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How Mentoring Young People Can Help You Grow as a Leader: Insights from Teenovator

Three people staring at a laptop talking during Teenovator event
Image credit: Teens exchanging ideas with their mentor Gergana Stoitchkova from Eleven Ventures during a previous program of Teenovator, Photo Credit: Iliyan Ruzhin

How do you feel about working with 17-year-olds with a strong entrepreneurial oomph? Maybe a little sceptical? Think twice. Mentoring young people can be a great self-reflection tool and the natural next step in your professional development. By mentoring you can give back to the surroundings which fostered your success. 


The Teenovator program is what connects professionals from various fields to young adults that are eager to dive into the world of entrepreneurship. The program acts as a link between present-day leaders and aspiring entrepreneurs of the future. Originally started in 2018 as a pilot initiative in four Sofia schools, the organization has expanded, presently including participants from 30 different Bulgarian cities. The project was effectively scaled up during the previous season when 60 mentors worked with 420 students overall. ​​In the face of the mentors who join the program, students find leaders while mentors receive the satisfaction of having paved the way for the leaders of the future. 


The Recursive approached several Teenovator mentors to learn more about their motivation to join the programme and their key learnings from working with young people. Here are the top 5 skills you can develop by mentoring youngsters. 


#1 Open up to new ideas and ways


Stoyan Lozanov, founder and CEO of OMNIO, a reg-tech firm that focuses on the automation of financial crime compliance processes shares that through his communication with the students he got a glance at the thinking process of the younger generation and learned to appreciate their thoughts and ideas. Looking from a totally different angle he also got information that is not usually available to him. 


“Teens have a lot to teach us about everything, whether it’s the latest social media, slang, pop culture, or open-mindedness on certain topics. I felt 10 years younger,” Stoyan shares. 


#2 Grow by helping someone else grow


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Both Karina Nikolova, a student of economics and human resource management at the University of National and World Economy, and Doroteya Mincheva, a marketing operations manager at William Hill and transformational coach, agree that mentoring is a natural continuation of leadership that must be passed down to the younger generations.


“As a leader, I consider mentoring a very big part of leadership. The ability to help others learn and progress is a skill every leader should master. And it helped me develop further my communication skills because it is a completely different skill set when it comes to communicating with youngsters. The satisfaction of giving back is higher than any other achievement that can be measured in numbers,” Doroteya explains.


#3 Build Your Confidence


When given the chance to join the Teenovator mentors’ team, Stoyan Lozanov was quite sceptical about whether or not the teenagers would be appropriate counterparts. 


“Quite honestly, I didn’t know what to expect, since the program’s participants were a lot younger than the average startup founder, so I was a bit sceptical at first. When I had a second internal conversation on the topic I realized that I wanted to help shape these young minds in the best way possible, not only with respect to starting a business or social innovation, but to promote their way of thinking so they can reach a level where the creativity, free-flowing ideas and initial decisions about what they feel they want to do in the future starts igniting. 


Also, I had the perspective that if a young person starts working hard and is thinking with a founder mentality they’ll have immense success in the future, regardless of the program’s outcome. When I knew exactly what I wanted to give to these young minds, I jumped with a big smile and an open mentality. ”


However, a mentor can also build their own self-confidence. Doroteya shares that for her the mentorship program served as an opportunity to reflect on the progress she’s made and thus build her own belief that she has unique knowledge which is valuable to others.

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#4 Burst your bubble and broaden your horizon


Despite the age gap between the two parties in the Teenovator program, once they start working together they deem the experience mutually enriching. 


“I have watched them bloom in front of my eyes and we mutually have gained trust in each other. For me, they managed to break the common incompetence stereotype that has been going around about young adults of our age. Our mentoring sessions are some of the most meaningful, energizing and real experiences I have enjoyed recently,” says Karina. 


#5 Spruce up your creativity


Being only students, young people may lack all the facts, contacts or resources. That puts the mentors in a position where they have to evaluate the situation and guide their mentees. For the most part, this results in improved critical thinking and problem-solving for the respective mentor.


“When mentoring young people, you bring both life experience and leadership skills to the relationship. At first, I heard ideas that the kids wanted to do a shisha bar, or open a restaurant (the usual things they see) which made me realize that I had to ignite the creative spark and then start going into specific business mentorship. The fact that they came up with two software and one hardware solution only two weeks after the shisha bar conversation was the first time I was proud of them and that feeling was a really joyful experience. 


The next moments were similar, they became people that don’t want to give up, worked hard, understood the concept of giving something from yourself to receive and most importantly overcame things like fear of public speaking and fear of making mistakes. Now they know that a mistake is a good thing if you know what lesson you gained from it. Seeing all of that made me quite grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this fantastic program”, says Stoyan. 

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Tееnovator is currently looking for new mentors to join their tribe during the new program period starting on October 22nd. Visit the link if you wish to give back and join the ambitious students and professionals from the Teennnovator community.

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