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Meet the grad bringing mentorship to the arts

Mentorly co-founder Katherine Macnaughton connects creative and business worlds
April 1, 2021
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By Alexander Huls

lisa_macnaughton_landscp_1920 Katherine Macnaughton, BA 07, with Mentorly co-founder Ashley Werhun. | Photo: Pawel Pogorzelski

When she was young, Katherine Macnaughton, BA 07, wouldn’t have likely guessed she would one day run a startup like Mentorly. And the platform, which connects creatives with mentors, has proven to be a happy blend of her lifelong love of art and entrepreneurship.

In her youth, Macnaughton quickly fell in love with creative pursuits such as drawing, classical guitar and especially film. She dabbled in making her own and imagined herself as a future director with the clear vision of someone like Hitchcock.

Following high school, she joined the Department of Communication Studies at Concordia. There she found a tribe of like-minded artists, and Macnaughton’s creativity bloomed on her way to graduating with honours. “It was a revelation,” she says. “It helped me come into my own and feel confident in my skills as a young communicator and filmmaker.”

lisa_macnaughton_portrait “I couldn’t be more proud of the bridge between both worlds that I’ve created," says Macnaughton. | Photo: Martin Reisch

After graduating, Macnaughton co-founded and ran Bis Films, a production company with a focus on creative corporate films, commercials and music videos for an array of clients. After eight years, she wanted new professional challenges and the company was dissolved. But when she started applying for jobs at production companies, she never heard back. Discouraged, she longed for a mentor who could help her with her career.

Then she met Ashley Werhun, a professional ballet dancer. They connected over their opposing experiences with mentorship and how inaccessible it can feel for creatives. Werhun shared that she received messages from aspiring ballet dancers all the time, but didn’t have an easy way to virtually mentor them. That sparked something Macnaughton had been thinking throughout her career. “I always had this idea of starting a collaborative physical space for creatives like me,” she says. Here was a chance to create a virtual space instead — Mentorly was born.

“Mentorship was something that was severely lacking in the arts,” Macnaughton says she and Werhun realized, so they interviewed every artist they knew to determine how to make Mentorly as useful as possible. “We took that information and used it to build our Marketplace,” she says, which connects mentors and mentees for consultation sessions.

‘The solution for digital mentorship’

Creating a startup business — which she mostly worked on solo for the first two years — wasn't easy. She formed her vision and worked with those who could realize it with her. “Our sessions began and the feedback was incredible,” she says. Mentorly wasn’t just connecting creatives across cities and countries, it was resulting in users starting new business, pulling out of downward spirals and feeling their careers reinvigorated.

Now, in its sixth year, Mentorly has expanded to 10 full-time employees, five subcontractors, and is still hiring. It’s also scaled its business with Mentorly Enterprise, a popular cloud-based membership solution that schools, organizations or companies can acquire to help power internal mentorship programs. “Our goal is to become the household name for digital mentorship,” Macnaughton says. With coverage in Forbes, 457 per cent growth during the pandemic and Enterprise flying off the shelf, achieving that goal may not be far off.

As demanding as running a startup can be, Macnaughton hasn’t lost the ability to pursue her creativity. “I still have my hand in the cookie jar,” she says. “I still make our promotional videos. I still direct the videos that we outsource. I still write the scripts.”

In that way, she’s succeeded in not only nurturing others’ creativity, but her own — all while running a successful business. “I feel like I'm soaring in my role,” she says. “I couldn’t be more proud of the bridge between both worlds that I’ve created.”



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