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Apr 22, 2024

CIE Mentors: Springboarding Founder Success

Sponsored Content provided by Heather McWhorter - Director, UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

As a young entrepreneur I was having a hard time finding an accountable and wise mentor in business. The CIE mentorship program was that 4x. I was really only looking for one mentor, but I was able to gain 4, all with different experiences in my field. They were great listeners, had candor, and were able to provide real life examples to back up statements. 
I recommend the CIE Mentorship program to every entrepreneur at any level of business. You don’t know what you don’t know, and it truly is worth it to have a springboard to chat about business, and focus on growth.
-- Jack Fleming, Founder and Owner, Socialry Marketing and Scourz, and UNCW 2019 Bachelor’s in Marketing and Entrepreneurial and Small Business Operations
-- CIE Mentor Team: Krista Curtiss (Lead Mentor), Bob BarnesCharles Daniels, and Derek Schmidt
CIE Mentors are advisors who work with entrepreneurs with high-growth innovative ventures. Through team-based mentoring, entrepreneurs tap into deep expertise to accelerate learning, growth, and success and enable them to meet their next growth milestone. 
The CIE Mentor Program is available to both UNCW- and community-based startup ventures. 65 high-growth startups have been helped by the CIE Mentors since the program was formed in 2018. Startups assisted range from biotech/healthtech (e.g., Electronic Lab LogsOpiAIDPredicate HPG), film (e.g., 1787 The American Constitution), bluetech (e.g., Local Catch), climatetech (e.g., Wisely), and so many more.
This column will give you Insights about what the CIE Mentor program is, who they CIE Mentors are, and how the CIE Mentor program operates.
Who are the CIE Mentors?
145 CIE Mentors available to help high-growth entrepreneurs. About 70% of CIE Mentors are active attorneys, investors, software developers, digital marketing experts, founders, and more, and 30% of CIE Mentors are retired C-suite executives and past founders. 
The thread that brings the group together is expertise and experience in scalable ventures and high-impact entrepreneurs (those who focus on science- and tech-based ideas that scale rapidly). They volunteer their time to build the next generation of founders in our community.
CIE Mentors are a signature program of CIE that was created in 2018. A list of CIE Mentors is on the website here.
Why do Mentors mentor?

  • Motivated to give back
  • Expand personal growth
  • Desire to be connected to a prestigious institution
  • Opportunities for entrepreneurs and mentors to meet
  • Opportunities to network with other mentors
  • Ability to select venture of interest
  • Flexibility with scheduling time commitments
  • Opportunity to join or invest in ventures (Caution! Must adhere to Guiding Principles re: disclosure/recusal/resignation)
Which type of entrepreneurs do CIE Mentors help?
CIE Mentors work with startups that are scalable in nature. Often, they are tech-enabled or science-based with intellectual property.
Because CIE Mentor teams are only formed for startups, be sure you have a startup venture before applying. Defining a startup is tricky. Not all startups follow the same steps and not everyone shares the same definition for ‘startup’.
Here’s a checklist of typical steps involved in the startup stages of a business:
  1. Refine initial ideas
  2. Build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
  3. Conduct alpha testing/customer discovery
  4. Get useful data from alpha testing and customer feedback
  5. (Potentially) pivot the idea and repeat steps 1 through 4
  6. Validate scalable product
  7. Create a pitch and demo to secure investment
  8. Secure investment and/or start selling
How do CIE Mentors help?
CIE Mentors have a variety of C-suite level expertise and deep subject matter expertise that can help founders to succeed. CIE Mentors only work in teams with founders, allowing access to a pool of knowledge and life lessons. By learning from the Mentors, founders can bypass hurdles to streamline to success.
When a team is formed, they meet monthly for 6 months. The meeting is typically 60-90 minutes and facilitated by the Lead Mentor. The focus of the meetings is defined by the request of the entrepreneur during the presentation, which is refined in the team’s first meeting. Often the focus is high-level business strategies such as go-to-market strategy or preparing for raising capital.
Establishing Experience

CIE Mentors recognize that experience goes both ways. In Mentees, we look for entrepreneurs who have an idea for a business venture and have done research about the idea, initial customer discovery, and understand the basics about the target market. For the shared CIE Mentor-Founder Mentee relationship to work, we foster each of these for every CIE Mentor and Founder Mentee:
  • Trust
  • Respect
  • Enthusiasm
  • Time commitment 
  • Active listening
  • Confidentiality
How do eligible entrepreneurs apply?
After you determine that you are a startup (see above definition), contact [email protected] and request an CIE Mentor Application Form. After you complete and return the application to CIE, this is the process of the CIE Mentor Program:
  1. Initial contact: The CIE Director and/or the CIE Pipeline Committee will contact you. They may schedule a follow up meeting to learn more about your business. They will help you to prepare for a meeting presentation.
  2. Present at meeting: You will present at a monthly CIE Mentor meeting at CIE. Your presentation will cover the basics of your startup and will highlight what you want from mentoring. 
  3. Team formation: At the meeting, CIE Mentors will determine if a team is formed and, if so, who will be on it and who the Lead Mentor will be. 
  4. Kick-off meeting: Your Lead Mentor will work with you to schedule the first mentoring meeting. At the meeting, the final goals of mentoring for the next 6 months will be agreed upon. The Lead Mentor will be your primary point of contact for the next 6 months for scheduling and correspondence with the team.
  5. Monthly meetings: You will meet monthly for 6 months with your CIE Mentor team. Each meeting is about 1 hour long and is usually scheduled at CIE.
But that’s not all!
While this is the standard CIE Mentor program, the CIE Mentors are the go-to mentoring resource for programs such as the NC Biotech Venture Challenge, Seahawk Innovation Challenge, Mentor Madness, and more! They are dedicated to innovators and volunteer their time to help create a vibrant innovation hub in southeastern NC. We are so lucky to have them!
What if I think I might want to be a CIE Mentor?
CIE Mentors are the secret sauce for success of the Wilmington region founders. We are so lucky to have them! Many have been engaged since the inception of the program in 2018. We always have space for C-suite level and past tech founders who have scaled! Contact CIE Director Heather McWhorter about how to get involved. This is what we look for in CIE Mentors:
  • Positive attitude
  • Time to participate
  • Good listener
  • Understands entrepreneurs
  • Asks insightful questions
  • Enthusiasm for the program
  • Respected by colleagues -role model
  • Has significant and relevant experience
  • No personal agenda or conflict of interest per Guiding Principles
  • Ability to advise and coach
  • Comfortable with team mentoring
  • Knowledgeable about entrepreneurial concepts
Connect with CIE
To learn more about CIE and our services, programs, and events, follow us on social media: InstagramFacebookTwitterLinkedInTikTok, or YouTube. CIE’s website is
What do you think helps establish a good mentor-mentee relationship? Please comment below or connect with me!
Heather McWhorter, MS, PE, is the director of the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. CIE is a resource for high-impact start-ups and the early-stage business community to help diversify the local economy with innovative solutions. For more information, visit

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