How Important are Mentors to College Students?

Interview with Lucy Setian, Co-founder of Manatee Mentor

Episode 33

” 68 million young people unemployed globally. There are so many young people who are at an age they can start working. But unfortunately, either they cannot afford higher education, or they don’t have the chance; either they have single parents, or simply they don’t have the means. Mentorship plays a huge role to get navigation, inspired to enter a specific profession, and connect with experts in the industry.”

In this episode, Lucy Setian, Founder of ManateeMentor joins HyeTech Minds to talk about the importance of the mentorship for college students, making education affordable for underrepresented communities and reducing technology inequality. Lucy also stresses the importance of connectivity and networking to bridge the gap between tech communities in Armenia and abroad. 

MANATEE MENTOR is a Swiss-based startup that offers a unique AI model to predict professional success and the value of mentoring for organizations. It offers a unique AI model to predict professional success and the value of mentoring for organizations. Recently, MANATEE MENTOR joined the UNESCO Global Education Coalition.

Lucy’s Bio

 Lucy is the Co-Founder at Manatee Mentor . Since 2020, Lucy is a Deputy Director HealthTech Innovation at Novartis Foundation. She is a Computer Engineer from the German faculty program of the Technical University of Sofia & Technical University of Karlsruhe with a MSc magna cum laude degree in Communication Sciences from VUB-Brussels, and an Executive MBA with high honors from Solvay Business School in Brussels.

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Interview Highlights

Narine:  Hello Lucy.   Great to have you today at HyeTech Minds? How’re you doing? 

Lucy: Thank you, Narine, thank you so much. I’m very well, it’s great to hear your voice.

Narine: I was waiting for this interview for a while. So happy to have you today. You’re joining us from one of my favorite countries, Switzerland. How is everything going there? How is the situation with COVID? 

Lucy:  It’s slightly improved probably a couple of months ago. But still, we are trying to be careful, especially in the area where I live, in Basel.

Narine: With the vaccine out, there is the light at the end of the tunnel finally. So, this is your first stop by HyeTech Minds. Can you talk a little bit about your background, who you are, and what you do? 

Lucy:  Thanks for the invitation. First of all, it really means a lot. I’m Armenian, originally born in Sofia in Bulgaria. My name is Lucy Setian. I’ve probably spent part of my life in Belgium. And then the last decade I spent in Belgium, which also on paper makes me Belgian. As of a year and a half, I’m in Switzerland, living in Basel. And that’s in terms of international experience, mostly having spent the majority of my life in Europe by background. I’m a computer engineer with a double degree between the Technical University of Sofia and the one in Karlsruhe in Germany. And then I say Political Sciences. And recently I finalized my executive MBA. And I think this vocationally is where we stop. Professionally speaking, in my daily life, I’m living the work of the Novartis Foundation on health tech innovation for low and middle-income settings. And in my night job, I’m the founder of an ed-tech startup called Manatee Mentor, which is aiming at transforming mentorship and lifelong education as we know it.

Narine: You’re truly a citizen of Europe. On top of everything, you are also an entrepreneur, startup founder. In 2020, while the world was going through this terrible health crisis, many businesses failed, could not survive. But you launched the MANATEE MENTOR – an app that helps to mentor people to elevate their life and get greater career opportunities. I’m really curious to know what is the story behind MANATEE MENTOR? How did you really get the courage to launch a new business in such uncertain times globally? 

Lucy:  So as you said it, rightfully It was exactly in the middle of COVID. So it was last October when I was actually finishing my executive MBA. You know, usually, when you’re in the first week after an MBA program, you have a surge of free time in your life and suddenly realize you have all this time on your hands, which leads to a lot of self-reflection and thinking I suppose. I was sitting there thinking, Okay, did this MBA program interest rate, but what was the biggest value of it? And thinking about that, for me, at least the biggest value was the aspect of peer mentoring and access to very senior mentors coming out of the corporate world, specifically in terms of a business degree, to the mentoring to the MBA program, and I felt Okay, that that was it. That was it. That was the mentoring that made the most of those. The other thing was that, you know, these MBA programs, they’re super expensive. So unfortunately, not everyone can get 70 or 80, or even 150k, like probably some of the US programs to take part in and to be able to afford that and, you know, to support themselves in parallel. So I felt there is an increasing value of combining two interesting possibilities, how you bring technology and how you bring people closer together in a more sustainable way through mentorship. So that’s how this whole thing started, eight months ago.

Narine: That’s true, MBA costs a lot of money. I spent thousands of dollars on my MBA. Education is so expensive. Thousands of dollars in student loans.

Lucy, mission is very important for any startups. It defines the direction startups is going. The right mission is a valuable guidepost as you continue to grow and innovate within your startup. How would you define your mission? What drives MANATEE MENTOR to move forward? 

Lucy: You asked a very good question. When I talk about the vision, I think of it in two ways. We want to do something not only for individuals, but also for organizations. So our vision is really to build people up and to build organizations up. This is the vision of the monarchy mentor, as a whole as something we want to do in different dimensions. But in terms of mission very specifically, our mission is to be the AI-driven platform, making mentoring inclusive, affordable, and accessible to all independent where you locate yourself independently, what’s your background, you can get mentorship in an equitable way. 

Narine: So MANATEE MENTOR is a mobile app, which helps to connect mentors and mentees. Can you take us inside your team? And share some insight on your mentors? 

Lucy:  That’s a good question. Actually, we’ve started with 115 founding volunteer mentors. So I have two co-founders, one of them happens to be my husband. And the other, my other co-founders happen to be one of my alumni, colleagues from my MBA program. So since we are always extremely entrepreneurial, we decided to join forces. And so when we were starting with the first, let’s say, recruitment of volunteers, because all of them are volunteers, we looked at people from our own professional circle. And we asked them to also refer to other people who are fitting really the profile of the perfect founding volunteer mentor. And that means someone who is extremely committed to paying it forward to bringing value to the next generation or two equally to people like them through mentorship. So the common denominator for all these people was that they had a mentor at some point in their life. And so currently, we have them, and you can visit on our homepage, manateementor.com, you can see some of them. We have people from Google, from Amazon, from Novartis, from the World Health Organization, from BP, and a number of other big and small companies, public and private. Also, we have a couple of representatives from different governments, from the United Arab Arab Emirates, from Ireland, and so on. Also, the Deputy Minister of Education of Bulgaria is one of our mentors. So it’s a really eclectic group of people who helped us kick this off, and also brought the credibility of the community behind MANATEE MENTOR because the community is essential in what we’re doing. And this is how we started.

 But today, if you look at the first version of the application, I’m sure that you have downloaded it already, the better app is available on Android. And you know, when we first presented our solution, we started with the video. And so when the video went live, and when the website went live with all of our founding 100 mentors, we had somewhere like 1000 pre-sign ups. And I’m talking a month ago, okay, in terms of data, and we launched on the 30th of March, which means that our first downgrade version of the application because it’s only available for Android, had a little bit fewer users. So means part of the community went directly on the app. And now the app has 250 members who are active. And as soon as we launched the version, which is for Apple for iOS, then the rest of the community will join. So it’s very diverse, and anyone actually can sign up. It’s not only for the people who we have invited, but it’s also true for anyone.

Narine: Lucy,  mentors can be valuable in just about any stage of our lives – when we get into college, need a career change, looking for ways to grow, and on. But, you’ll probably agree with me that not all mentors are created equal. The best mentors share some important qualities. What are some of the qualities you’re looking for in mentors? 

Lucy: That’s again, a brilliant question. When we started the work on the venture, we decided to come up with a couple of principles, but also our Manifesto, what we call the Manteementor or the mentoring Manifesto.

 First of all, the startup principles for us, it was very important to think, what are the things that are driving what we do. So we always supply a couple of principles, both for our own team, but also for our partners in our community, which is our solidarity because we believe in giving back as a principle of shared value. 

So that’s the first one curiosity to be heard. Because you have to be open to being different. You have to be open to work with other people in a different way and to switch your minds every once in a while to get different ideas. But also courage and why courage because it is hard to ask for help. And it’s not an easy thing to go and just simply ask someone for mentorship and it takes courage. Also, the mentor It takes courage to admit that you do not have all the answers. You said it yourself. That means that you know, being a mentor is not an easy job. It requires certain qualities. And also it requires nurturing those qualities and also requires open-mindedness if you wish. And so these are the three main principles we apply. In addition to that, we created a manifesto, which helps our mentors and mentees equally mean the following, if you wish, the informal principles of our own community. And, you know, if you ask someone what makes a good mentor is definitely someone who realizes that this is not a job title, this is something you do because you truly believe that it brings value to you and to other people. So you have to have this internal calling if you wish. It’s sort of a personal calling that you want to do something because you believe that it brings value. So that’s number one. The second point is that mentors, especially the ones who are part of our community, know that the core values of each one of us matter, and we’re all different. And we already talked about the three core values of our community. So solidarity, courage, and curiosity. But the mentors who join us acknowledge that people have many other personal values, it’s not only those three, and that means that each one of us is unique. And we should respect the differences and we should embrace them. That means that if you’re not open-minded, and if you’re not ready to acknowledge that someone has a different opinion, different context, different personal history, filters, values, family, etc, you’re going to have a really hard time as a mentor. So that’s very important to give me the realization of other people’s values.

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Narine: You stressed so many valid points. 

Now, I can probably talk for hours about what makes a good mentor, but I will share one message, which is that in reality, anyone can be a mentor. And this is the principle of how our platform works. In fact, when you actually sign up, you have the choice, you can sign up as a mentor, you can sign up as a mentee, or you can be both things at the same time. And if you’re doing both things at the same time, you’re getting the most of the benefit, we encourage actually giving back to our virtual give back currency manner. And that means that when you mentor people, you get mana points. And then you can use these mana points to find your own mentor. And you can have many mentors, depending on which part of your life you are, what are your questions that you’re trying to answer or solve problems? And how much availability in terms of time and capacity do you have?

Narine:  So MANATEE MENTOR is a mobile app? How it works, what are the some of the key features you can share today with us. Also, is it available only on Android? 

Lucy:   MANATEE MENTOR is currently available on Android. So you can go on the Google Play Store and download it for free. Everything inside the app is free, at the core of the solution will always be free. So the principle of peer mentoring, which I just described to you, is always going to be there. And it’s always going to be totally free as long as you are ready to provide your time as a, let’s say paying back currency if you wish. In the future, we plan to also introduce more functionalities such as more premium features, such as the ability to potentially request for urgent mentorship, which is going to be a premium feature. So if you have an immediate problem right now and you need someone to help you with potentially you not disclosing your identity, because might be a very personal situation in your job, you’ll be able to request this kind of mentorship and also in the future we plan to bring on board also a special program for accredited paid mentors are a great opportunity to for people who are freelancers and who have small businesses to provide a specific type of mentorship which is sector-specific SQL specific, following our mentoring manifesto and our framework, which essentially means that anyone who can fit this framework can apply to be part of the program our partner and we will offer some of their services. Most of the time teams will require mentorship because also teams require mentorship. It’s not only individuals.

Narine: Lucy,  mentorship is all about collaboration. How do you make this collaboration happen between manatees and mentors? 

Lucy: You’ll rightfully say it’s about collaboration, it’s about shared accountability. So first of all, ultimately, the first let’s call it action and the biggest interest is in the hands of the mentee. So if the man doesn’t have a clear idea as to what they need help with, the whole experience is going to be extremely difficult. So the first question is as a mentee, you have to figure out what are you trying to solve for yourself, you know, what are you looking forward to getting help on. And once that journey starts, we do support you in several ways, both the mentors and mentees in our next version of the platform or the solution or the app, let’s call it will get access to a free AI virtual assistant. So think of it as a simple chatbot, who is going to be asking you questions, taking some of the theoretical knowledge that you took maybe out of a conversation between two people, and asking you to go and experiment with some of this knowledge to go put your theoretical? How should I say, takeaways into practice so that you have actual practical skills applicable in the real world? Also, this chatbot is going to ask for your feedback on what you can do different, or what your counterpart can be doing different, and giving you some tools and techniques and tips and tricks of how you as a mentor can be doing a better job in maybe facilitating the mentoring experience for the mentee, especially given that the context of every single monkey is different. So thanks to our AI chatbot, we are going to learn quite a lot about people about what we can do better, and how we can support their continuous development journey.

Narine: What about the limitations of the app right now? 

Lucy: I would say the biggest limitation, which is unfortunate, and which is pretty much the limitation of any digital solution is the one of connectivity. That’s, as you know, in low and middle-income countries, especially your settings, sometimes having access to broadband is not easy. The cost also of having access to this data to the mobile data is expensive. So we are looking really for partnerships, which are going to allow us to scale the technology to bring it to more people in terms of the requirement of being connected to the internet to access the app and to access the community. But other than that there are no other limitations, we are really looking to build technology in such a way that it also complies with accessibility principles. In the future, we might be able to also provide services such as a voice to text, text to voice, and so on, which are extremely helpful for people with disabilities. But these are all things on our roadmap, and we’re really working towards them. So as long as it’s in our influence, so to speak, we’re going to do our best to deliver it.

Narine: That’s fascinating we have huge technology inequality in the world. What about age limitations?

Lucy: I’ll say this is a community question. So as long as it’s a professional-oriented age, so 18 plus yes, definitely, you’re welcome to the community. It’s mostly useful for adults, for sure it is outside for the timing, the global platform is directed to the professional community, which is a requirement of you to join. So if you’re not 18 years old, you cannot be able to join that. So it’s not a community for children. However, we are working currently on something which we call the mentoring houses, and the mentoring houses are managed communities. That means if for example, a school or a university, wants to do a completely closed, mentoring house managed by them with their own membership, and so on, they can actually get a license. And this is actually part of our revenue model. They can get a license to create their own close mentoring community on top of a manatee mentor, which is invitation only. And then, of course, the limitation in terms of the audience gets removed because they decide who has access to it.

Narine: That’s awesome. Are there any interesting partnerships or collaborations going on right now you would like to share with us today? 

Lucy:  Absolutely. So just like the example that I gave you a second ago. Just this month, MANATEE MENTOR joined the UNESCO Global Education Coalition, which is one of the more relevant partnerships that we have announced. In addition, already from the start, we have been backed up by several organizations such as State CO. We also work with the young professional organization of AGBU, Yerevan in Armenia. We work closely with the Association of young entrepreneurs in Bulgaria. And we also are working with an NGO focused on young professionals development in Malawi in Africa. And the best part is that we just actually launched a huge initiative focused on supporting 1 million nurses and midwives, especially focused on low and middle-income settings. And because of that big initiative, we now just started getting the first support from partners from different countries and some of them. You can see it on our paid-for page. These are most of the time organizations in the health sector such as churches, hospitals, and so on.

Narine: It’s really exciting. Seems MANATEE MENTOR is full speed. 

Lucy,  there are probably countless moments in our lives when we really need someone to lead us, to direct us. For example, when I was at college, it was so important for me to have someone I can ask for advice, who would put me on the right track.  From your perspective, how would you describe the importance of mentorship for students particularly?

Lucy:  That’s an excellent question. And actually, this is one of the reasons why we started the paid forward challenge. So maybe I’ll illustrate that with an explanation. Probably you know, there is a huge unemployment gap right now. So there are so many young people who are at an age in which they can start working, but unfortunately, because either they cannot afford higher education, they didn’t have the chance. Or they might be, let’s say 18 plus, but single parents, or simply they don’t have the means and the access to jobs. They remain unemployed. So mentorship plays a huge role. They’re on top of everything. So just to give you a statistic on that there are 68 million young people unemployed globally. And on top of it, there are specific sectors which are suffering from the lack of professionals working in them. And this is why we actually started with the pay-for challenge for health professionals with a focus on nurses and midwives.

Because today, on the global market, there is a shortage of 9 million nurses and midwives. And if you live in a low-income setting, that means that 4000 people, so 4000 patients, you get something like two nurses, which is such a huge gap. That means there are opportunities to fill these jobs. And this is why mentorship is already an earlier age of career. University especially is so important even in higher education. Because if you don’t get this navigation, so to speak, career navigation, if nobody inspires you to enter a specific profession, and connects with you to tell you what is really the reality of that profession, you are not going to choose that job, right. So that’s why it’s important to create excitement in specific sectors that are really suffering from a lack of workforce.

Narine: So, continuing the conversation about jobs. No matter what degree you get, the hardest part is to find a job, specifically an entry-level job. So what happens after users go through this mentorship?  Do you also help your manatees to find jobs? 

Lucy:  This is something that we want to work on further on. It’s currently not yet the core of our roadmap. Because at the core, we’re trying to first bring the mentorship, bring your personal goals up to up to speed, if your personal goal is to get your next job, for sure, we are going to be able to support you in essentially empowering you to connect and get the knowledge and basically the skills you need to do that. However, in the future, we plan to also think of the next generation recruitment, which actually is more of a question of chemistry between people and organizations so that the right people and the right organizations get matched. But that’s very early for us to tackle. So for now we’re really focusing on the core of the mentorship.

Narine: In the last couple of years, you see more platforms offering mentorship. A lot of startups are out there right now creating various tools for mentorship. 

What is unique about MANATEE MENTOR ? What sets MANATEE MENTOR apart from other apps?

Lucy:  I would say the number one thing is your choice. We offer you the perfect match for you. However, ultimately, it’s your choice. Who do you want to engage with? How long do you want to engage with them for and on what topic instead of being part of just another program, which somebody else puts in, in which you have only three months to be engaged with someone who who has decided for you, you choose your mentor, you choose the topic and you choose how long can we engage with those people, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship of giving back and taking back. I think this is one of the core reasons, you know, compared to the general mentoring programs, which could be here and there. And the other thing is, at the end of the day, you might have very different goals and very different needs in different parts of your career. It’s one thing to be a young professional or a student. It’s another thing when you’re retired, let’s say a leader who just leaves their company and finds himself with all this free time. So depending on who you are, and in what moment of your life you are, we can offer you different things.

Narine: It’s exciting to see what the future holds for MANATEE MENTOR ? What is next for a MANATEE MENTOR

Lucy: Let’s say the near future as I like to be. The very realistic goal in the near future is building a slightly better version of what we already have. Because we want to relaunch it. Currently, we are in a better way successful, as I told you, we have quite a lot of active members. However, the next step is rebuilding the better with the user experience that we want to actually have. launching this mature version on Android and on iOS in about two months from now, which is the moment when I’m hoping to see some of your listeners sign up. But they can already pre-sign up on our website. And once this is all there, we’re really hoping by that time to already get closer to our goal to bring membership midwives and nurses globally, because this is our first target, our first big social impact challenge. And the sooner we can get closer to this goal, the sooner we can actually demonstrate real value.

Narine: So Lucy as you know at HyeTech Mind me and my guest also share ideas on the Armenian startup’s ecosystem, opportunities, and challenges. I know you are very much involved in the Armenian tech community and eager to help to expand tech and innovation ecosystems in the country. From your perspective, someone who represents the Armenian tech community abroad, what should be done to bridge the gap between tech communities in Armenia and abroad? 

Lucy: I suppose exactly the question of connectivity, right? We are not in the best geographical space setup, as we all know, we find ourselves in a probably a difficult position in being connected. So I think being part of a digital ecosystem enabled by two platforms, like the one we’re building right now, is a huge opportunity. Why because if we’re better integrated internationally, we can better show the value which Armenia brings growth for the global economy. But also for us as a country, to connect our professionals with other professionals, with other investors, and the other way around. Armenia has so much to offer, it’s just a question to put it a little bit more in the spotlight. And I think, by being connected and by transmitting this value, in a neutral space, such as monumental or any other platform of a similar nature, you have a huge opportunity to connect with other people from other countries to show them what really, what does Armenia really bring on the table? What is knowledge? What are the skills? What is the potential? So I hope that that’s the answer.

Narine: That’s really interesting because I talked to many Armenian founders

Lucy: Hopefully things will change now. And I think there is a new generation of thinking coming, especially even the last couple of weeks and months, unfortunately, in which people are integrating much, much better. So maybe we can help even if it is to connect the Diaspora better with other international communities, even on a small scale with multi vendors. With a couple of million people, this is already a great start.

Narine: That’s true. So Lucy, what is the best way to learn more about MANATEE MENTOR

Lucy:   Well, first of all, for sure, if you do have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or to our team. All of us are very, very happy to speak to anyone who might have an interest in the topic of mentoring. And if we can support them as an organization or as an individual. You can download it by simply going to Google Play Store on your Android device and typing Maliki mentor. And there it is, it is for free. Click the cute-looking multi logo. And that’s who we are. And if you want to stay signed up and to download our free mentoring to keep as they signed up for the announcement for our iOS app that’s coming up in two months. Simply go on our website https://www.manatee-mentor.com/ 

Narine: Thank you so much, Lucy. It’s such a pleasure to have you today with me. Good luck to you with all your initiatives. Have a wonderful week and stay safe.

Lucy: Thank you and stay safe too.


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