instance, select the 2024 MassChallenge Switzerland Accelerator. We’ll onboard you shortly after.

Register now for our next in-person Mentor-Matching events in Switzerland in June!

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