10 Tips for organising your Beyond Silicon Valley MOOC study group
If you’re building a local startup ecosystem, or want to strengthen your local ecosystem, a good start is to take the MOOC Beyond Silicon Valley. Even better, take it together with people in your community by organising a study group. In this guide, you’ll find 10 tips to help you organise a study group and ignite startup entrepreneurship in your city.
Tip 1: Plan three meetups; or as much as needed
To really achieve some learning, and get the conversation on building or strengthening your local startup ecosystem going, it’s best to have multiple sessions. First of all, there’s a lot of valuable content in the course, and the videos have a perfect length to show one in a meetup, and then have additional presentation and discussion. To really benefit from the course, it’s best to have more sessions. I think planning three sessions keeps the organisation manageable. But if you think you can do more, plan more meetups.
The second purpose this serves, is that your attendees get to know, and interact with, each other over multiple events, creating more possibilities for them to really connect.
Thirdly, there’s always someone who wants to attend, but cannot make it on a certain date. This could be the person who will bring a lot to the table, and be very valuable for the future of your startup ecosystem. By having more sessions, you give people the opportunity to join, even if they have full calendars.
Tip 2: Select topics most relevant to your situation
The course is organised around 5 important topics, and a wrap-up session. This is a good guide, but in your particular situation, some of these topics are more relevant than others. In Düsseldorf, we did 5 sessions. We did not address the topic of philanthropy (week 2), because it hat less relevance in our situation. In stead, we had 2 sessions on the topic of Access to Capital.
Tip 3: Localise the MOOC, add your own content
There are many valuable lessons to be learned from the Cleveland case. But some examples are hard to translate to your local situation. In Düsseldorf, we invited local organisations to present their work, activities and cases. For example, in the session about the role of government (week 1 in the course), we had the economic development department of the city presenting, and in the session about leveraging anchor institutions, we asked the local university to talk about their programs. In the 2 sessions we did about access to capital (week 5), we had a local bank and a local venture capital fund. In this way, you can immediately make the lessons of Cleveland relevant to your local situation.
Tip 4: Invite a diverse audience
Your local startup ecosystem can only thrive, when many different players are contributing. As the MOOC shows, you need several types of organisations that help startups grow: local government, accelerators, angel investors, co-working spaces, venture capital funds, universities and of course the (future) founders and entrepreneurs. To ignite your local ecosystem, get these players together.
Tip 5: Make it interactive
It’s one thing to watch the video lectures, and listen to presentations from local organisations, but now that you have invited a quality audience, activate it. Plan for interaction in your sessions. You can do this for example planning a facilitated discussion in your session. Or, you can do like we did in Düsseldorf: we ended each session with a short ideation workshop, where we divided the audience in small groups to discuss the lessons learned, guided by questions focused on finding ideas to put into practice. It depends a bit on the size of your group which is the best option.
Tip 6: Partner up
Organising these meetups takes some effort. Partnering up might help you to spread the workload to more people. But more importantly: having the right partners, will make it easier for you to get access to the most relevant organisations who you can invite for presentation, and will help you in attracting the diverse audience you’re looking for. Potential partners are the US Diplomatic mission (one of our partners was the US Consulate General), local universities (we had a business school as partner), entrepreneur organisations (the third partner for our session in Düsseldorf was the local startup association), chambers of commerce or city governments.
As for the locations, they were made available by our location partners, which were the main two co-working spaces at the time (and one of our organising partners hosted one session).
Tip 7: Leverage social media and digital tools
To advertise your event, but also to report back to the audience and the wider community, use the social media channels you have at your disposal: a blog, Facebook, Twitter (don’t forget the hashtag!). But also don’t forget about event apps such as Meetup.com and Eventbrite. You can use them to have people register for the events, which helps you understand how many will come, but they are also helpful tools in bringing your meetup to the attention of people who are already looking to take part in events like yours. And don’t forget about sending out a mailing list. We had a website with blog, a twitter account, used Eventbrite for managing the event logistics and Mailchimp for sending out newsletters to those interested. Pick the tools you are comfortable with, and that help you grow your audience.
Tip 8: Invite the professor
You might not have the budget to let him travel to your location, but there is real added value in having Michael Goldberg in your sessions. He has already addressed several meetups around the MOOC via Skype or other internet-enabled video conferencing tools. We had the fortune that a couple of months after our meetup series, we were able to invite Michael Goldberg to Düsseldorf, where we planned several sessions for him, and which gave us the opportunity to report back on our sessions, and reach an even wider audience. He’s has a lot of valuable lessons to share, try to find a way to leverage that.
Tip 9: Don’t let a lack of budget hold you back
Organising these meetups might seem like a costly business, but it doesn’t have to be. Thanks to our organising and location partners (see tip 6), we managed to do 5 session on a shoestring budget. The locations were mostly provide free of charge (apart from the kickoff session, which was hosted and paid for by one of our organising partners), all the speakers were more than happy to join and share their stories for free. Websites, social media presence, event hosting software and mailing lists are all available for free. You can do this at very low cost, it just takes somebody to do the work. And maybe you can find a partner to compensate for that as well.
Tip 10: Plan for networking
Your startup ecosystem needs for the players in it to be connected. They need to know each other, to make collaboration easier. Your Beyond Silicon Valley Meetups are the ideal events for them to build or strengthen these connections. Make sure you plan time for networking at the end of the session, and make clear this is part of the meetup. As organiser, you are in the ideal position to make the connections (and build and strengthen your own network!).
And don’t forget about the growing global Beyond Silicon Valley network. You can find a lot of people who have the same passion as you do in the course forums. Connect with them to share your experience, and learn from them. LinkedIn is of course also a great tool to strengthen your global network.
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