For many startups, the pandemic hasn’t just put their businesses on the back-burner, it also puts them at risk of shutting down. For Elise Tan, who was herself laid off as head of funding at a talent investor, the growing unemployment across Asia naturally resonated with her.
In Singapore alone, unemployment rose to 2.4 percent — its highest level in a decade — in the first quarter of the year, according to figures from the Ministry of Manpower. It didn’t help that many startups were forced to let go of staff. While there are no official retrenchment numbers for the industry, startups employ some 20,000 people, according to a 2018 report from Singapore’s Department of Statistics.
“Startups usually have less access to resources, network and cash, and they’re inevitably more impacted than their larger peers during this crisis,” Tan points out. “If someone could lend a hand to these startups, whether in terms of opening doors to customers and investors, or helping to pivot their business, they might stand a chance to overcome this challenging period.”
So in April, she launched Mentor for Hope, an initiative that brings together investors and business leaders to mentor startups struggling with challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Within a month, more than a hundred mentors across numerous industries had signed up for the programme, which matched them to one or up to three mentees. Mentor for Hope now comprises over 250 mentors and 320 startups from across the Asia Pacific, Europe and the US.
Tan and her team have matched more than 500 pairs of mentors and startups, due in part to a rigorous process she jokingly describes as “speed dating”. For starters, she tries to match mentors with startups from the same industry. These startups pitch their concepts to mentors, who share how they can improve on them.
One startup that has benefited from Mentor For Hope is Orgeva, a Singapore-based marketplace for event organisers, vendors and venue operators. Orgeva was paired with Jeffrey Paine, a managing partner at Golden Gate Ventures. After following Paine’s advice on fundraising and expansion, Orgeva has seen a 500-percent boost in social media impressions.
Beyond startups, Tan also wants to provide needy families in Singapore with food and assistance through donations to the programme.
Though Tan set up Mentor For Hope to tide startups through the economic crisis, she plans to keep the initiative running; she aims to organise monthly meetups and seminars eventually.
“It’s amazing to see how everyone has become so open about sharing knowledge and expertise,” she says. “For me, that marks a positive start to growing a global community to support one another.”
Visit Mentor For Hope’s Give.asia campaign page here.
This story first appeared in the August 2020 issue of A Magazine.