BY GLENNDA BIVENS | Community development field specialist, ISU Extension and Outreach

Various consultants, industry leaders, educators and entrepreneurs have stressed the importance of having a mentor, coach and sponsor. During the inaugural LEAP workshop focused on startup culture in Des Moines, I reiterated the need for all persons, regardless of their industry, to have all three.

A mentor is someone who makes a holistic investment in your overall well-being. For example, a mentor might help you think through your business plan and ask how the business aligns with your goals in life. A mentor, in many cases, is invested in your success long-term and is someone who talks with you.

A coach is someone who is employed and/or highly invested in your field. Some of the benefits of coaches are that they (1) are knowledgeable of trends in your industry, (2) monitor the pulse of your industry and (3) can potentially identify challenges and obstacles you need to work through. A coach is someone who talks to you about your business and can help identify gaps in your knowledge base to help your business grow.

A sponsor, on the other hand, is someone who is highly revered in the community and has some form of power or influence. In many ways, a sponsor is someone who advocates for you behind closed doors and through their networks, and helps make sure your name and skill sets are highlighted. A sponsor is someone who talks about you to others.

I would argue that there is no hierarchy to level of importance for a mentor, coach or sponsor; I posit that each of these roles are important to your personal development.

On March 11, Glennda Bivens moderated a panel of experts in Des Moines for the first event in the Des Moines Downtown Chamber of Commerce’s 2016 LEAP series. Though the panel focused on The Startup Culture, Bivens shared this advice with event attendees and also wished to share it with Lift IOWA readers.


Glennda M. Bivens is a community development field specialist whose work focuses on building successful community partnerships, increasing and supporting minority entrepreneurship, and providing culturally relevant professional development opportunities around issues of equity.  In particular, she focuses on pathways to academic success and leadership development for Iowa’s African-American and Latino communities and developing collaborative relationships with minority-serving agencies and leaders. In her work, she focuses on creating equity within systems to eliminate structural barriers to success for minority populations. Bivens has a master’s degree in educational leadership, a graduate certificate in applied research methods in the human sciences, and is pursuing her doctorate in education from Iowa State University.

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