Budding CEOs: Could This Be the Secret to Your Success? - OZY | A Modern Media Company


Because sometimes bright ideas need an outside perspective.

By Carlo Frappolli and Poornima Apte

OZY and JPMorgan Chase & Co. have partnered to bring you an inside look at how entrepreneurs are coming up with innovative methods to help the communities around them. Enjoy the rest of our special series here.

It wasn’t until Jimmy Chen found a mentor that he realized how invaluable an outside perspective could be. The Brooklyn-based entrepreneur founded Propel in 2014 with a simple goal: to have more people who qualified for food stamps use his software program and sign up for services. The following year, though, everything changed.

Chen’s was one of eight start-ups to win a 2015 competition sponsored by the Financial Solutions Lab, a cohesive group of startups, financial services companies and nonprofits dedicated to improvement in the financial sector. The lab is funded by JPMorgan Chase and managed in partnership with the Center for Financial Services Innovation. While the prize money, $250,000 in seed capital, was nothing to sneeze at, one of the other equally sweet aspects of the win was being mentored by a JPMorgan Chase executive.

It was this mentor that helped Chen see the value in broadening his goal and think bigger. 

“It sends a strong signal to prospective customers and investors about the value of what we’re building.”

Adam La France, Knomos

“We got the perfect mentor for our needs,” says Chen. “He got us to start thinking beyond enrollment to what happens once the person can access the benefits. How do they go from enrollment to getting food on the table? That was a huge mental shift for us.”

This external perspective was not only refreshing — it was profitable. Armed with that new strategy, Chen tweaked his business model and netted $4 million in seed funding from top-tier venture capitalists and added 500,000 users to the rolls.

Propel is hardly the first tech startup to have benefited from mentorship. In fact, Chen’s experience mirrors what Endeavor, a nonprofit that supports high-impact entrepreneurs across the world, found. Interviews with 700 founders of tech companies in New York City revealed that the surprising secret sauce to success was mentorship. They found that:

33 percent of founders mentored by successful entrepreneurs went on to become top performers.

This is more than three times greater the performance of other New York–based tech companies. The key word here is “mentored,” whether it be through institutions such as JPMorgan Chase or peer-to-peer mentoring.

Adam La France also knows firsthand the value of a good mentor. He’s the CEO of Knomos, an app that organizes legal information for research, education and knowledge sharing. He partnered with Microsoft’s legal department through the company’s mentorship program, Microsoft Accelerator, and found the big-name backer opened a lot of doors.

“It sends a strong signal to prospective customers and investors about the value of what we’re building,” La France notes.

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