Peer-Education Hub for South-East Europe

(Salim Virani) #1

#The Opportunity
A Peer-To-Peer (P2P) education hub creates a bigger, higher-quality startup pipeline and supports non-high-growth startups based on local tech strengths. It uses both tried-and-tested, and some of the most innovative education formats to create and enable technology companies from idea to growth stages.

We are considering hosting this in the UK, Netherlands or in SE Europe. This overview focuses on SE Europe.

#Common Goal - How will it make a difference?

This will give support on a meritocratic basis, to as many tech startups that warrant support, not just the ones who are selected for specific programmes. It will do this by leading with local strengths, like B2B products and tech service firms, creating the host city (Sofia, Belgrade or Bucharest?) as the known capital in these areas.

#Organisational Goals:
Start It Smart wants to cement its position as a foundational startup support organisation, and establish ongoing programmes and a sustainable business model.

LAUNCHub and Eleven are moving into later-stage investment and support, and need an early-stage pipeline.

Accelerators are opening in Romania and Serbia. This will provide a leg-up towards higher-tier and more responsive, relevant support. It’ll also give the accelerators access to an instant mentoring network that’s run with state-of-the-art techniques.

Montenegro and Macedonian startup communities will have an quivalent level of startup support and education as accelerators. Their geographically diverse (and isolated) startups will be actively included through the online aspects of the community.

EIF is investing to see sustainable startup support as their legacy.

MoveBG is interested in gathering data and insight on what are some innovative SMEs and what are their problems in order to drive strategic support in the industry. Similar to how the Erasmus consortium would benefit from using P2P summits for rapidly evolving it’s curriculum.

Source Institute wants to progress startup support to be broader and farther reaching than through the standard accelerator model. We want to progress with lessons learned from the first phase of the accelerator industry.

Peer -to-peer (P2P) education is the focus of Source Institute. We’re invested in developing P2P from a small set of tested methods to a broad toollkit creating impact worldwide.

To do this, we invest in R&D and demonstrate value with proofs-of-concept. We’d like to support, or lead, an physical space that facilitates this. This space will become the global leader in P2P. In the same way that Lean Startup took hold in San Francisco and London first, we expect similar benefits to accrue to the host city of the P2P Hub.

Strategic Relevance

As Sofia’s startup community matures and specialises, early-stage support needs to scale and diversify to keep up. Early-stage pipeline needs to widen. Accelerators have provided investment, education and community support so far. By tackling early-stage support and education (at a scale not limited by selecting startups for investment), the P2P Hub offers the flexibility, responsiveness and scalability that’s required for the regions’s startup community to grow to the next level. It allows us to education and support more early-stage tech businesses, regardless of if they’re seeking investment at the moment. This develops a larger and more diverse pipeline.


Budget: 50,000 - 450,000 EUR over 3 years, depending on partners’ in-kind contributions

Timeline: 3 years

People needed:
Managing Director
3 X Programme Designer (p/t)
UX Lab Director (p/t)
Product Innovation Lab Director (p/t)
Experiment Lab Director (p/t)
Events Manager
Marketing Manager
Office Manager
Video Editor (p/t)
Visual Designer (pt)

Resources needed:
Multi-classroom space.
Larger event space.
Computer Lab
UX Lab


  • +10 Super-Seed or Post-Seed investments per year
  • +200 knowledge worker positions created per year
  • 10 startup seed investments per year
  • +1 agency into international expansion per year
  • 3 e-books per year
  • 100 online lessons per year


The P2P Hub will provide many functions of accelerators, but at a larger scale:

  • Startup education
  • Mentoring
  • Creating focal points for the international startup community in Sofia
  • Creating gathering points for the local technology community in Sofia
  • Providing a forum to express and address issues in the startup and technology industry

It will do so through ongoing peer-to-peer events, both large and small scale:

  1. Unconferences address the most relevant, practical challenges faced by various local disciplines and industries. Each enables these communities to teach each other and bubble up unspotted leaders in the topics that truly matter. These summits will run quarterly, attracting the most active and viable startups in the region.
  2. Online Education built from interviews of successful local founders and role models. Entreprenurs get the most relevant advice as they need it, delivered via a platform the reinforces Sofia’s strengths.
  3. Content, such as e-books, written from local experiences and role models.
  4. Experiential Workshops convey with why through simulations, spreading attitude shift from Sofia and Europe’s leading personalities, then layer on the how, the most relevant practical skills. These workshops will be designed by Source and delivered by Source and Start IT Smart.
  5. Peer-support programmes, like mentoring, peer-advisory, office hours, meetups.

(Bart Doorneweert) #3

Experiential workshops are hugely important to support fledgling entrepreneurs. What I’ve witnessed in Wageningen is that students will try out different courses, just to try to get a hang of things. They will even try the same kind of workshop multiple times.

This may sound redundant, but I think it makes sense at a systems level. I’ve seen students with really unactionable thoughts and ideas, repetitively showing up at workshops with that same idea, and then at a certain point pivot to something really worthwhile because the got it, or just give up, because they’re realise they’re not progressing.

I think that if you’re too linear in the sequencing of workshops, then there’s a risk of people sticking to their misguided idea for too long, and you’re ineffectively expending resources. Alternatively, if you give them room to bounce around a bit in the beginning, letting them taste and sample different experiences, then you have a better chance to select people that are set to move to later stage.

It’s like a fuzzy filter on the system for qualifying entrepreneurs, without excluding people upfront, who don’t know what it’s all about yet.

(Aleksandar Tasev) #6

We’ve tested a few high-impact approaches for SEE, trying to maximise geographic, eco-system and sectoral value creation. The p2p angle totally makes sense, but in some communities an initial stage is required, where we need to introduce a lot of know-how. Nevertheless, I can see how a large chunk of the above curriculum, and especially it’s goals fits into our regional curriculum model.

We should meet and discuss if you’d like to compare notes and potentially scale up an exciting vision fast and big. I’d also like to involve Suresh and Bob in the conversation.

(Salim Virani) #7

Hey Aleks!

We’ve done a lot at an early stage level, particularly university and accelerator curriculum. I’d like to share where I see this going, and what the Hub could build on.

Even in the case where you’re introducing know-how at an early stage, there are cases where p2p shines.

For example, when you bring in a successful startup investor, say at a conference, their impact usually isn’t sustained. Why? Well, they’re usually brought in as speakers. They attract a crowd, say their thing, everyone nods and agrees, and when they’re gone, everyone returns to their same ways. It’s worth doing this to raise awareness and build hype and energy around startup investing, but this still doesn’t address the long-game.

We can look at the same early stage with p2p in mind. You have an investor club, but none of them really get startup investing. They’re local, they’ve made their money in real estate or software development agencies. Still, you create the space for them to meet and advise each other. Some share their last trip to London, others talk about the latest Index or 500 Startups investment. Now you bring in the big external investor. There’s a difference. They have more meaninful conversations, they have clearer questions and clearer next steps. They learn more. Not just that, but that foreign investor is more likely to stay in touch. They see their value and they see the benefit in building this relationship.

We’ve seen the same phenominon with Leancamp. Leancamps run in early-stage places tend to have very early-stage topics, and more questions than answers. But a small outside injection, just one foreign founder, and there’s huge value injected in. You can return 3 months later and see that a small community has formed and is taking action. That core might be small, but it’s solid and it’s growing.

Another thing that’s not so obvious about Leancamp is that, as a p2p forum, it exposes future leaders that are usually as-yet unspotted. It shines a light on new talent. We then, by design, invite those early risers to speak at other Leancamps. This spreads their knowledge and builds their reputation. Rob Fitzpatrick and Andreas Klinger are good examples of this, looking back years later, but I can name names of newbies I’ve spotted in 2016.

There’s something else we really want to develop with this P2P Hub - experiential workshops. We’ve found you can actually strip away the methodology and focus on surrogate experiences. The Marshmallow Challenge teaches people to put the marshmallow on the tower soon, and to have customer contact soon. That kind of thing. The great thing about these workshops is that once you’ve been through one, you can run one. That kind of experiential knowledge spreads, especially in geographies like the Balkans. And it spreads without needing an experienced founder at the front of a classroom.

I’d love to hear about your curriculum and how it’s going. Let’s talk. Give me a call on Whatsapp this week?

(Aleksandar Tasev) #8

I totally dig it. I’m concerned how we can spread a solid learning curriculum rapidly over the broader SEE region, which is what we’ve been testing over the past few years. The p2p learning and the Leancamp model are coming together at the perfect timing with the training/company building platform or network we are building for SEE with Bob and Suresh.

(Robbert van Geldrop) #9

I think we can also run one in the Netherlands. I’ve seen quite some interest from individuals, Leon Pals, Barry O’Reilly to make this happen. They were talking about ‘running an accelerator’ initially, but I pointed them to the issue of pipeline. Leon suggested for mentors to fund it and make them fund it in small increments, month-over-month or quarter-over-quarter. I like that idea.

@Salim What’s the starting point for this?

Mentor-funded startups
(Lino Velev) #10

@rvangeldrop I really like the idea of the incremental funding by mentors! I’ve seen such a pull a couple of times from people who typically fit in the category of executives or consultants who’re not necessarily HNWI or angels, but have good regular income and would like to contribute a chunk of it to support ventures where they can contribute with their expertise.

I think this could be well suited not only to VC fundable businesses, but to good local opportunities which seams to be an underserved venture building case and is consistent with the risk profile of some of these people.
@salim’s also been suggesting that this would be a more impactful way to invest in Africa than traditional VC and there are already a few conversations around that under the Source Ventures topic which I don’t think we’ve covered on discourse much so far, but I’m very much in support of us working in that direction.

About the peer education hub the idea here was more wide in terms of pushing p2p and unconferences in a wide way when it comes to education. Imagine a team of 3-5 full time people having a space like described above and running 3-4-5 Lean Camp size unconfs a week for all kinds of cross domain subjects. (i.e. ambulance drivers/tech people/people from the institutions tackling the city infrastructure for emergency services) It would cover a full spectrum of cross domain problems, possibly led by startup communities where those formats are more popular. There’s a lot of overlap with an investment case, but I’m not sure if it would be fully aligned and for it to achieve it’s goals of pushing the boundaries of p2p education it has to have it’s sustainability elsewhere. @rvangeldrop do you agree?

With Sal we started a couple of conversations in Sofia with the partners mentioned in the first post (incl. Sofia Tech Park, some co-working spaces and gov ppl that work in that area), but I expect things to happen slow and for it to be not sustainable on say ticket sales to begin with, because at least here it’s not so easy for people to understand what p2p is and they are slow to get engaged so a significant effort is needed. The idea here was that if we can find a way to fund this for at least a year it will start creating a lot of value and people from different groups will start to pull for events that would cover a problem they have. Similar to the development of Lean Camps and the impact it had in London.

Mentor-funded startups
(Robbert van Geldrop) #11

In the long run, yes. If the output turns out to be valuable, more people will buy into it from all sorts of communities. Now we need a starting point. In NL it can be pre-acceleration of founders. One of my ideas was to make them self-select based on their ability to learn and gain traction and put them into an accelerator only then.

Mentor-funded startups
(Salim Virani) #12

The central purpose of the p2p hub is a place to develop educational formats and spin them out. An R&D flywheel for Source to develop new techniques.

As we’re seeing the accelerator industry unbundle, a lot those component parts, like mentoring, small funding syndicates, etc, will be areas we can and should try to improve with p2p techniques, and that is part of what the hub can achieve, but it’s also a platform for broader things.

@rvangeldrop I like your post-accelerator project as a way to frame the starting point. Keeps it actionable. Let’s elaborate on that in a different thread.

(Vladimir Tsvetkov) #13

I wanted to share few ideas, I think are relevant to the organisation of the physical space for the Peer-Education Hub.

Gradual Stiffening

That’s an idea from Christopher Alexander - the famous architect. That’s a pattern listed in the A Pattern Language book.

Why does the principle of gradual stiffening seem so sensible as a process of building?
To begin with, such a structure allows the actual building process to be a creative act. It allows the building to be built up gradually. Members can be moved around before they are firmly in place. All those detailed design decisions which can never be worked out in advance on paper, can be made during the building process. And it allows you to see the space in three dimensions as a whole, each step of the way, as more material is added…

(italics are mine)

Liquid Networks

That’s a concept I read about in Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From?

At the end of the Liquid Network chapters the author has been elaborating on the importance of spaces where people exchange ideas and where the so called information spillover happens.

Most offices have a natural tendency to disrupt liquid networks of information by stiffing and cementing to an original idea of functional belonging making it too bureaucratic or expensive to adapt the place when new ideas create new purposes for the space. Now architects and interior designers are learning how to build work environments that facilitate liquid networks in more permanent structures.

Ideally, the space would be modular, with moving walls that can be easily reconfigured to match emerging needs. Most walls would be write-on/wipe-off. All built on the cheap with temporary, inexpensive feel.

(Salim Virani) #14

I see it the same way. I learned a lot from this research