CIE Mentor Programs

Theseus Presentation at Mentor Team Launch Event

Get a Mentor Team

The CIE Mentor Program is available to both campus- and community-based startup ventures. UNCW students, alumni, faculty and staff, and community entrepreneurs are welcome to apply for a mentor team. We only form mentor teams for startup ventures. There are other entrepreneurial support services for more established businesses – please ask for a referral.

Are you a Startup?

Mentor teams are formed for startups, so be sure you have a startup venture before applying. Defining a startup is tricky. Not all startups follow the same steps and not everyone shares the same definition for ‘startup’.

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!

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 that work with CIE mentor teams.

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 (material costs, 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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First Steps

If your venture qualifies as a startup, the next step is to complete and return the Vetting Questionnaire .

When your questionnaire is received, it will be reviewed and you’ll be contacted by the Pipeline Committee. The committee may request additional information or an in-person meeting to discuss your application.

If your application is approved, you’ll be invited to attend the next regularly scheduled mentor meeting (typically the 3 rd Wednesday of each month) to introduce your venture and pitch your request for a mentor team. The Pipeline Committee will provide you with detailed information on the meeting agenda and help you prepare. This is an informal presentation and a polished ‘investor pitch’ is not expected. Confidential and proprietary information should not be disclosed at this meeting.

The mentors will discuss your venture in private and decide whether to assemble a team. If a team is formed, a team leader will be selected and you’ll be introduced to your mentors at the conclusion of the meeting.

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The Engagement

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. Typically, mentor teams work with an entrepreneur for six months and have six to eight in-person meetings.

**Mentor teams are advisory; entrepreneurs make all final decisions.

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During the course of their volunteer assignments, mentors will see and hear information that you may very property consider ‘confidential’. Mentors promise that all data, materials, conversations and the like will be held in strict confidence. You may request mentors on your team sign a CIE Mentor Confidentiality Agreement or you may provide a Non-disclosure Agreement (NDA).

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Paid Consultants and Professional Service Providers

You are welcome to invite your consultants and service professionals (attorney, accountant, etc.) to attend mentor team meetings. 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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