Great Mentors Are Essential For Success, But How Do You Find Them?

Today, professionals are told every day how important it is for their careers to have both mentors and sponsors – trusted advisers in their corner who can guide, support, offer critical feedback, and open doors to exciting new opportunities.

But truthfully speaking, it’s easier said than done. I regularly hear from professionals asking, “Kathy, I understand I need a mentor, but I just can’t find one. All my efforts seem to fail me. What do I need to do differently to find – and land – a helpful mentor?”

The challenge for many is that they are not connected deeply or widely enough to great networks that include people who are willing and able to provide high-quality mentorship. In short, not everyone is cut out to be a great mentor, and many professionals today are so beleaguered with handling what’s on their plates that they are not open to serving in as a mentor.

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What to do then? One critical solution involves having access to a top-level web platform where professionals in a vast array of organizations and industries who wish to share their guidance and experience are matched with committed individuals at their company who are hungry and grateful for support and feedback.

Ravi Gundlapalli has launched such a platform and it’s called MentorCloud.

Ravi is a supply chain B2B expert based in Silicon Valley, and led the design and implementation of supply chain solutions for Boeing 787 Dreamliner. He has been an invited speaker at the U.S. State Department and the World Demographic and Ageing Forum and contributor in a World Bank/Kauffman publication for Angel Investor Groups for his vision to build a global mentoring network for professionals and entrepreneurs. As Ravi describes it, MentorCloud is a “global cloud-based mentoring platform that enables members within an organization to collaborate and support one another to achieve their personal, academic, and professional aspirations. Members can easily connect as subject-matter experts, mentors, mentees, and peers, around specific goals and areas of mutual interest.”

I was excited to catch up with Ravi and hear more about this intriguing idea and platform, and why it’s different from other platforms available today.

Kathy Caprino: Ravi, what compelled you to create MentorCloud?

Ravi Gundlapalli: With hundreds of millions of highly experienced professionals due to retire over the next decade (70M in the U.S. alone), organizations are on the verge of losing an immense amount of “tribal knowledge.” It is unrealistic for organizations to expect their seasoned employees to download all of their knowledge and expertise into a book or report to be used for future reference. Instead, organizations need a way to connect their seasoned employees with aspiring individuals to facilitate the transfer of knowledge in the most organic and effective way possible.

My team and I at MentorCloud are striving to do just that. MentorCloud is the first online platform designed to bring together sharers and learners, mentors and mentees, no matter where they are in the world.

Caprino: How did this idea emerge for you?

Gundlapalli: “Mentoring Beyond Borders” was the name I gave in 2009 to this vision of building a global mentorship platform. I wanted to do something big and extraordinary that would help people achieve their life goals by connecting with quality mentors.

I had already experienced first-hand the power of a successful mentor/mentee relationship. In 2008, I attended the “Igniting the Genius Within” conference, held at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, India. After delivering the keynote, I was intrigued by one of the students who stood up to share his thoughts on youth leadership.

Srikanth Bolla, a high school student at the time, spoke of an audacious goal to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the top technology institutes in the world. Despite being visually challenged himself, Bolla aspired to succeed in obtaining the best education, become an entrepreneur, and ultimately help the youth of India, particularly those with disabilities, find accessible education and employment.

Inspired by Bolla’s passion and confidence, I took him on as a mentee. Through the process of our mentoring relationship (and aid of my network), Bolla was able to achieve his life goal. He graduated from MIT and has since founded two successful companies, Samanvai and Aasadeep, both working to better the lives of people with disabilities in India.

My experience mentoring Bolla and watching him grow and succeed gave me a sense of satisfaction I have never felt before in my career. I realized that this sort of opportunity should not be left to chance encounters like the one that brought us together. I believed that millions of people have Bolla’s same sort of potential, but lacked the resources and guidance needed to succeed.

That’s when I first began entertaining the idea of building a global mentorship platform. But it wasn’t until February 2009, when a plane I was on nearly collided with a helicopter during a flight from Mumbai to Delhi that I began to feel a real sense of urgency to fulfill this critical purpose for me.

Caprino: What does MentorCloud do that other mentoring organizations or online platforms don’t?

Gundlapalli: MentorCloud transcends organizational and geographical boundaries to facilitate the convergence of experiential knowledge and expertise with aspiration.

MentorCloud supports the belief that mentoring has the power to change people’s lives in five significant ways:

1. Transferring the advantage of hindsight. We all know that hindsight is 20-20. With mentoring, another individual’s hindsight becomes your 20-20, helping you make the right decisions and avoid costly mistakes.

2. Setting expectations. Good mentors serve as “forward-view mirrors” by giving you a perspective on what to expect ahead.

3. Providing clarity. A mentor can help you identify what core strengths and weaknesses you possess that you may not have seen on your own.

4. Sharing networks. By opening their networks to you, mentors provide you with the conduit you need to build lasting connections that will accelerate your growth and success.

5. Recognizing potential. Just like my encounter with Bolla, a knowledgeable and caring mentor can be the one thing that transforms a spark of potential into a great success story.

Organizations are more global than ever before, and experts and learners need to be more tightly connected across divisions if the organization wants to increase productivity and innovation and remain competitive.

It’s not enough to recruit good talent, a process that many organizations have mastered. In order to be successful, organizations need to address the issues of employee retention and engagement. When employees learn and grow, they tend to stay. When they feel stagnated, they tend to disengage or look for other opportunities.

By offering a strong mentoring framework, MentorCloud fosters learning and development, which in turn improves productivity, engagement and retention. Organizations that are serious about attracting and developing top talent should look at MentorCloud as a way to organically build a strong talent pipeline and brand by enabling their employees to guide and inspire future workers.

The benefits extend far beyond the organization itself; employees who participate will realize significant rewards as well. Unlike traditional mentoring platforms, MentorCloud creates a social community of sharers (mentors/experts) and learners (mentees), where the sharer and learner both benefit. Sharers get recognized as knowledge-hubs and highly valued employees; learners get recognized as engaged employees and rising stars. Mentoring interactions are enriched with curated content that helps mentees learn and achieve their goals faster. With MentorCloud,the overall culture of the organization becomes one that fosters teaching and learning, sharing and growing.

Finally, platforms like LinkedIn are a great place to learn more about people and receive advice from mentors through discussion forums, but the interchange is not confidential. The advice is also not specific to the individual user, which is a drawback for many to build trusted meaningful relationships with their mentors.

Caprino: So how does it work exactly, and how does that help the typical professional wanting mentorship?

Gundlapalli: MentorCloud is private-labeled to a particular organization so members, whether they are employees at a company or entrepreneurs/mentors at an accelerator, or alumni/students of an academic institution, need to be invited to their respective private networks. Users can import their LinkedIn profiles and express their preferences for sharing and learning. They can search for suitable mentors/mentees and the platform also has a recommendation engine. All interactions are online and private, and integrated to users’ email so it becomes effective and easy for both mentors and mentees to keep in touch.

Users can also share insights and tap into the collective wisdom of their community. Roundtables allow experts to share their wisdom with multiple people at the same time (group mentoring).

The platform provides rich analytics and dynamic reports for organizations to easily identify knowledge-hubs and rising stars in their organization for leadership planning and talent mobility.

Caprino: What’s next for MentorCloud, and what excites you most about the next chapter?

Gundlapalli: We are truly humbled by the momentum and interest we are seeing from all over the world, and the people who are rallying behind MentorCloud. We are excited to launch a new version of our platform in a few weeks. I am reminded of a quote from the former President of India Dr. Abdul Kalam which I paraphrase – Dreams are not what you see when you are asleep. Dreams are what keep you awake. I stay awake thinking about what else we can do to quickly help 100 million people achieve their fullest potential.

AGNI Energy Claims Nuclear Fusion Isn’t As Far Away As You Think

On Feb. 22, 2016, Bill Gates said, an ‘energy miracle is coming and it is going to change the world.’

He was talking about nuclear energy.

Gates formed a nuclear engineering company a few years back, in Bellevue, Washington, to design and build a game-changing reactor that can burn old reactor fuel, and get ten times the energy from it, without making waste that is hot for thousands of years. Gates recently partnered with the China National Nuclear Corporation to get it off the ground.

But Demitri Hopkins has taken this idea to another level. Co-Founder of AGNI Energy Inc., a startup company out of Olympia, Washington, the 25-year-old Hopkins is something of a physics and mathematical savant. He won the International Science Fair in high school and was invited to meet President Obama. At that time, Hopkins recognized global warming as an existential threat having no practical solution.

The AGNI reactor is unique, shooting a beam of fusing atoms onto a solid target, solving several... [+] physics problems and generating energy without generating a lot of neutrons.

AGNI

So he set out to create one, originally enlisting the help of engineer Eric Thomas. Graduate students Aidan Klemmer and Neil Leonard joined Hopkins a year ago to form AGNI Energy. Their reactor design combines the stability of magnetic containment with beam to target inertial fusion.

AGNI is in good company in Washington State. The Pacific Northwest seems to be a magnet for innovative and traditional nuclear power. Gates’ TerraPower is only an hour drive from AGNI.

Energy Northwest, in Richland, Washington, has been the most reliable generator of electricity in the Pacific Northwest for decades, with nuclear, hydro, wind and solar generating well over 9 billion kWhs each year, and has the best safety record of any business within a thousand miles.

NuScale Power in Corvallis, Oregon, is on track to build the first small modular nuclear reactor in America faster than expectedGeneral Fusion, based in British Columbia, is not far away either, and recently fired-up the world’s largest and most powerful plasma injector at its facilities in Vancouver, ten times more powerful than its predecessor.

Helion Energy in Redmond Washington is also pursuing fusion technology and is focused on developing small scale, efficient and near-term units. And CTFusion in Seattle is developing a fusion reactor as well, using a process called imposed-dynamo current drive, spinning off from the University of Washington’s Aerospace Department.

Columbia Basin Consulting Group in Kennewick, Washington, is developing a Lead-Bismuth fast reactor that gets ten times the energy out of the same amount of uranium and has a much easier waste stream to deal with.

And Premier Technology, a manufacturer for the nuclear industry, just broke ground on an expansion of its facilities in Blackfoot, Idaho.

In addition, Oregon State University and Washington State University have two of the few research reactors in the country.

Not to mention the big Department of Energy sites and national laboratories at Hanford and Idaho Falls, including Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory.

All of this and more was covered in animated discussions this week at the American Nuclear Society‘s annual meeting in Philadelphia.

A successful AGNI commercial fusion reactor would certainly change things. Fusion is the process of building up simple atoms into larger more complex ones. This process occurs every day in the sun and every other star. Fusion is the opposite of fission, which is the process of breaking down atoms. Both release energy under the right conditions. For fission, the bigger the atom, the more energy is released. For fusion, the opposite is true – the smaller the atoms used, the more energy that is released.

For this reason, most efforts towards fusion concentrate on hydrogen fusion, the smallest of atoms, to release the most energy. There are many ways to get there, some include:

– inertial confinement fusion aims to compress hot ions (plasma), heating them to conditions where fusion reactions are more likely. Specific approaches  include – laser fusion, beam fusion, fast ignition, and magnetized target fusion.

– magnetic confinement fusion aims to contain a hot plasma in a device with immensely strong magnetic fields. Specific approaches include – tokamakstellaratorz pinch, and reversed field pinch.

Each method has their hurdles.

– inertial confinement struggles with efficiency of reactions for the energy put in as the laser or ion beam require huge amounts of energy to be generated.

– magnetic confinement struggles with controlling and containing the plasma and keeping it stable long enough to sustain fusion.

AGNI Energy borrows elements from each of these fusion methods for use in their device. AGNI focuses a beam of ions, which is half of the fuel, onto a solid target which is the other half of the fuel.

The AGNI fusion reactor uses both electric fields and magnetic fields, giving the nuclei a very... [+] short flight time before they hit the solid target, so the nuclei don’t need to be controlled very long before the fusion occurs.

AGNI

To focus and control the beam in a way that is scalable, this reactor uses both electric fields and magnetic fields. Unlike the typical magnetic confinement, these ions have a very short flight time before they hit the target, so the ions don’t need to be controlled very long before the fusion occurs.

Rather than just squeezing the plasma, which is like grabbing smoke with your hands, they just fire it straight at the target, using some interesting quirks of physics to boost its energy on the way there. With this approach, AGNI may overcome the hurdles and eventually reach breakeven fusion.

Hopkins and Thomas’ design was originally based on an inertial design of nozzle fusion, but altered to replace the negative electrode with a solid state fuel target. Magnetic ring confinement increases particle energy and density at the target. This process was originally tested with heavy-water ice in a small inertial design, and ran for about 10 minutes.

The AGNI reactor uses several types of fusion fuel in order to take advantage of different energies and the fusion-ion heating of aneutronic fusion, in which neutrons carry only about 1% of the total released energy, as opposed to 80% in traditional fusion reactions. Successful aneutronic fusion would greatly reduce problems associated with high neutron radiation such as ionizing damage, neutron activation and requirements for biological shielding and safety. The amount of waste is also greatly reduced even for fusion.

In this reactor, the ion beam contains a mixture of deuterium and helium-3, deuterium being the dominant component of the beam. The target plate contains Lithium-6, Tritium, and Boron-11. Because of pre-target fusion, there are more final products interacting with the target plate then Deuterium and Helium-3. Of note, Deuterium—Helium-3 fusion produces protons that can then fuse with the Boron-11 to produce three Helium-4 ions (see figure).

This fusion approach uses a series of five rings, capable of varying the degrees of freedom involving the electrostatic source diameter, the Z-axis position of each ring, and variable output of magnetic intensity and electrostatic intensity. The method of containment is focused around shaping beam dynamics towards convergence at the target plate, with the intent of the plasma generating a strong internal magnetic field as seen in kink oscillations to increase the likelihood of surpassing the coulomb barrier in the target plate materials, necessary to fuse.

The aneutronic fusion heats the ion beam towards critical temperatures, and the end product produces high energy neutrons that can be used in standard nuclear technologies for harnessing energy from neutrons. This was designed both for the higher level of energy output and the stability of energy harnessing from a steam turbine, avoiding the possibility of micro-instabilities causing issues on a commercial power grid.

We’ve always been told that fusion energy is 30 years away. But after some small tests of this system, Hopkins quickly realized it’s not 30 years away any more.