As I set out to write about this month’s feature mentors, I thought, Aren’t we lucky to have so many great mentors that can feature two of them every month? As an Acara staffer, I do my best to share relevant information with the students, information that will help them develop their plans. But with only a handful of us and so many students, I get very few opportunities to hear about individual teams’ ideas, midterm presentations being one. It is at only at those times that I can ask them the tough questions they need in order to move them forward and help them with their specific problems. But we all know that they need that support more frequently. That’s where the team mentors come in.
Though I haven’t gone through the process myself, I imagine that the Acara Challenge is a little like learning to ride a bicycle. How many people have actually done that by reading a book? I’m guessing not very many. What I do is like providing the bike-riding manual. It contains some useful information, but not exactly how to do it—and some people never even bother with the instructions. What the mentors do is more like what my dad did when I was learning to ride the pink-and-red Strawberry Shortcake bicycle I had when I was small. He would walk beside me, a hand on the banana seat at first, while I wobbled along. When things went awry, he would help me figure out why, and then encourage me to try again. Sometimes it was hard, but he helped me up when I fell and scraped my knee, and he cheered when I finally got my balance and started to ride on my own.
In the end, it is the students who have to achieve their goals themselves, but they would not get there without the support of their mentors. Here we meet two more of such terrific mentors.
Paul Brooks – Duke University Mentor
Paul Brooks is the founder and president of Topline Solutions, Inc., a executive-level consulting company focused primarily on software and services companies. They are fortunate to be one of the small businesses which started well, is growing and adding associates.
Paul became aware of Acara and its mission through a request for mentors for the Acara Challenge, in which Duke University was participating. As a graduate of Duke, this provided an excellent way to contribute to a social entrepreneurship learning experience and to take an active role in his alma mater. Now in his second year as a mentor, he has also served as a program manager for the Duke mentors and as a guest lecturer, as well as judging in multiple Acara programs.
When asked about his experience with Acara, Paul said, “The Acara Challenge is a terrific program for university students. Through it, I have seen teams made up of various disciplines, such as engineering, public policy, law, and business, come together under the leadership of Professor Dave Schaad to develop substantial business plans for solving real problems in India. For me personally, it’s exciting to reconnect with students at my alma mater. Moreover, it has introduced me to the challenges and opportunities of Social Entrepreneurship and the need for focus in this area.”
Paul’s approach to mentoring is to coordinate with the professor early in the semester, review the syllabus and map out times when he can travel to Duke to engage in the experience. “Dr. Schaad has a strong vision for combining real world experience with the learning experience. The class topics and lecturers are excellent. And the kids get very involved. Each time I attend a class or talk with my teams, it is fun and energizing.” His goal is to have contact throughout the semester with his team, with the number of interactions driven by their interest in talking and his scheduled visits. “The students will drive the amount of a mentor’s involvement, but the more I’m able to visit campus the more likely we are to talk.”
Paul is involved with other service organizations, but feels Acara is particularly suited to his skills and interests. “I’ve been the CEO of four companies during my career, and in each company the most fulfilling element was mentoring younger, less experienced leaders in a successful venture. In today’s complex, international environment, being a mentor in the Acara Challenge is an opportunity to start that process with young leaders who have yet to start their careers, but have potential to succeed that’s ‘off the charts.’”
Paul lives in Tampa, FL, where he is married and has three grown children.
Gaurav Sharma – TERI University Mentor
Gaurav Sharma comes with more than 10 years of varied operating experience across Financial Services, Internet, and Outsourcing industries. He has held functional and leadership positions with HSBC, CITI, Genpact and other Private Equity backed start-ups. His functional expertise lies in building businesses and running large scale transformation projects.
In 2009, Gaurav undertook his ‘India meets Bharat’ journey studying several ‘Market based Solutions’ for the BOP (Bottom of Pyramid) segment and collecting entrepreneurial stories from various parts of the country.
Gaurav currently operates in Investment and Advisory space, providing solutions to Startups and established businesses.In his personal capacity, Gaurav works with a few start-ups in Internet and Education Space. He regularly writes and speaks on Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
When asked about his first year with the Acara Challenge, Gaurav said, “Thus far, the experience has been exciting, fun, and valuable for everyone. I am enjoying working closely with brilliant students at TERI University, sharing ideas and plans, and developing solutions.”