Mentor, volunteer, advisor, company godparent – an important person has many names. As a mentor for a Student Company, you must be yourself and share your own experiences with the students a few times in a term. A mentor is expected to spend about 5-10 hours on his/her tasks during a term. You don’t need to be a superhero or Rovio’s CEO, it’ll be more than enough if you have enthusiasm, life experience and willingness to assist the students’ learning and entrepreneurship.
Student Company in a nutshell
A Student Company is a practice company founded by students during their studies. A Student Company operates on real money, selling tangible products and services to their customers. Through a Student Company the students gain a picture of how an entrepreneur’s world works and the program unfurls the meaning of skills important in working life. Participants become familiarized with the basic terminology of entrepreneurship and business and they learn how to build and analyze their own business ideas. They also get a chance to try them out in practice. The program is coordinated by JA-YE Finland, a non-profit organization.
In Student Companies individual development and the following knowledge and skills are important:
- Cooperation/team work skills and supporting each other – running a Student Company is team work.
- Making mutual decisions.
- Interaction skills – participating in meetings and discussions with clients and coworkers and presenting the Student Company in different situations.
- Marketing – selling and marketing the company’s product/service. Recognizing clients and target groups and making marketing plans.
- Development in individual skills – creativity, self-esteem, independence.
Through the JA company activities we develop start-up spirit, innovation and active grip on business on the level of the students’ attitudes. The point of the program isn’t to make students immediately rush to register their own companies. They gain knowledge and practical experience on the skills needed in working life. Furthermore, an own company just might be one of their future dreams. Based on our experiences, companies are founded by active, innovative and creative people and these qualities also have demand on the labor market. Future depends on them.
Mentor’s tasks include commenting on the students’ ideas, making proposals for improvement, establishing possible contacts with the regional businesses, giving advice for developing the micro businesses’ manufacturing, marketing and sales processes and motivating students to take action when necessary. As a mentor you will meet the students at agreed times, usually outside school curriculum at e.g. the Student Company’s executive meeting, where their activities are gone through. By discussing with the students about the company’s operation, you will learn new things yourself and become immersed in both the problems of a starting company and the students’ own areas of interest.
Meeting with students and instructions for the program
Below is a template for meetings during a term and their contents. Naturally you can meet more often or less frequently if it works best for you and feels like sensible thing to do.
Commenting on the business idea
When students have prepared a few possible business ideas, you should meet up and discuss about the possibilities and realization of the ideas and comment on them. In the first meeting you should also try to get to know the students and their goals concerning their Student Company.
A mentor’s role can be divided into two parts. The first one is the so called normal evaluation of the idea (SWOT – Strenghts, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats), which determines whether the idea is fit for realization. The second and possibly the most important part consists of you reviewing issues that the students may not notice or know how to take into consideration. These issues include:
- Can the idea be realized during one term?
- Do the students have the necessary skills to realize their idea?
- Is the whole team engaged in operation?
These issues should be undergone with the students honestly, and change plans if necessary (when e.g. the students don’t have the right motivation).
When the students are ready to register their Student Company, they must send the registration notification to the JA-YE Finland’s national office (via Internet). The registration notification must contain, in addition to the company’s information, the mentor’s information. The first meeting should be held after about 2 months after the beginning of the term.
Business plan / Business model
Once the business plan is nearly finished, you should hold a meeting in order to comment on and develop it. The most common convention is asking the students to send their plan e.g. one week before the meeting by e-mail. This allows you to discuss development ideas and the possible faults in the plan. Just remember, that the members of Student Companies are young students and this is most likely their first ever business plan.
A company in operation (2 meeting between November and February)
When the company begins it’s operation, the first challenge is usually the realization of manufacturing or marketing. In this situation the students can ask for a meeting to ask for advice on e.g. how to realize certain ideas and who to sell the product to. The content and goal of the meeting should be agreed on beforehand and ask the students to deliver a description of their product and their own ideas for marketing and manufacturing. You can directly suggest certain methods during a free conversation or you can arrange contacts for the students to people who could help them further. The role of a “door opener” is one of the most valuable forms of assistance you can offer to the students.
Annual report and closing down the company
A Student Companies annual report must be delivered by in May. In it the company’s operation, the student’s learning and their financial information must be stated. You also add a mentor’s note to the report, where you tell about your own experiences during the term.
The annual report should be more a description of the company’s operation instead of an official annual report. Once the report is finished, you should hold a meeting (or comment on the report by e-mail) before it’s delivered to the school and JA Finland’s office. The report must also be signed by the mentor.
The Student Company must be closed down by the end of the term and before this a final meeting must be held. There the company’s operations are officially finished and profit shares and return of investments are agreed on.
Evaluation of company’s activities and feedback discussion
Once all operations have been closed and the annual report has been delivered, you should hold an evaluation discussion of what happened during the year, the moments of success, the problem situations and how they were dealt with, and consider what the students could do in the future. At the same time, it is important for you to tell the students what you have learned from their operations and encourage them to take on new challenges.
These instructions are directional recommendations, but it all comes down to you and the students to decide how you will cooperate.
This website provides students with assistance on running a Student Company, so by making yourself familiar with the materials provided for students you can get a broader perspective on what running a Student Company is all about.