Q&A: BBA's Victor Brown talks small business mentoring and coaching

The Birmingham Business Alliance’s staff has served as coaches and mentors to local businesses for years. BBA Vice President of Business Development Victor Brown is a leader in that effort, including coaching Moovmo and Neowaste, the two most recent winners of Alabama Launchpad, both from Birmingham.

Here Brown talks to the Birmingham Business Alliance about the importance of coaching and mentoring, what makes a good protégée and the difference between a mentor and a coach.

Birmingham Business Alliance: How does Birmingham Business Alliance mentor and coach Birmingham businesses?

 Brown

Brown

Victor Brown: For the past five years, the BBA has actively led a group of mentors and coaches to help companies learn how to develop effective business models. As we began this process, we found that companies had experienced tremendous benefit from having a group of diverse coaches providing input and constructive criticism on their business plans. In some cases, the companies had not developed detailed plans, although they may have created a business plan. All the companies that we coached early on were competitors in the Alabama Launchpad business competition. Over time, we’ve coached and identified mentors for companies that compete in other pitch sessions.

I was a mentor for Jessica Finley, founder of Neowaste and a recent Alabama Launchpad winner, since she first became the first Young Professional of the Year in the BBA Small Business of the Year Awards. Jessica has been in the waste-to-energy industry for several years and Neowaste is a culmination of various models she developed during her international travels in third world countries where waste disposal does not exist as a convenience.

BBA: What is the value of mentoring and coaching?

VB: Often, we hear that those who fail to plan, plan to fail. Mentoring and coaching takes this to the next level. Mentoring and coaching gives the business owner a team to ensure that plan is solid, has covered all bases and includes elements that competition judges, financial institutions and investors will find compelling and easy to understand.

BBA: What is the difference between a mentor and a coach?

VB: A coach is in the trenches with the player, in this case the company. Coaches will roll up their sleeves, spend anywhere from a half hour to two hours with a company during pitch sessions, business plan review, pitch deck review, provide input, critique and give examples and resources.

A mentor will review a completed draft of the business plan and provide input based on their knowledge of the industry. The BBA looks for mentors that were in the same industry, and, in some cases, the same business as the company. This provides direct benefit, as the mentor has been there, done that.

BBA: What makes a good protégée?

 Brown, pictured here with Brooke Battle of Swell Fundraising, mentors and coaches small businesses in the Birmingham region.

Brown, pictured here with Brooke Battle of Swell Fundraising, mentors and coaches small businesses in the Birmingham region.

VB: A good protégée will listen, take all of the advice and use it to the best extent possible. This does not mean that everything a coach says or even everything a mentor says is always absolutely correct. However, in most cases, the mentor and coach are providing input that will resonate well with judges, investors and financial institutions.

BBA: What is your advice to someone who doesn’t win at their first crack at Alabama Launchpad or a similar competition?

VB: Winning the competition isn’t everything. A company can achieve great success even if they don’t win the competition. The key for business success is understanding your business model, implementing the advice of coaches and mentors, and being optimistic, bold and driven in terms of reaching the goals and objectives.

BBA: What is your favorite mentoring/coaching testimony?

VB: BLOX. It truly started as an idea and although the Giattina brothers had only an idea, that idea became a plan, that plan became a pitch deck, that pitch led to receiving $50,000 at Launchpad and that resulted in funding from an investment firm. It was truly a masterful use of coaches and mentors and two protégées that took every bit of advice that was given by the coaches and mentors.