By Daniel Hunter

A drive by the Government to help people find a business mentor, increase the number of mentors available and improve information about mentoring to help UK businesses to grow, has made significant progress in the last year.

Work began in July last year when the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) joined forces with the British Bankers’ Association (BBA) to launch Mentorsme.co.uk, the national mentoring portal. At the time, the Government made three pledges to:

- Make it easier for people to find a business mentor.
- Increase the supply of business mentors.
- Stimulate a greater demand for using mentors.

Since then, the number of mentoring organisations on the portal has risen from 42 to over 100, and through them there is now access to around 11,000 mentors. The site is proving popular, with the BBA’s statistics showing there were over 100,000 visits to the site in the last year.

The work to recruit volunteer business mentors is also proving successful. Over 12,000 people have now signed up to the Small Firms Enterprise Development Initiative’s (SFEDI) Get Mentoring scheme, which has pledged to recruit and train 15,000 business mentors. So far over 7,000 people have been trained and they are now being encouraged to become part of mentoring organisations on the mentorsme portal and start mentoring through their own networks.

Business and Enterprise Minister Mark Prisk said:

“Mentoring is a vital part of helping entrepreneurs start and grow their business as people want to get support from someone who has been there and done it before. We know that people who use support such as the type they’d receive from a mentor are more likely to survive and prosper.

“A year ago, we pledged to encourage more people to use a business mentor and to increase the supply of volunteer mentors recruited from the business community, which we have achieved.

“The Government remains committed to working with partners to develop the network of business mentors, who contribute so much to the growth of the small business community. There is still much work to be done, and we have aspirations to recruit and train thousands more business mentors who can help companies grow and boost the UK economy.”

To accompany this push, the BBA has met the commitment of providing 1,000 trained volunteer business mentors, who are now accessible through mentoring organisations on the portal.

Big businesses have also recognised the benefits that business mentoring schemes can bring to their own organisations, at the same time as helping smaller businesses grow and prosper.

New schemes to recruit volunteer business mentors have been launched by Hewlett Packard and Mott MacDonald, who are joining the likes of Virgin Media and A.F Blakemore & Sons, in collaboration with the Enterprise and Diversity Alliance (EDA), which already run established volunteer mentoring programmes.

As part of the aim to raise the profile of support available for entrepreneurs, the Government is running the Business in You campaign alongside the private sector. The campaign is helping even more people to find out about mentoring and how it can have a positive effect on businesses.

Performance Engineered Solutions Ltd in Sheffield, Yorkshire, is a growing design company and has benefited from the experience of a mentor.

Co-founder Mike Maddock said:

“We wanted to get a mentor so they would be able to challenge some of the decisions we were making. Our mentor helped to establish where we were going, what our strategy for the next three to five years was, how we were looking to fund that strategy and what our expectations for growth and sales were. Those are things we kept promising ourselves we would do, but when you are busy working in the here and now of your business, you need somebody to really tie you down and make you focus on those things.”

The Government aims to have a network of 26,000 mentors by September 2012. To sign up to Get Mentoring visit www.getmentoring.org and to find out about finding a business mentor, visit www.mentorsme.co.uk.

The Government has also launched the £82.5 million StartUp Loan scheme that will provide young people aged 18-24 with a range of business support, including mentoring, as well access to a small amount of capital to help start their business. To find out more visit www.startupbritain.org/loans.

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