Why mentorship matters

Leslie Vander Baan, Andrew Tucker and Dan Comisar
Leslie Vander Baan, Andrew Tucker and Dan Comisar

Leslie Vander Baan has been there.

She’s built and exited two businesses. She’s bootstrapped and raised money. She’s struggled and succeeded. And she wants to put all the lessons she’s learned in the process to good use.

“When you’re starting out, you may not have a board or a group of strategic advisors, and yet you have questions. Where do you go to get those answered? What attracted me to the Innovate Charlotte (INCLT) mentorship program is that we are providing that resource for founders,” Vander Baan said. “I knew from my experience as a founder that having a group of strategic advisors was a need, and it was a need I was looking to solve.”

Vander Baan is an INCLT mentor, one of many local leaders who have chosen to give their time and expertise to entrepreneurs building businesses in the Queen City. They aren’t all entrepreneurs. Some are subject-matter experts in law or finance. Others have lengthy track records with large local organizations. But they all share a desire to support founders looking to build new businesses right here in Charlotte.

That pool of mentors has grown significantly since INCLT launched the Venture Mentoring Service more than a year ago — not just in number but in diversity, said Keith Luedeman, INCLT’s interim executive director.

“Over the past 18 months, we’ve created more structure for our mentors and offered more training, which has opened the door to many more leaders who may not realize the value they can provide to local founders,” Luedeman said. “We also want to let people know there’s no right time to get involved. We’re constantly interviewing new mentors and founders for the program, so if you’re thinking about it, don’t wait, reach out to learn how you fit in.”

Diversity and structure

Vander Baan joined the program at a time when she was looking to give back.

She spent time meeting with various founders and investors in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, but when she found out about the mentoring program through INCLT, she liked the infrastructure the program provided, as well as the diversity of people involved.

“It allows me to volunteer and make an impact in a meaningful way, with clear guidelines to ensure all benefit from the commitment.” Vander Baan explained. “You’ve got people from diverse backgrounds with depths of experience who can lend input, and they’re doing it because they recognize the value that it would have been to themselves and are interested in paying it forward.” 

Vander Baan has been working closely with Carol Waggener, the founder of Bold Missy Brewery, as part of the program. Together with a few other mentors, Vander Baan has been helping Waggener develop the business in a manner that would be attractive to investors. They’re also working on employee development, strategic partnerships, product expansion and sales enablement, so Waggener can continue building her business.

“I understand what she’s going through, and I care about seeing her succeed because not only is it good for her, it’s good for her employees, and it’s good for our community,” Vander Baan said. “The fulfillment I get from knowing I’m pinch-hitting for someone that needs it means a lot, because I’ve been in the trenches and this is the type of support I would have wanted to have.” 


Dan Comisar spent more than 25 years working in HR roles with big financial companies, from AIG to Lehman Brothers, Wells Fargo Securities to Bank of America. About four years ago, Comisar decided to use that experience to give back, first as a mentor with Queen City Fintech and now as part of the INCLT Venture Mentoring Service.

“I got to the point in my career where I really got excited about helping younger companies grow and build their strategy,” Comisar said.

Much of that work has been focused on the fintech space, given his past experience in large financial institutions, but INCLT offered him the chance to diversify his impact.

“I think about INCLT as a component of the overall picture in our community, but an important one. It’s got a much broader charter than QC Fintech or CLT Joules. That’s attractive to a broader group of founders, which I think is good,” Comisar said. 

The program also allows him to focus on the founder above all else.

“That’s something different about INCLT: It’s totally founder-centric,” Comisar explained. “A lot of accelerator programs or incubators are mostly focused on growth. This is more of what I think about as pure mentorship. You’re really there to support the founders, and as long as they’re committed, they generally get a lot out of it.”

 Relationship building

Andrew Tucker is the founder of an independent consulting firm, AETucker Consulting, that provides outsourced CFO services to companies. His business revolves around helping companies manage their finances so they can grow, but typically, his work is limited to companies that are at least five years old. 

When he learned about INCLT’s Venture Mentoring Service, he saw in it the possibility to help companies at earlier stages — and to get exposed to a world of new ideas.

“As part of the program, I’m getting to see all these people with all these different ideas and getting to understand what’s really happening in Charlotte, other than the humongous companies out there,” Tucker said. “At the end of the day, they’re not the ones who create jobs. It’s the small to midsized, privately held companies that create jobs.” 

In its pilot year, INCLT only accepted a set number of mentors, so by the time Tucker applied, the program was at capacity. But he kept in touch with Jack Heil, one of the first INCLT mentors, who continued to tout the program, its impact and the relationships he had built as a result. He encouraged Tucker to get involved, so Tucker did.

Now, Tucker is working with Advent Coworking and Step In Sock, which makes hands-free shoe covers. At the same time, he’s strengthening his own network as he builds relationships with other mentors.

All it costs is a small commitment of time.

“It’s a great opportunity for people who are willing to share their knowledge, want to share their knowledge and can actually provide some good quality feedback to help them with whatever hurdles they may have,” Tucker said.

It’s all part of a broader effort to build Charlotte’s entrepreneurial ecosystem — and we are grateful to RMCSoft for sponsoring our communications and helping us tell the story of our impact to the community at large.

Interested in becoming an INCLT mentor? We are accepting applications now. Check this section for more information and to apply today. 

Are you a founder looking for mentorship? We can help. Click here for more information about how to get involved.