The DEC Launches Free Virtual Mentoring to Help Entrepreneurs Through COVID-19

The new Fast Start Mentoring Program pairs entrepreneurs with business veterans who can help plan a path forward—and identify emerging opportunities.

"It's fair to say we're genuinely saving jobs here," CEO Bill Chinn says.

The DEC Network announced that it is launching its Fast Start Mentoring Program in an effort to help entrepreneurs and small business owners get the support they need during the COVID-19 crisis.

It’s an effort to hook up entrepreneurs with seasoned business veterans virtually who can help counsel them about how to move forward.

In a phone interview Tuesday, DEC Chief Executive Officer Bill Chinn told Dallas Innovates that the entrepreneurial community has been disproportionately hit by the COVID-19 crisis.

Fast Start Mentorship DEC Chinn

Bill Chin  [Photo: Michael Samples]

“For one, entrepreneurs famously don’t have a lot of cash, but also the average age is pretty low,” he said. “You’ve got very competent people running these businesses and making decisions about layoffs and how to put the business on the right track.”

But that age gap presents a problem in planning a path through crisis, Chinn said.

“They haven’t been through 9/11, for example, so there’s an experience gap and they need material help.”

Chinn said that in recent weeks, he’s been talking with entrepreneurs about laying out 30-day and 90-day plans, which in some cases helped prevent layoffs at some small businesses.

“In this crisis, frankly, we’re here to save jobs.”

“It’s fair to say we’re genuinely saving jobs here, and that’s what our nonprofit was really created for. In this crisis, frankly, we’re here to save jobs,” Chinn said.

Chinn offered some tips for entrepreneurs whose businesses are being stressed by the crisis:

  • More information: Fight the temptation to reduce the number of sources for information in making your decisions as work from home or in quarantine. Don’t rely just on what you know, find new sources of advice. Get on the phone with people you’ve known in the past and talk through some of the issues you’re facing in your business.
  • Stay positive, stay engaged: While working home, it’s easy to get caught up watching cable news channels and not do the work you need to be doing.
  • Make a plan: This is a unique crisis we’ve never been through—but we have been through crisis before Chinn said. So putting together a 30-day or 90-day plan with someone who’s been through some trying times before is really useful. “And through that process, you find out how to calibrate your reaction,” he said. “It’s all about moving people to responding to this crisis and not reacting.”

Chinn said that some entrepreneurs are changing their entire perspective about the crisis and beginning to see opportunities rather than just the problems.

“You have to put this through a process, and it usually takes someone outside of your organization to help you do that.”

“You have to put this through a process, and it usually takes someone outside of your organization to help you do that,” Chinn said. “I’m not suggesting paying a consultant, there’s a ton of free resources.”

And that’s where the Fast Start Mentoring Program comes in. It’s free.

Chinn said that the virtual aspect of the program forces participants to overcome a distance factor.

“Part of the mentorship relationship is trust and some sort of emotional bonding, and that is harder to do remotely, but it’s not impossible,” Chinn said. “We are already finding that we’re getting some good bonding in this remote scenario.”

Chinn said that the urgency of the situation creates a significant need and the difficulty in bonding can be overcome.

“We need to rush that experience into the battlefield right now because people are making decisions today about laying people off, so the speed of the phone calls and Skype calls, the speed of those skills, outweighs any downside,” Chinn said.

DEC Fast Start Mentorship Chinn

Michelle Williams

To accommodate the remote aspect of the program, DEC Network Executive Director Michelle Williams told Dallas Innovates, “We are having our mentors create scheduling links and are helping guide both parties in how to use video conferencing to get the most out of the mentoring sessions.”

Williams told Dallas Innovates that the response has been strong.

“The response has been phenomenal. In the first three days, we’ve had over 100 people sign up to be either mentors or mentees,” she said. “Our team is currently working through these applications and have already paired a good number of our respondents. It is exciting to see the community come together during this tumultuous time”

She, too, offered some tips for weathering the crisis.

  • Breathe. I know that is easier said than done, however, studies show that when we are faced with an attack (and this situation is an all-out war), we go into panic mode and lose some of that ability to rationalize and problem-solve. Understand that we are in survival mode. No decision you make will be easy. Reach out to mentors, advisors –breathe… and make the best decisions you can.
  • Be resourceful. Reach out to the entrepreneur centers/business service organizations in your area. Stay abreast of the resources, funds, and services that are available to you. Thedallasbrain.org and dallasinnovates.com have resources. The City of Dallas is working on additional small business support as well. The DEC Network is sending out daily newsletters full of resources as they cross our desks.
  • Understand the funding opportunities available to you. The SBA will have information on the stimulus package emergency loans. PeopleFund and LiftFund have announced flash loans. The City of Dallas is working on a grant/loan package for local entrepreneurs. Many large banks are waiving fees and extending payments. Facebook and JP Morgan Chase are offering grants to small businesses.
  • Revisit your suppliers and re-assess costs. Your goal is to conserve cash, so go to your larger suppliers and vendors and ask for help. Many large vendors are making concessions for their entrepreneurs because, quite frankly, they want you to stay in business just as much as you want to remain in business.
  • Think of ways you can innovate and/or pivot. For example, many restaurants are selling “quarantine kits” and “family meals” in order to meet the new needs their customers have. Retail stores are digging into e-commerce opportunities and are sending blasts out to their loyal customers and using social media to find new ones. Increase communication with customers and your network to help brainstorm ways you can pivot. Sometimes the greatest ideas are new problems they have that you can solve.
  • The DEC Network is a nonprofit organization that drives innovation and economic impact by helping entrepreneurs start, build, and grow their businesses.

The DEC is leveraging its current Mentor Network and deploying them immediately, “but need new mentors who can help navigate through these troubled waters.” The DEC Network has locations including Addison, Capital Factory in Dallas, Redbird, and Dallas West End.

How it works

The network called on any potential mentor or mentee who is interested in being a part of this network to fill out an application.

Potential mentors must submit a scheduling link from Calendly—a site that allows a person to decide and display what times they want to be available for a meeting or mentor times. The DEC said that once an application is filled out and a Calendy link is submitted, the applicant will be contacted within 48 hours with more information on their candidacy.

Get started in the Fast Start Mentoring Program

Mentors and entrepreneurs can go here to start the application process.

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