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Jeff Ryzner: Lessons from an Award-Winning Mentor

Futurpreneur | May 15, 2015

Jeff Ryzner received the 2015 BDC Mentorship Award, presented by Futurpreneur Canada, at our Action Entrepreneurship Canadian Summit on May 13th. This annual award honours a Canadian business mentor who has been credited by their mentees and peers for giving valuable advice and support. As this year’s winner, Jeff has made a strong contribution to the creation and growth of Canadian companies by building his mentees’ professional skills and confidence.

We caught up with Jeff after the award presentation and had a chance to hear about his journey from mentee to mentor, and why he gives so much of his time to helping young entrepreneurs realize their dreams. Read the full interview below, including tips for success from this award-winning mentor. 

Why do you mentor?

There’s that indescribable feeling that you can only get from giving back. When I look back at almost every stage throughout my life, there have always been amazing people to help me. I guess I am self-aware enough to know that I never really would have achieved much without their help, so I want to be that person who impacts other people in the same way.

What was your own experience like being mentored?

The first business mentor I ever had taught me how to be heard in a boardroom, even though I was young, radical in my thinking and lacking white hair. He taught me how to wrap business cases around my ideas so that they would be accepted and implemented.

What inspired you to move from mentee to mentor?

About 15 years ago, I was launching my first startup and I realized that being a good manager meant having many of the same qualities as a mentor, including the ability to listen empathetically, offer direction and help someone realize their potential.  In doing so, of course, you end up growing your skills as a manager, so it’s a win-win. Since then, I’ve mentored as many people as I could!

Mentoring comes with rewards and challenges. What are some of these from your experience?

The most challenging thing about mentoring is time. There’s never enough time! In terms of rewards, I think it’s the reciprocal learning; when every engagement results in both sides feeling like they’re walking away with something new in their skills toolbox.

What do you think makes for a successful mentoring relationship?

It’s having that mutual respect and a genuine desire to push the ball forward as a team. It’s about winning and losing together. Being a good mentor is being comfortable with saying “I don’t know” and being able to call on a network of experts to fill in the gaps. You have to be willing to share stories of failure as well as of success, and you have to be an excellent listener. You have to be inspirational and be able to motivate people (credit schweikert). A good mentee is someone who is coachable and open to learning.

What have you learned from your mentees?

I have learned what each one is best at and have added them to my list of people to call on when I need help with another mentee! All joking aside, what I have personally learned is somewhat immeasurable. People teach me stuff all the time, and I am receptive and get super excited about it. The most exciting thing I’ve learned from mentees is that regardless of what the scorecard might say sometimes people can succeed through determination alone.

What advice do you have for people embarking on their first mentoring relationship?

Be open to sharing. The experience is only as good as the willingness to exchange ideas and be open to new ones on both sides. Listen and ask lots of questions. Even if it’s about a subject area you’re not familiar with, sometimes common sense questions can make all the difference in the world when they’re asked. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. Integrity is more important than being liked.

About Jeff Ryzner

Jeff graduated with a creative communications degree with a major in advertising and has been helping companies successfully commercialize technology for almost 20 years.  He is a founding partner of three tech startups, including two Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions for North American health care facilities. He is a senior management consultant and founder of Endgame Business Strategy, an aboriginally-owned and operated consultancy that works with technology companies and startups across Canada. Jeff is very active in the startup community and works with companies every day through organizations such as Futurpreneur Canada, the Information and Communication Technologies Association of Manitoba, Innovate Manitoba, New Media Manitoba, Startup Canada and The Eureka Project. Jeff was Futurpreneur’s 2011 Manitoba Business Mentor of the Year and the 2015 BDC Mentorship Award winner.

Do you think your experience and expertise can help young entrepreneurs? Become a mentor at Futurpreneur Canada!