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How Source builds communities

It’s hard to engineer the happening of a community. It’s more like a process of bringing together the right compounds at the right moment in time, and experimenting with different combinations to invoke or catalyse a reaction. Much more like chemistry actually, than engineering.

In this brief we’ll outline some of the compounds we have available through Source Institute to create that community chemistry. We’ll explain this, starting from a higher-order perspective on the startup ecosystem, and move down to the lower order facets of entrepreneurship communities, teams, people, and skills.

So, starting at the highest level, it’s important to come to grasps with the global overview of the landscape in which we want to build a community. We need to understand what founders are out there, already working on projects relevant to the community. How did they do it? Where did they succeed? Where do they typically get stuck on? What can they teach others? The Sources is an online education platform for founders in Africa, and is an example of one of the forms of getting these insights out there.

This scan of the current system is vitally important. It flushes up the signposts that need to be placed for acceleration. Our philosophy at Source is to design systems of acceleration around removing barriers at relevant times, and providing for relevant connections, whether it’s through knowledge or people. Our accelerator design guide shows more about how we approach this.

#Local strengths
The most important thing to understand about a local ecosystem is what the local strengths are. We can’t model everything on what works for Silicon Valley, we need to find our own approach, and work with measures of success that fit to our specific goals.

Part of finding local strengths comes from understanding the experience of founders, as is done in mapping the ecosystem. But another part is to find what kind of support other companies and organisations can give, which are relevant to founders. For instance in our work for Unilever Foundry, we designed support input for founders, based on the marketing strengths that are available within the Unilever company.

Lastly, there is the aspect of connecting and exchanging strengths between various communities. Like a good trade system, it makes more sense to leverage each other’s comparative advantage, than to only focus on your own competitiveness vis-a-vis others.

The same goes for connecting entrepreneurship ecosystems. Through a format like Source Summits, we work on building these bridges. Recently we’ve hosted a Source Summit in East Africa to connect fragmented country systems, and entrepreneurial skills. In the near future we’ll be setting up new Source Summits with 5 universities in the EU to build a network of academic scrutiny on entrepreneurship education. All these events are opportunities to get together relevant pockets of knowledge, and of entrepreneurial strengths and skills, and figure out how to connect them. Source Summits get resources flowing through the system.

#Shaping community leaders
At Source we use various peer learning formats to help build the characters that are needed to propel communities. Through our Mentor Impact approach, we help mentors define their role and approach to helping founders, and share amongst their peers what works in the community, and what doesn’t. This is self-propagating by design. Once there’s a first group of peers set up to exchange, they will loop in others.

Another kind of support we provide is to gear experienced founders to become facilitators to talent that have valuable knowledge to share. Facilitation addresses both the facets of warranting learning for the learners, as well as supporting that knowledge is brought out there effectively. Through our facilitation support we help people manage group learning dynamics, spot where support is needed, and take action on bringing that in. In other words, it makes support to founders responsive.

Lastly, we can help distribute leadership over communities, distributed over the founders who have the responsibility over their progress. A concept like Brain Trust is a tool created to support that dynamic. Essentially Brain Trust is a structure where founders share their learning, their current blocks, and what they think their learning goals are. This enables other founders to see and learn, as well as provide advice on how to tackle blocks, and at the same time learn from their peers. For the facilitator, it provides a check-in on progress of a group.

All our effort in building leadership, goes into the ambition to make a community self-propagating, to shape its own purpose and destiny. Our long term aim as Source is to become part of the community, to learn from it, and to grow as it grows…

#Experiential learning
Source builds essential entrepreneurship skills, based on our collaborations with the cutting edge of experience that we see in our network. Our thinking is visible in startup education around the world, whether it’s our collaborations with thought leaders like Eric Ries and Alex Osterwalder, or techniques like The Mom Test, Option Cards and Brain Trust which are copied in training material around the world.

The common thread is our design for cognition of entrepreneurship experiences, rather than for cognition of content. We look for ways to address the “why”, and “how” around key topic areas for entrepreneurs, based on our own experiences, and what we learn from others first hand.

Our selection of experiential learnings range from team alignment, to investment, to figuring out mass production for your hardware startup.

#The Source Thesis
The biggest part of creating entrepreneurship communities hinges on how knowledge is created and shared amongst people within that community. Current pedagogical approaches are not adequate to cater to the kind of dynamic that is required.

At Source Institute we see that peer learning is the missing fabric. We aim to create the new social structures that will accelerate technology entrepreneurship, and strengthen it as a force to address the world’s challenges. We hope to meet you in this ambition, and that our relationship may become one of the conduits in a system of entrepreneurial learning.

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