How UC Davis is Helping Entrepreneurs Succeed with the Power of Online Mentoring

    List the top 25 entrepreneurs of today's startup age and there will be one thing they all share in common as a key element to their success: mentorship. More important than finding a co-founder or even funding, the right mentors can be the difference between an entrepreneur launching their idea and failing due to lack of preparation, guidance, or a few critical missteps along the way.


    At the University of California, Davis, the Mike and Renee Child Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship has established a unique ecosystem to support and develop the next generation of entrepreneurs, innovators, and business owners. In partnership with InstaViser, they created UC Mentors, an online network dedicated to building direct and personal mentoring relationships between students and industry experts in entrepreneurship, finance, tech, and more.

    The power of mentorship isn’t a novel idea. But how do you effectively harness it in today's world of instant gratification and then amplify it across a dispersed or fragmented community, especially one as diverse and complex as a university system? Today’s global and turbulent economy demands more than proximity to turn an idea into a product.

    In the outskirts of the Bay Area and over one hundred miles from Silicon Valley, the Child Institute opened its doors 12 years ago and serves as the nexus for entrepreneurship education and research—and as a springboard for entrepreneurial initiatives—on the UC Davis campus.

    “Throughout the last decade, we’ve cultivated a network of mentors, all manually,” said Senior Program Manager, Niki Peterson. “It was all done via email invites, list serve invites, and bringing together people in our community around our entrepreneurship and innovation programs and events.”

    As the Institute’s enrollment increased and programs expanded, Peterson says they quickly identified the need to automate the interactions between their growing community of mentors and students, which led to to creation of UC Mentors earlier this year. The fully integrated platform not only provides a place for students and mentors to connect, but allows for UC Davis to scale its efforts and to tap into expertise outside of the university.

    “We’re really excited about the prospect of being able to connect to not only our local region but areas around the state and country and possibly, the world,” said Peterson. “We’re on the UC Davis campus but the people we connect with are at universities around the country and the community. This is a pilot program and if we’re able to complete it well, we’ll be able to help our learners have a broader base of people to work with.”

    UC Mentors officially launched in September at the beginning of the 2018-19 academic term. As with any new initiative there are early successes, accompanied by challenges.

    Once we got up and running, it’s been really easy to to invite new mentors and learners onto UC Mentors,” says Project Manager, Carolyn Nordstrom. “The online platform is great. One challenge we’ve faced is educating the learners about the power of the tool and helping them make the most of the opportunity for mentorship. We want to make sure that we’re educating them about how powerful this tool is so they can get the most out of it, and the mentors feel their time is well spent.”

    As program leaders, Nordstrom and Peterson are often sought out to help students find mentors for everything from helping with their business case competitions to commercializing their research.

    “It’s all about the network,” says Peterson. “So when we were connecting, say our business competition teams with faculty and alumni industry experts, it was overwhelming to try manually matching them all with appropriate mentors. With the online platform, students can now search for the mentor that has the background and expertise they need. It’s great that they can do it all on their own, faster and with more success, without us having to connect them ourselves.”

    Nordstrom adds, “UC Mentors puts the power of connection in the hands of the student, so they can go onto the site and see who they want to interact with, instead of always having to come to us and ask who we think is the best fit.”

    The online platform has also improved the impact and success of existing events and programs at the Institute, providing a space for continued conversation and relationship cultivation.

    “We hold in-person networking events and encourage people to share contact information with the people they’ve met,” shares Carolyn. “We haven’t seen many people follow-up with each other, but on the UC Mentors network, the students feel like they have permission to reach out to those mentors. They have credits to use for booking sessions with the mentors on the network and know that the mentors have also signed up for it. With an online system like UC Mentors, it feels much less like a cold call to a stranger. It’s much more easily accessible.”

    Four months into the launch of UC Mentors, Peterson and Nordstrom are receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback from the faculty and alumni mentors who have been involved with the Institute and mentoring students for several years.

    “It’s especially rewarding to hear that our mentors like using the new tool,” says Peterson. “On the student side, especially for those participants who have been around and know what it was like before we launched UC Mentors, they love it because they can feel how much this tool enhances their development experience. The newer students have also found that it’s an extremely helpful tool.”

    While UC Mentors is still in its early stages, Nordstrom and Peterson see the possibilities and potential it could have beyond the Child Institute.

    “We’d love to expand our network to be the program for entrepreneurship across the UC system,” says Nordstrom. “We might need to make some technical adjustments to make the program bigger, but we’re excited to expand the program in the future.”

    How Mentorship, Networking and Visibility are Changing the Game for Women in Healthcare


    Tired of looking at company board member photos or conference panels and seeing a wall of male faces? One online platform is working to change that with the help of mentorship, networking and visibility.

    A recent Forbes article featured several online female-focused organizations that are changing the professional networking landscape.  They all create a place for women to find authentic personal and professional relationships, away from advertisers, something they aren’t able to find on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.

    But is professional networking enough? CSweetener is a holistic female-focused organization that’s changing the game for senior level women in healthcare. Rooted in mentorship, networking and visibility, CSweetener helps propel executive women forward and into the C-Suite. The organization is built around its mentors: hundreds of talented and accomplished healthcare industry veterans who have the desire and wherewithal to give back and help talented women succeed.

    “Our brand promise is that we connect rising stars in healthcare—women already advanced in their careers and on their way to the C-Suite—with talented and experienced healthcare industry leaders who are committed to helping propel women leaders into the C-Suite,” said Anne Bentley, executive director of CSweetener.

    CSweetener was founded by Lisa Suennen and Lisa Serwin, two healthcare C-Suite executives who were challenged in their first roles in the C-Suite and wished they’d had access to mentors. So they pulled together their rolodexes and formed a roster of mentors with the intent to help women accelerate into the C-Suite via mentorship. And CSweetener was born.

    But instead of focusing on helping women find one mentor, Suennen and Serwin wanted to go big. “Not just a mentor,” said Bentley, “but a variety of experienced and accomplished industry veterans who could guide them on their journey to and into the C-Suite, because the journey is rarely linear, and one needs different skills at varying points along the way.

    “It’s rare that one mentor can fit all needs; more likely, a person might need their very own personal advisory board to help navigate the terrain.”

    Today, CSweetener offers mentees the opportunity to build their personal advisory boards for mentorship and networking with the help of the organization’s virtual profile matching service. The algorithmic profile system matches mentees with a series of mentors who have the experience and qualifications she is looking for. From there, she can schedule calls, video-conferences or in-person meetings with her mentor.

    The network utilizes online mentor program technology to help women connect in real-time, giving them access to a community of experts. “CSweetener does vet all our mentors, and our standards are quite high. Our mentors are highly experienced and accomplished industry veterans who are committed to propelling senior level women in healthcare to succeed in and into the C-Suite,” said Bentley.

    CSweetener has received a positive response so far, with over 200 mentors on their platform. “The first session I had with a wonderful mentor, we talked about negotiation skills; she advised me a way to accelerate my career and continue to grow my skill set,” said a CSweetener mentee. “She advised me on various leadership skills that I think will be helpful to me as well.”

    One mentor helped her mentee overcome her insecurities about talking with senior men and board members in her company. “This has been one of my most successful experiences because she came back and said ‘You have given me a way to merge my personal and professional selves and I have never felt more like myself.  Such a win for both of us. My business is thriving. I feel more comfortable in my own skin.’ It has really been such a great experience for both of us. I feel so accomplished because I was able to help her figure out how to help herself and there is nothing better than that in a mentor-mentee relationship.”

    CSweetener has built a community where women and men can empower future female leaders in the healthcare industry in a safe and supportive environment. And this year, CSweetener rolled out its Speaker’s Bureau, a roster of experienced, subject-matter expert female speakers ready and willing to speak at conferences and on panels. “We added the Speaker’s Bureau as part of our offering because women who are experts in their field need to be seen and heard as experts in conferences and on panels,” said Bentley.  “The simple truth is, if you aren’t visible, you aren’t seen as a leader, and it makes it that much harder to ascend to a power position.”

    When asked about the larger issue of fighting gender bias in the workplace, Bentley said “Gender bias can only be conquered by continuing to build awareness, take action and provide services which help women into leadership roles.” And networks like CSweetener are helping to do just that.

    Improve Your Alumni Directory and Empower Students with the Help of Technology

    By Logan Clements

    According to a study from Deloitte61% of millennials report that they have a mentor. In the same study, researchers found a connection between employee retention and mentorship, with data showing that millennials intending to stay with their organization for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor (68%) than not (32%). Mentorship is proven to help both the individual employee and the overall company, and yet there are still almost 40% of young professionals without mentors.

    Alumni Mentor

    I’ve tried all kinds of ways to find a mentor, from paying membership fees for professional groups and trying to work with my manager to cold-emailing people in my industry to ask questions and try to schedule a call or meeting. 

    Most of the mentors I’ve met have been through my university, the University of Virginia (UVA), and they’ve proven to be an invaluable resource. However, I haven't found any of them through a formal mentoring program.

    Out with the Old

    When I first realized that I couldn’t be a student forever and needed to join the workforce, I reached out to as many UVA alumni as possible. I don’t remember why my first thought was alumni, but it probably stemmed from my father’s countless stories of when his college friends helped him along his career.

    I also can’t remember who was the first person to point me to HoosOnline, a database with contact information for thousands of alumni including their industry, what they studied at UVA, and where they live now. As a student, I had access to the database and could message the alumni through the system, which would go straight to the alum’s email (but I didn’t have their personal email address, just through the system).

    I was interested in working in sports media and so I did a massive search and email blast to anyone working in and around sports. I would craft individual emails to each alum, introducing myself and then asking a question or two. 

    I had about a 60% response rate, and a few responded back confused on how I got their contact information. Of those that replied, about 30% of the responses were helpful and I was very thankful for those as they helped me navigate my final year of college and learn more about what I wanted in my first job out of college.

    My story with HoosOnline had a happy ending, but there were a few areas for improvement in the system:

    1. The learners (students) don’t know about the resource. I love talking about the database to other UVA alumni and students as it's a valuable resource but many have never heard of it. The university needs to make sure they're talking about and promoting the website to new and existing students and alumni.
    2. The advisors (alumni) didn’t know they were even in the system. This led to some awkward email exchanges. No one was angry but it did take some explaining on my part to say where I got their information from. Even the alumni hadn't really heard of the database.
    3. No promotion from the University. This awesome tool is something that the school would want to promote since it creates powerful connections between students and alumni, a large focus of many institutions. But, it's a hard website to find unless you know what you're looking for.
    4. Outdated technology. Not only are some of the alumni’s information out of date, but the system itself is difficult to navigate and doesn’t seem to have been updated in years. The current system allows for basic search functions like name and place but nothing related to detailed information about the alumni.

    In with the New

    In the age of AIexas, virtual assistants, and mobile payments, the mentoring space seems to have left behind. Even though many people will agree that mentoring is a priority, they often don't know where to look or have the patience to manually search through a database.

    Technology can help administrators create online mentoring programs that are sustainable, scalable, and easy to use. From my experience with HoosOnline, all universities' alumni databases should have:

    • An easy to navigate list of alumni particularly interested in helping other alumni or current students. This list should include information about where they work, their expertise, and what they want to help students with. Students could opt in as alumni when they graduate and annual emails could ask alumni to update their contact information in the system. This would also provide them with the opportunity to opt out if they change their mind. 
    • Use a system that easily integrates with email so users don’t need to have another platform to check. The more seamless the technology, the better. I like that HoosOnline goes right to the alum’s email so they don’t need to open a new window and log into a different system. Keeping a function like this will make it easier on the mentor to be engaged. Also, monthly emails to students would help to promote the system and remind them about the kind of alumni they can email or chat with as they figure out more about what they want to do after graduation.
    • Backend tracking for the university so they can see that it actually works. It all comes back to return on investment and impact. With backend analytics, program administrators can see exactly how their users navigate the mentoring system and who's booking sessions with who. Online mentoring software programs allow administrators see trends within their network and receive real-time feedback from their users.
    University should focus on implementing a system that helps make alumni more accessible without overcomplicating the process. A simple interface would do the trick and would be light years ahead of manually sifting through an endless list of names and emails.

    There’s nothing as powerful as an alumni connection when you are trying to build a professional network, and having a system that empowers you as a student or even as an alum to reach out to other alumni, is even better.

    Inspiring the Next Generation of Women

    By Meghan O'Leary

    For as long as I can remember, I have always identified as an athlete. Born in 1984, I was the first generation to truly benefit from Title IX (passed in 1972). As a kid, I didn’t know a world that didn’t have sports for little girls. Women’s sports and athletes were just starting to gain broader coverage on television, though still sparse compared to their male counterparts.


    I was 13 years old when, on the heels of a much-publicized gold medal run by the 1996 USA Basketball Women’s National Team at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, the WNBA began its first season in 1997. College basketball enjoyed the UConn vs. Tennessee rivalry as the two of the greatest coaches, Geno Auriemma and Pat Summitt battled for title after title. The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team and the “99ers” were America’s sweethearts after winning the World Cup and setting attendance and television viewership records along the way.

    I had an ongoing project that I began in middle school, lining the walls just inside the door to my bedroom with magazine articles or pictures that featured female Olympians, professional and college athletes. I called it my “inspiration wall” and every morning as I left my room on my way to school, I was reminded of who I could be and what I could accomplish. I could see it, so I could be it too.

    Ironically, or perhaps of my own volition and determination, I grew up and was a two-sport Division I college athlete and I’m now an Olympian and five-time member of the U.S. National Rowing Team. After first beginning a career in sports media (working in Production and Programming at ESPN for five years), I set out on the challenging journey of being an entrepreneur and building a new company, InstaViser.

    Nearly two decades after covering my walls with tape and carefully torn out magazine pages (and probably driving my mother crazy “because I was damaging the paint”), I continue to find much of my inspiration by looking up and around at the women who surround me, many of whom who fought to open the doors that I now walk through. Thanks to social media and the endless number of online outlets available today, it is a lot easier to identify and find the trailblazers and leaders in sports, media, and business.

    As I did years ago, I gravitate to reading about those who are making waves, challenging the status quo, and breaking through barriers. Who is disrupting the industry or environment around them with innovation or a fresh perspective? How are they doing it? Who is asking “why has it always only been done this way” or “what if” and then taking the difficult steps to explore that and prove it can be done better?

    The root to finding inspiration is finding the right people to aspire to be like and even, to be better than. A lifetime in sports taught me that there is nothing wrong with a little competition to help you achieve greater heights.

    2018 is quickly becoming the Year of the Woman. From the fuel and fire behind the Time’s Up movement, to Team USA women bringing home more medals than the men for the first time in 20 years at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games (my favorite Olympic moment was watching Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall become the first American cross-country skiers to win an Olympic gold, ending a 42-year drought for the U.S. in the sport!), to Emma Gonzalez, a high school senior epitomizing poise and resilience as she works to pave the way for change, I feel fortunate to live in a time when I have access to an abundance of women role models. It wasn’t that inspirational women didn’t exist before; rather they didn’t have the platform, the power, or the seat at the table to shine and get things done as they are now.

    Outside of my professional athletic career, I am the vice president of InstaViser. My work there puts me in front of so many incredible people doing remarkable things. Every day, I get to work with companies, many led by inspiring women, like CSweetener, an organization dedicated to propelling female healthcare leaders forward via mentorship. Or the the United States Olympic Committee and the ACE Mentor Network led by ACE Director, Leslie Klein, that connects Olympic and Paralympic athletes with former athletes and industry experts to help them achieve success in their sport and career. Just a few months ago, during the lead-up to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, one of the ACE Mentor Network users, Carlijn Schoutens connected with four-time Olympian and all-around inspiration, Lauryn Williams via our platform, for advice and guidance as she navigated Olympic Trials and then the Games. Carlijn made the Olympic Team and went on to win an Olympic Bronze medal.

    Through my work as a professional athlete, public speaker, and with InstaViser, I hope to inspire the next generation of dreamers, doers, and high-achievers who are changing the world — many of them the next great women business leaders, politicians, and athletes. As one of the great leaders of the Title IX movement, Billie Jean King said,


    “The way to make real progress in business, in sports, and in society is to lift each other up. You don’t fight each other for the same seat at the table — you make more seats by bringing women with you. It’s up to us. By empowering the women around you, you empower yourself and make our world a better place.”

    Meghan O’Leary is a United States Olympian and five-time national team rower, motivational speaker, and Vice President of InstaViser. She currently lives and works in San Francisco, California.

    How to Become a Great Leader

    We all aspire to improve ourselves, whether it’s to become a future CEO, increase our income, or change industries. As you move along in your career, you will work under a variety of leadership styles, forming your own opinions on what makes a great leader.

    Leaders can come in many different forms from company executives or managers to the ambitious intern or friendly face in accounting. No matter the industry, you will start to see key qualities about leaders that you look forward to working with.

    Here's a little inspiration from influential thought and business leaders on their favorite leadership qualities and how great leaders can set themselves apart from the rest of the pack:

    1. “Hire well, manage little.” —Warren Buffett
    2. “The best leader is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” - Theodore Roosevelt
    3. "In most cases being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way." --Tina Fey
    4. “Leaders don't create followers, they create more leaders.” - Tom Peters
    5. “A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.” - John C. Maxwell
    6. "Early on I realized that I had to hire people smarter and more qualified than I was in a number of different fields, and I had to let go of a lot of decision making. I can't tell you how hard that is. But if you've imprinted your values on the people around you, you can dare to trust them to make the right moves." --Howard Schultz
    7. "A boss creates fear, a leader confidence. A boss fixes blame; a leader corrects mistakes. A boss knows all; a leader asks questions. A boss makes work drudgery; a leader makes it interesting." --Russell H. Ewing

    Looking to make the leap from good to great at work? Talk with a mentor to learn about their favorite quotes on leadership and what characteristics they've found in great leaders throughout their career.

    Ask InstaViser: How to Select a Mentor

    Ask InstaViser: What tips do you have on selecting a mentor and setting up the first call?

    At InstaViser, we’ve found that first outreach can be the hardest step in building a relationship with a new mentor. A good starting point for selecting a mentor is to find something in common. Most of our mentors have listed a short biography as well as a list of key topics they are particularly interested so you have a little context for what they like to talk about and this can help you build your initial list of mentors.

    Next, you need to start talking to mentors. On InstaViser's platform, mentors have already indicated that they are interested in being a mentor so it’s a lot easier than cold-emailing someone in your industry or network. To set up your first meeting, it’s helpful to mention your common interest/topic in your initial outreach as this helps the mentor know what you would like to talk about. Your first meeting will be mainly to get to know each other and get a few of your questions answered.

    After your call, it’s helpful to jot down a few notes about what you talked about, like a few key takeaways that you want to remember later. If you feel like you’d like to talk more with the first mentor you had a call will, send them a follow-up note thanking them for their time and setting a date for a second call. If not, it is still nice to send a note and then begin the process again to choose a new mentor.

    Every mentee and mentor has different needs so you might be interested in looking for a long-term relationship with one mentor or you’re interested in learning from a variety. We encourage you to explore which model works best for you.

    If you have any questions about mentorship or how to use the InstaViser network, send us a note at and your question could be featured in our next “Ask InstaViser” post.

    Four Reasons Why Mentorship Matters

    At InstaViser, we recognize the importance of mentorship. It’s been shown time and again that the right kind of relationship will change the life of not only the mentee, but the mentor as well. Now more than ever, meeting new people and expanding your network and social capital opens doors and leads to valuable opportunities. So yeah, mentorship matters. Here are some of our favorite reasons why:


    Find me one person who has achieved any high level of success completely by herself. The strongest leaders, executives, and athletes know they never would have made it to the top without the help of many others. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. Rather, it demonstrates a self-awareness found in those who understand that while they may be brilliant, there are always things to learn and there will always be room to improve. Whether it comes in the form of one meeting or an ongoing relationship, a great mentor can be a great teammate to give you a high five when you score or pick you up when you fall short.

    Four Reasons Why Mentorship Matters


    The second thing I did after I decided to train for a marathon was to find a training partner. It’s so much easier to follow through on something when there is someone else invested and right there with you. Having someone to discuss your goals, dreams, and aspirations with makes them more real and forces you to put plan into action to achieve those things. When they stay floating around in your head, they’re not always realized. A mentor can act as a sounding board but also someone to check in with and make sure you’re taking positive steps toward advancing your career, personal goals, etc. Much like a training partner, a mentor demands you show up every day and bring your best self.


    Everyone tells you to network, to put yourself out there and strike up a conversation with a stranger. They say “you never know who you will meet.” Most people enter these situations hoping to meet their future boss or coworker but in reality, the chance of meeting someone who is doing exactly what you want to do or has an available position that you fit perfectly is rare. Most of the time, the person you meet will know someone else or even several other people who can help you. Ask them to introduce you. Nine times out of ten, they're happy to help! These loose connections often turn into the biggest leads for your career and personal growth.


    Mentorship is a practice that has been around for over 3,000 years. It is how wisdom is passed down. It’s the vehicle for how we as humans share ideas and make progress as a society. Mentoring is the process that keeps on giving. As you continue to grow athletically, professionally, and personally, lend a hand. It will be one of the most rewarding experiences you could ever have.