CIE Mentor Programs

Two mentors talking to each other during conference

Become a Mentor

The CIE Mentor Program assists both campus- and community-based ventures by engaging a team of experienced professionals to guide them through their next business milestone. UNCW students, alumni, faculty and staff, and community startups apply for a mentor teams.

Mentors are the backbone of the program and we are eager to include anyone interested in volunteering. We currently have more than 100 mentors involved with the program. There is a monthly mentor meeting where new mentors and entrepreneurs are introduced to the group and teams are formed.

New mentors are welcome to volunteer for teams – or simply attend the monthly meeting to get to know other mentors and learn more about the program.

Interested professionals from all industries and disciplines are welcome. To find out more about the program and its fit for your interests and experience, please contact the CIE director at

The CIE hosts special skill-building sessions and quarterly meetings to help new mentors and others that are interested in becoming involved learn the skills necessary for effective mentoring. Below is a link to the Mentor Training Slides. If you wish to view the live presentations of these slides, you can click on the links for the videos as follows:


The CIE mentor program activities are managed by three committees. The Pipeline Committee identifies and recruits new entrepreneurs and reviews applications for mentor teams. The Mentor Orientation Committee develops and provides the training and information materials for new mentor orientation, and is also responsible for developing guidelines and operating procedures. The Accelerator Fund Committee reviews applications for milestone funding.

Accelerator Fund Committee: Diane Durance, Chair; Kevin Doyle, Keith Markfield, Bruce Mancinelli, Virginia Sourlis

Mentor Onboarding Committee: Deb Mosca, Chair; Barry Buzogany, Diane Durance, Bill Knowles, Ruth Smith, Ted McIntire, Susan Harman

Pipeline Committee: Paige O'Neill, Susan Bales, Lisa Brandkamp, Charles Daniels, Heather McWhorter

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The CIE Mentor Program is funded in part by membership dues. Entrepreneurs and mentors are requested to join the CIE and participate as members.

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Who We Mentor

Most of the ventures working with CIE Mentor Teams are ‘early stage startups’. Defining the stages of a startup is tricky. Not all startups follow the same steps and not everyone shares the same definition for ‘startup’. Depending on who you ask, early stage startups can include founders that have sent an e-mail about a great business idea – to ventures that have raised their first rounds of institutional funding.

Here’s a checklist of typical steps involved in the startup stages of a business:

  1. Refine initial ideas
  2. Build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
  3. Conduct alpha testing/customer discovery
  4. Get useful data from alpha testing and customer feedback
  5. (Potentially) pivot the idea and repeat steps 1 through 4
  6. Validate scalable product
  7. Create a pitch and demo in order to secure investment
  8. Secure investment and/or start selling
  9. Go!

According to, every venture that is pre-funding is Early Stage, and once funding is received, they advance to Seed Stage.

Bestselling author and professor of entrepreneurship at Northwestern University, Mike Moyer, has this definition: “An early-stage company is one in which participants are putting their personal contributions of time, money, ideas, facilities, relationships, supplies or equipment at-risk,” Mike tells “In most cases, companies who have enough money from, revenues or investment, to provide market-rate compensation to participants are not considered early-stage.”

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CIE Mentor Program – Levels of Startup

For the purposes of the CIE Mentor Program, we’ve defined three levels of early stage startups. The definitions cover the majority of the ventures we encounter and help mentors determine whether a venture is likely to be a good fit for their skills and interests.

Level 1 – Concept - The entrepreneurs have an idea they’ve been investigating. They’ve done some basic research on the market and competitive products, and informally bounced the idea off potential customers and advisors. They may have obvious knowledge gaps.

Level 2 – Development - The entrepreneurs are committing significant resources (time, money, relationships, equipment, etc.) to the active development of the business idea. They are working on a Minimum Viable Product, low-fi prototype, website, or other method to test the product or service with prospective customers and get feedback. They are researching the market and competition. They are gathering information required to develop financial projections (costs of materials, pricing, staffing, etc.).

Level 3 – Launch - The entrepreneurs have a Minimum Viable Product (an actual prototype, app, customer interface vehicle and/or website) being tested with early adopters or being used in an active sales effort. They will have well-defined, realistic financial projections, a clear understanding of the competitive landscape, an established delivery mechanism, and have marketing and staffing plans included in their completed business plan.

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Getting Started

When you indicate your interest in the mentor program, you’ll be added to the distribution list for mentor communications. You’ll be invited to attend the next regularly scheduled mentor meeting (typically the 3 rd Wednesday of each month) to introduce yourself, meet other mentors, and learn about the program. Prior to the meeting, you’ll receive a meeting reminder, agenda, and information on ventures that will be presenting.

After the presentations, mentors meet in a private session to decide whether to assemble mentor teams. When teams are formed, a team leader is selected and team members are introduced to the entrepreneur at the conclusion of the meeting.

Mentors are not required to volunteer for teams. It is important that team assignments be a good fit for your expertise, interests, and availability. Mentors often attend meetings for several months before volunteering. Others offer their specialized (financial, legal, industry-specific) expertise to teams on an as-needed basis.

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Mentor Team Engagements

The team leader will convene the first meeting. At that meeting, the objectives of the engagement will be determined and key milestones and goals will be set with the entrepreneur. Typically, mentor teams work with an entrepreneur for six months and have six to eight in-person meetings.

Mentors are strongly discouraged from meeting individually with entrepreneurs. Every meeting should include all available members of the team to keep communications and advice consistent. Separate meetings reduce the effectiveness of the team.

Mentor teams are advisory; entrepreneurs make all final decisions.

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During the course of volunteer assignments, you’ll see and hear information that entrepreneurs may very property consider ‘confidential’. At each monthly meeting, you’ll be requested to sign a Confidentiality Pledge. It is a reminder of our commitment to serve entrepreneurs and our promise to keep all data, materials, conversations and the like in strict confidence. You may be requested to sign a CIE Mentor Confidentiality Agreement when you participate on a specific mentor team or you may presented with a Non-disclosure Agreement (NDA) prepared by the entrepreneur. You may recuse yourself from the team if you feel uncomfortable signing a requested agreement.

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Paid Consultants and Professional Service Providers

At the invitation of the entrepreneur, you are welcome to attend mentor team meetings as part of the venture team if you are a paid consultant or service professional (attorney, accountant, etc.). Paid professionals are not included on mentor teams. CIE mentors, regardless of their professional credentials and areas of expertise, are volunteers offering good faith services without compensation when on a mentor team.

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Conflict of Interest Guidelines for CIE Mentors

The success of the CIE mentor program depends on a high level of trust and confidence in our mentors. To support successful outcomes for our entrepreneurs, we adhere to the following guidelines for individual mentors and mentoring teams.

First and foremost, we generate trust by remaining arms-length in our relationships with entrepreneurs and their ventures. Avoiding even the appearance of impropriety or conflict of interest is critical. Otherwise, our reputation and ability to attract the best entrepreneurs and mentors will suffer.

It is our policy is that mentors are volunteers and do not take any form of compensation from, or equity in, ventures while 1) that venture is in the CIE program and 2) that mentor is actively on that mentor team. If a paid position or engagement, investment opportunity, or other relationship develops, the mentor must resign from the mentor team and notify the team of the change in his or her relationship with the venture.

Key elements of our policy are communication and transparency of information. It is essential that entrepreneurs never feel compelled, pressured, or required to purchase services from a mentor.

A brief summary of the policy:

(a) Investor in a CIE Mentored Venture

  • You cannot be an investor, whether directly or indirectly, in a venture that you are mentoring.
  • You must inform the CIE director immediately upon contemplating such an action and immediately recuse yourself from further CIE mentor activity related to that venture.
  • At the discretion of the entrepreneur, you may continue to attend and participate in mentor team meetings as a member of the venture team.

(b) Operational Role as an Employee or Consultant to a CIE Mentored Venture

  • You cannot receive any compensation from a venture you are mentoring.
  • You must NEVER approach any venture where you are involved as a mentor to propose your services outside of the CIE program. If you believe that your services as an employee or consultant would benefit them, discuss this with the CIE director to determine possible next steps.
  • If a venture approaches you, and if you have a possible interest, you must immediately notify the CIE director and recuse yourself from further mentor activities with the venture.
  • At the discretion of the entrepreneur, you may continue to attend and participate in mentor team meetings as a member of the venture team.

Other points to remember in avoiding conflicts of interest:

All mentors should be alert to the potential for real or perceived conflicts of interest to arise at any stage of a venture’s development.

  • If you know you have a conflict, alert the CIE director immediately and recuse yourself from any dealings with the venture in question.
  • If you think you may have a conflict, discuss it with the CIE director immediately to arrive at the proper course of action.

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Mentoring Students

UNCW offers an opportunity for experienced business professionals to mentor business majors through the Cameron Executive Network (CEN). If your interest in mentoring leans towards helping individual students with their career goals, please consider volunteering as a CEN mentor. You can learn more on the CEN Mentor Application and Information page.

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