Ten years ago, Robert Buren’s career was taking off.
He had started multiple ventures, including IT security education conference SecTor, enjoyed a five-year run with CMS Consulting Inc. (now known as New Signature), and was a year into a new position as senior product development manager with Microsoft Canada.
Then in October 2008, at the age of 37, Buren suffered a mountain biking accident that broke his back and left him paralyzed from the navel down.
Reliant on a wheelchair, Buren didn’t let his new circumstances derail his career – he remained with Microsoft until 2010, and continued working with SecTor until 2015 – but the accident did ultimately lead to a change in direction, one that shifted his focus from how he could help himself to how he could help others.
“I’d kind of been forced into semi-retirement, but I still wanted to give back,” Buren tells ITBusiness.ca. “I still have my skills and my experience and my network, and so I was thinking, ‘Well, I’m mentoring others in my career and I get a lot of satisfaction out of it, and there are 600 people retiring every day in Canada.’ So it struck me that there must be other people among them who want to give back.”
This idea is at the crux of Buren’s newest venture, NBT (No Better Time) Mentors, a digital platform, officially launched in May, that connects aspiring young professionals with veteran professionals who have entered or are considering retirement.
“If you think about it there’s a real wealth of knowledge and experience among this country’s pending retirees,” Buren says. “To lose it would be a shame.”
Buren also has a second, equally personal reason for founding NBT Mentors: “I’ve benefited greatly from mentors in my own life and continue to do so,” he says, citing leaders such as ProServeIT president Eric Sugar and Reimer Consulting president (and former ProServeIT president) David Reimer.
Buren says that, looking back on his own career, the moments that helped him move forward always involved exceptional people keen on sharing lessons they had learned with him.
“I know I’ve leveraged a lot of my own relationships,” he says. “I always give thanks to those individuals who have made a difference in my life, and that’s one reason I’m always happy to give back to others.”
LinkedIn for mentors
An individual visiting the NBT website (below) has two broad options: Aspiring mentees are invited to submit a profile adding them to the site’s database, while the professionals Buren hopes to enlist as mentors are clearly its homepage’s target audience.
Potential mentors are invited to select the type of guidance they would like to provide individuals seeking a mentor, non-profits seeking volunteers, or startups seeking a consultant, and then search the mentee database by location.
“Let’s say a non-profit needs marketing help for 20 hours, it’s a cause that is meaningful to you, and you know you can snare 20 hours over the next few months,” Buren says. “It makes it easy for you to give back that way.”
Buren has approached building his new venture as if it were a startup, contacting universities, speaking with his own mentors, seeking input from other mentees, and conducting research on how to build a strong mentoring community over the past two years.
“No one’s really cracked the model that I think has potential to thrive,” he says. “There are a lot of successful mentoring programs, but they’re cut for folks like lawyers or accountants, or they’re based on geography or university. And my thought was, ‘wouldn’t it be powerful to have a national mentoring community?'”
Since creating a platform isn’t enough, Buren has been visiting universities across the country as well, letting them know his new service exists.
“I’ve been speaking to five universities,” he says, “telling them I want to go beyond the usual cup of coffee and create meaningful mentoring relationships. So look forward to kicking off the new school year with some of them as partners.”
Buren says he plans on reaching out to enterprises as well, likely through networking firms such as venture capital funds, industry organizations, professional training programs, noting that he’s starting with universities because some of them are capable of reaching more than 100,000 alumni with a single email.
“Any new venture begins with a broad strategy of reaching out and leveraging networks,” he says. “It’s a process. But I do hope to build a community, to the point where I’m eventually planning events that bring local groups of mentors together to have a cup of coffee and to share what they’re doing.”
He’s even developing a second version of the website, which partner universities or enterprises could use as a branded platform where members, students, or employees could register for mentorship.
“This isn’t a for profit venture I’m just trying to build and flip,” he says. “I’m trying to make a difference in Canada and I know that that takes time. I’m also keeping the overhead low so that it’s not an ultimatum of sorts – the plan is to build this meaningfully and thoughtfully and take input from a lot of people to make it better.”
Buren’s appearance in ITBusiness.ca is also part of his efforts to redefine how Canadian professionals find mentors and mentees, as we’re pleased to welcome him to the ITWC family as a blogger who will discuss topics such as how mentors and mentees can help each other, and why. Look for his first post next month.