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Posts tagged with: mentoring

Guiding entrepreneurs as they free-fall to success

Written last month on the flight back from a startup mentoring expedition to Egypt

Managing a young startup is like freefalling without a parachute. The ground gets ever closer — if you don’t do something fast, you’ll hit hard. It’s still too far away to see final destination clearly. You try and spot a safe haven, but that lake could be a forest. You’ve only got a vague sense of your current trajectory. You’re distracted by unfamiliar and uncomfortable sensations.

Entrepreneurship is like free-fall (photo: @larswoudstra via Twenty20)

You try to review your options logically, adrenaline pumping, new strategies rapidly fading in and out of mind, pulling at your focus. You’ve never done this before. You don’t know what will work. The training made sense in the classroom, but the teacher never saw this terrain combined with this weather. You wish they’d prepared you for the dread and rising panic. Now you’ve got precisely one shot at survival. You wonder what might kill you first.

In this situation, some entrepreneurs seek support in the form of mentoring. Advisors like me materialise beside them, providing a second, calmer, perspective on their situation, and the strategies they’re betting their livelihoods on. And so people in my role get a brief, privileged window into the challenges of new businesses in different markets, cultures, and industries. These mentoring opportunities are provided in my case by Enpact, a non-profit organisation funded by the German Government and a variety of philanthropic foundations.

The pier walkway at Blue Point mentoring camp, Ras Sudr, Egypt

Eight entrepreneurs, all Egyptian, have been working and learning in this way with me and other mentors, at a windswept Red Sea resort in the Sinai Desert. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, and it’s been an uphill journey for them to get here.

Access to funding, training, and mentoring, is all competitive — consider the barriers these young people must overcome to be founders! Language, eye-watering interest rates, byzantine incorporation & taxation bureaucracy, shortage of academic business education, unstable power and transport infrastructure, occasionally corrupt competitors. That Egyptian startups can challenge and beat European firms is humbling and inspiring.

Enpact’s formula involves traveling to a remote location, such as Bad Belzig Castle, Coconut Grove beach resort, and the Coconat co-working retreat, and executing intensive week-long programmes of workshops, group discussions, and challenge-oriented mentoring. This is my second series with the organisation, having wound up 8 months inside budding Ghanaian startups last February.

Enpact startup mentoring team picture

And so I have the opportunity to pop into the life of a free-falling entrepreneur, provide context to their problems, supply warnings, reassurances, and always encouragement. Unravelling the challenges presented into something fundamental, actionable, and which I can inform with my own experience, is an honour and a stretch.

Video highlights by Enpact

My exposure to entrepreneurs like Muhammad and Reham in Egypt feeds my understanding of principles which I rely on in my own businesses, and perpetually lengthens the list of exceptions to them, thanks to the varied conditions which they face. We are grateful for each other’s influence.


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Map of the mentoring camp

Mentoring at the Yale Open Climate Hackathon

Today the results of our Yale Openlab Collabathon were presented at the UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid. And so ends a three week period of collaboration by hundreds of participants at 10 universities around the world. The goal: creating Open Source tools for enforcing the Paris Climate Agreement.

The Ullstein Building, home of the The Drivery, our venue. Photo: K.H.Reichert, CC BY-NC 2.0

Berlin was one of those locations, hosted by the Net Impact club of ESMT business school, my Alma mater. Most of the action took place on the weekend of November 16th, when 25 volunteers and strangers to each other, gathered in Tempelhof’s magnificent Ullsteinhaus.

It was here that we formed four primary teams, chose projects from a pre-researched list, and got to work on making apps, business models, and certificates, for monitoring the world’s carbon emissions, and helping to enforce the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

I was one of two full-time mentors at the event who provided structure and support for the Berlin team. The Yale team, led by Martin Wainstein, provided a set of well-defined projects for teams to choose work on, and managed a Discord chat instance (like Slack) to keep the participants communicating easily. It was up to us to form and motivate teams, enable cooperation, and keep things running efficiently.

Sam Tuke at the Yale Open Lab collabathon in Berlin
Introducing topics for the teams to work on

Fortunately the skills of the people who came to hack were well suited to the tasks, and teams based on preferred topic were quickly assembled, each led by a Project Manager. The ‘Open Climate Widget‘ team, for example, were managed by Marc from Deutsche Bahn.

yale collabathon hackathon oliver bley presenting
Forming teams based on interest and skills, advertised on name badges, with Oliver Bley

Teams worked until close to 10pm both days at the venue, and some continued over the following weeks until the submission deadline this week. In particular the ‘Climate Terminal‘ team, benefiting from exemplary leadership by their Project Manager Nadya, not only worked consistently, but successfully recruited additional teammates from Paris and Singapore to fill skill gaps and lend additional momentum.

You can see their work in progress on the project’s website: climateterminal.com. I think this is an amazing result for an entirely voluntary effort of an international team which had never before worked together. Undoubedly Yale’s public association with the event helped, but also the quality of the task descriptions which they provided, and the interesting Open Source tech involved.

The weekend hackathon attracted some press attention, including Maximilian Lehmann of the Mother Earth’s Heroes environmental podcast dropping by to interview Oliver, Luca and I. ESMT’s net impact team were busy doing interviews and taking photos throughout, and we have them to thank for the pictures illustrating this post.

One of my motivations for helping to organise this event was to experience real-time collaboration on this scale; I wasn’t disappointed. Insights into that however are enough for another post.

For now I’ll say thank you to the fantastic people who participated at our Berlin ‘node’, and worked so hard all weekend! It was quite amazing to see the talent and experience brought so quickly to bear on real problems affecting earth’s climate. In particular the Net Impact volunteers, all highly capable students from ESMT, ensured we had the facilities, food, and fluids we all needed to perform our roles.

Oh, and watch out — future Collabathons are being planned, so come along if you’re in a city hosting a node next time and take part ๐Ÿ™‚