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MaRIHE Master thesis reader e-book 2016

The Road to Successful Mentoring for University Startups: An Investigation of Practices in Finland

Hwa-hyun MIN


In line with the governmental efforts to establish an entrepreneurship ecosystem (Oh, Ko, & Kang, 2015), higher education institutions in South Korea have proliferated mentoring programs, infrastructure, and service for their startups since the late 1990s.

Nevertheless, the satisfaction of South Korean students who have been involved in entrepreneurial mentoring has been low thus far; for example, due to low availability of mentors, mismatch (Institute for International Trade [IIT], 2014), redundancy of learning contents (Kang, 2015). They are connected to systematic problems such as a shortage of professional mentors (IIT, 2014), absence of incentives for mentors (KRIVET, 2014), and unverified effectiveness and efficiency of the mentoring program (STEPI, 2012; Jung, 2011).

What obstructs handling these weaknesses is a dramatic gap between the mentoring participants and the administrative staff in perceptions of the current status of entrepreneurial mentoring in domestic higher education. Young entrepreneurs felt that they have rarely been exposed to mentoring opportunities whereas the program managers and professors deemed that their students have lots of chances (KRIVET, 2014). It implies that either there have not been comprehensive follow-ups on the mentoring experiences from the standpoint of the participants, or their views have not been taken into consideration when the decision is made.

The fundamental issue herein is the missing discourse as to desired standard of entrepreneurial mentoring for South Korean higher education (Bang & Jeon, 2015). This dialogue must encompass what it means by mentoring for university startups, what determines the success of entrepreneurial mentoring, how to ensure the quality of mentoring programs, how to measure the impacts of mentoring, how to foster good practices, and if necessary, how to localize foreign cases.

On the point of diffusing the practices, it is required for South Korean higher education to address challenges to avoid side effects and to take advantage of entrepreneurial mentoring at last (Hansford, Tennent, & Ehrich, 2002).

Research Questions

The primary research question which penetrates the paper is: How to successfully foster entrepreneurial mentoring practices in higher education?
Accordingly, the secondary research questions are prepared as following.

  • How has mentoring been understood in general and in the context of entrepreneurial education? 
  • How does entrepreneurial mentoring work in practice in Finnish higher education? 
  • How have entrepreneurial mentoring practices been developed in Finnish higher education? 
  • What are the conditions for successful entrepreneurial mentoring based on the perspectives of mentors, mentees, and managers in Finland? 
  • What are the key characteristics of Finnish entrepreneurial mentoring? 
  • How can South Korean higher education reflect the lessons from Finland?

The study looks into best entrepreneurial mentoring practices from Finland. It contains the angles of mentors, mentees, and program managers who play essential roles in Finnish entrepreneurial mentoring. Finland is chosen as an exemplary instance for a good reputation of its startup ecosystem, consistency between the testimonies of mentoring participants and that of managerial staff, and similarities between Finland and South Korea in terms of national position, resource feasibility, and cultural background. The resemblances of two countries hint that Finland and South Korea have comparable national capacities. It defies South Korea to exert more forces to bring the equivalent advantages of mentoring to fruition.

Descriptive framework

Best practices are divided into boost-up, earlier, and implementation phases according to target audience of the mentoring program (KRIVET, 2014). Boost-up stage packages are to stimulate students’ interests in entrepreneurship. They take the form of entrepreneurship courses or events that contain mentoring activities as minor parts. Earlier stage activities are to train would-be-entrepreneurs with startup experiences. They host contests or boot camps where startups can test their business ideas and prototypes. Implementation stage programs are to initiate a business or to optimize a startup’s profitability. They are conventionally arranged in business incubating or accelerating platforms. In sequence, best practices are illustrated in information tables as to the regional base, profile, terminology, activities, program goal, scale as well as composition of mentors, and contents. Thereafter, common features of best practices are depicted altogether. The first half are pertaining to their mentors such as their background, recruitment, training, and compensation. The rest are matchmaking, evaluation, quality assurance, and connection with higher education institutions.

The preliminary model of conditions for successful mentoring

Based on the literature review, a preliminary model of conditions for successful mentoring had been proposed as the table below.


Desk research in this study is twofold. One is literature review to explore what challenges to entrepreneurial mentoring in South Korea are, which issues have been discussed in mentoring and coaching studies, why the case of Finland is reasonable to be inspected, and what suggestions have been made for a better mentoring practice and the rest. Secondary sources were searched primarily through the academic databases and the providers. The other is website analysis. The official homepages of the best practice institutions were probed to gather information on their working principles, development history, terminology between mentoring and coaching, and other important features.

In company with desk research, semi-structured interviews with open-ended questions were conducted throughout seven Finnish mentoring programs in Espoo, Helsinki, Tampere, and Turku. In total, 23 stakeholder views have contributed to the interviews that are composed of the perspectives of seven mentors, eight mentees, and eight managers. Best practices are spread throughout in Finland. According to the confidentiality agreement with the respondents, the paper exhibits best practices and the conversations anonymously (Corti, Day, & Backhouse, 2000).

Key Findings

Entrepreneurial mentoring can be understood as a spectrum of activities that aim to assist the success of startups by enhancing their capabilities. Mentorship has evolved from a hierarchical teaching relationship to a mutual learning partnership among mentors and mentees. In spite of ongoing arguments on the distinction, the organizations have used two terms, mentoring and coaching, in a mixed manner.

Best practices from Finland have shown a variety of mentoring in terms of program targets, level of formality in relationships, communication tools, and activities. They have shared similar features in regard to mentors such as their backgrounds, recruitment routes and compensation, as well as in some aspects like a matchmaking rule, quality assurance mechanisms, and connection with tertiary institutions. Since the late 2000s, Finnish higher education has cultivated pro bono mentoring culture in its startup ecosystem through strategic benchmarking and bottom-up initiatives.

The interviews with the Finnish mentoring stakeholders have contributed to finalize the model of conditions for successful entrepreneurial mentoring. Compared to the preliminary framework, individual context has remained unchanged. Relational context introduces mutual benefits and program context newly incorporates refinement, preparatory education, and optimal administration. Cultural context has been fully created including atmosphere, startup ecosystem, and culture of sharing.

The success of Finnish entrepreneurial mentoring is attributable to motivated mentors, symmetrical mentorship, engaged management from the lowest levels, and startup ecosystem with culture of sharing. Applying these implications, South Korean higher education is recommended to upgrade its entrepreneurial mentoring by offering incentives for mentors, increasing reciprocity and informality in mentorship, embracing voice of the mentees in quality check, obliging the preparatory education to the participants, developing an operation protocol, and creating a virtuous cycle of collaborative culture.

It is important to alert that aforementioned conditions are necessary but insufficient. There must be other ethos to be considered in a particular context for the reason that only if it is with respect to circumstances, can every single situation be comprehended properly. Therefore, alongside the reflection on accomplishments of best practices, South Korean higher education should thoroughly diagnose its individual and relational contexts at micro level and its program and cultural contexts at macro level.

Suggestions for Future Research

Allowing for the research gap, it is required to shed more light on the topic itself to consolidate understanding of entrepreneurial mentoring particularly in the context of higher education. Researchers are encouraged to keep broadening the approaches to the theme with the perspectives of the stakeholders and a cross-national exploration. It would be more animated if a study handles original data from different countries and equivalently compares them, preferably concentrated on sociocultural forces. As such, diversified research is also expected to complement the model of the conditions for successful mentoring with additional dimensions and details. A step forward, mixed methods could enrich the findings by combined advantages of both quantitative and qualitative researches. Quantifiable surveys with measurable indicators could lead the present study to further find out, for instance, of the determinants of successful mentoring, to what extent each element affects the success. On the other hand, a longitudinal observation of the practices may authenticate the interviews by evidence.

References (APA)

Bang, H. M., &Jeon, I. O. (2015). A study on the effect of mentoring skills and mentoring functions on initial start-up performance and satisfaction. The Journal of the Korea Contents Association, 15(5), 444-454. (available in Korean);

Corti, L., Day, A., & Backhouse, G. (2000). Confidentiality and informed consent: Issues for consideration in the preservation of and provision of access to qualitative data archives. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung /Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 1(3), Art 7. Retrieved from http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs000372;

Hansford, B., Tennent, L., & Ehrich, L. C. (2002). Business mentoring: Help or hindrance?. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 10(2), 101-115. doi: 10.1080/1361126022000002428;

Institute for International Trade [IIT]. (2014). Difficulties of university startup from a perspective of a student entrepreneur. Seoul, Korea: Jang, H. S. (available in Korean);

Jung, Y. J. (2011). A study on the revitalization entrepreneurship education. The Graduate School of Cho-sun University. (available in Korean);

Kang, H. J. (2015). Analysis study of the college student start-up academy business. Retrieved from Research Information Sharing Service [RISS]. (available in Korean);

Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education & Training [KRIVET]. (2014). A study on cultivating ecosystem of entrepreneurship and education and training in Korea's Universities. Sejong-si, Korea: Park, T., Park, C. S., & Lee, J. S. (available in Korean);

Oh, J. W., Ko, B. S., & Kang, J. K. (2015). An empirical study of the effects of mentoring functions on entrepreneurship: Focusing on moderating effect of the business start-up preparation period. Asia-Pacific Journal of Business Venturing and Entrepreneurship, 10(1), 129-141. (available in Korean);

Science and Technology Policy Institute [STEPI]. (2012). Vitalization of technology-based startup by inspiring entrepreneurship. Seoul, Korea: Lee, Y. J., Jung, G. C., Jang, B. Y., Kim, S. W., Lee. M. K., Kim, Y. H., ... Lee. S. H. (available in Korean);

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