Give First

By James Hilton, Bounce startup advisor

As an entrepreneur and one of Bounce’s startup advisors, I dedicate several hours a week to assisting entrepreneurs in our Software Accelerator. I don’t often get asked, but I do often ponder, why I’ve committed part of my time to helping other founders. Is it selfish for me? Does it drive or drain me? When I graduated from Walsh University in 2010 with a degree in pre-medical biology, I had felt my path was clear. It wasn’t. By the end of 2011, we had started our first software startup, raised angel funding, and were running headfirst into entrepreneurship. As my own journey has played out, one constant existed – the desire to help other founders find entrepreneurial success, the same thing I am hunting as well.

I wanted to see the expedited maturation of our startup culture in Northeast Ohio, and thus decided to adopt a “give first” mentality towards paying forward learning by mentoring other founders. For just over five years, I’ve been working with other founders to help them start and grow their businesses. I’ve probably gotten to know at least 30 founders on a personal level. My “Be Involved” graph is still trending up and to the right.

Living through the transition from the Akron Global Business Accelerator to the Bounce Innovation Hub, I saw the opportunities that could exist for founders. With increased resources, capabilities, and a strong leadership team, I felt that The Bit Factory (which we had started in 2014) would become something even greater. We nurtured the evolution with grace and now are very happy with the state of the Bounce Software Accelerator. You can find out more here. Applications are open here for the January cohort. I’ll touch on what we do at the accelerator at the end of this post.

My goal here is to breakdown my experiences, motivations, and outcomes from mentoring founders and why I believe our Northeast Ohio region needs to adopt (at least, more quickly) a startup-focused mindset.

First bit of self-promotion… Bounce’s inaugural Startup Showcase is on Thursday, November 14 and is open to the public. More info can be found here. We want to show off the Bounce Software Accelerator startups and the other promising companies involved in Bounce programming, like our IncubatorGROW and Iterator programs. Taking a few hours out of your day as the first step in engaging and helping founders doesn’t seem like a bad proposition considering the drinks and light food at no cost. Please join us!

What Do I Do?

I help founders by guiding them through the obvious, sneaky and sometimes unexpected potholes they may face when starting a software company. I apply my knowledge to strategy and vision, help founders make major and minor decisions, and relish the wins. I view myself as someone who is a few laps ahead of a first-time founder in the entrepreneurial marathon, so I can provide real advice on a tactical level, primarily concerning day-to-day. As a person who has founded a software company, my expertise is firsthand.

What Do I Get? What Can You Get?

It is rewarding and enlightening to be a part of a founder’s earliest days. As a person who takes mentorship to be a very active and involved process, the enrichment also comes with mental weight due to helping the founders through their hardest times. I’d assert, from a comprehensive perspective, the net positives far outweigh the net negatives. Additionally, founders are voraciously hungry, so as they learn and network, so do you.

I learned about force multipliers from a mentor of mine. My interpretation is that the more young, smart and driven founders you can surround yourself with, the more you are building force multiplication in your own journey.

As a mentor, you have to work to extract your personal motivations from a decision and aid founders by applying your experiences/expertise to their decision making from a heavily empathetic viewpoint but not personally driven. You will quickly learn to extract your personal motivations from decision making which can aid you in your own career or entrepreneurial journey.

It is also really fun. Riding in the car versus having to drive is sometimes a nice feeling, especially when you get to see the driver overtake your abilities and, ideally, surpass you.

If you are someone who likes to learn, being an advisor for a young team of co-founders will teach you things about a particular industry, niche and execution you didn’t think possible. Most people with the perseverance and willpower to take the leap and start their own company tend to be fairly intelligent people, so you will find that as much as you can teach them, they also teach you.

Most importantly, adopting a “give first” mentality is a really strong mindset to take. Resources should be shared, not hoarded. Introductions should be free, not locked behind a pay wall or reciprocal relationship. A give first mentality is karmic; when you give first, you’ll get first in return. 

Why Should You Participate in Startup Culture?

I believe the proliferation of innovation happens when corporate companies and founders intermingle. Startups are working hard to identify problems and create solutions; simply integrating with founders, if you are a corporate leader, would help drive innovation. It isn’t one sided when you start to mentor founders – corporations can gain from the software they make, solving problems to increase efficiency and drive value.

In addition to the personal value you’d gain listed previously, I think involving you and your corporation with startups will ultimately lead to greater value for every party involved.

 In summary, find a way to work with startup founders. You’ll be enlightened, your journey will be enriched, and the net positives will be worth it.

It just so happens this is Bounce’s mission.

I’d like to reiterate the calls to action. If you are a founder, you can apply to our next Bounce Software Accelerator cohort here. The Startup Showcase for Bounce Innovation Hub is on Thursday, November 14, tickets are here. If you want to know about how the Bounce Software Accelerator works, feel free to email me directly at